School Lunches: Helping Your Child Make Healthy Choices

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Are school lunches a healthy option for my child?

School lunches are designed to provide healthy food options for children. Some schools also offer breakfast programs to start children on a healthy track for the day. The meals may be served in the cafeteria or in classrooms, depending on the school.

To see the nutrition information for lunches and other meals offered by your child’s school, check out the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service National School Lunch Program website. This program promotes nutrition standards for school lunches that include the following:

  • Offer fruits and vegetables every day
  • Increase whole-grain food options
  • Offer only fat-free or low-fat milk options
  • Serve appropriately sized portions that meet students’ calorie requirements
  • Reduce saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium

Your school district may also provide menus and nutrition information on its website.

Many school districts across the country have changed their school lunch programs to meet the USDA’s nutrition standards. School lunches may offer healthier choices such as vegetarian entrees, as well as a variety of salad ingredients, fruits, and vegetables. Students can choose from a number of appealing healthy options. But some students may not be sure what foods are healthy. They often choose familiar foods or whatever foods their friends are choosing.

How can I help my child make healthy food choices at school?

Help your child establish healthy habits even before school begins. What you do at home will affect your child’s choices during the rest of the day. Talk to your child about the importance of eating a healthy lunch so that he or she will have enough energy to learn and be active.

If you’re concerned about your child’s food choices at school, try reviewing the school lunch menu with him or her each week. Find out which days he or she would like to eat lunch at school. Talk about which foods and drinks are healthy options so he or she will know what to choose on those days.

Should I make a lunch for my child to take to school?

Making your child’s lunch is also an option, especially if your child is a picky eater or has special dietary needs. Be sure to include a variety of your child’s favorite healthy foods. For example, you could pack fresh fruit, baked chips or pretzels, or fresh vegetables with salsa or a low-calorie dip. You might want to pack your child’s lunch the night before so that you don’t run short on time in the morning. If you’re in a hurry, you might be more tempted to toss in prepackaged foods and unhealthy snack-like options.

It’s important to keep your child’s lunch at a safe temperature. Use a thermos for hot foods. Check to see if your school offers lunch refrigeration. If not, pack items that do not require refrigeration or items that can be kept cold with an ice pack. Some items, such as drinks and yogurts, can be frozen ahead of time and safely thaw in the lunch box.