Many adults with school aged children have been there; it’s
getting late, and you find yourself once again standing in
the kitchen with the cupboards and refrigerator open, trying
to pack a lunch your child will actually eat for school
tomorrow. These are the back to school moments, many
Being in the situation described above can lead to filling
lunchboxes with prepackaged snacks in an effort to get one
more thing crossed off the “to do list” at the end of the
night. Luckily, on the nights we are frustrated, wishing we
could come up with a healthy lunch for our children, we can
lean on our schools to give us a helping hand.
The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School
Lunch Program (NSLP) is the second largest government food
assistance program in the United States, and its primary
objective is to “safeguard the health and well-being of the
nation’s children.” Participating schools receive federal
funding to assist low-income families in need through free
and reduced lunches.
Whether a family qualifies for free and reduced lunches or
not, all students are able to benefit from the nutritious
meals provided during the school day. School lunches must
follow guidelines to provide a variety of nutrients and
therefore there will be food served daily from all five food
groups: milk, grains, protein foods, vegetables and fruit.
By eating lunch at school, students will be meeting one
third of the nutritional recommended dietary allowance (RDA)
for children. It has been found that children who
participate in the National School Lunch Program have higher
intake of fruits and vegetables in and outside of school
than a student who does not. For sites that have Farm to
school programs (42 percent of schools in the USA), students
have increased access to locally produced foods and it helps
them learn where their food comes from through activities
such as farmers’ visits and school gardening.
Having healthy lunches can lead to children adopting
healthier nutrition habits beyond the lunch line. We know
that children are influenced by their peers, so sitting side
by side with friends who are also eating healthy school
lunches makes them even more likely to do the same! As
stated above, children who participate in the National
School Lunch Program eat more fruits and vegetables in and
outside school than a student who does not.
What are some additional ways that families can help
children eat and enjoy the school lunch? The Myplate guide
to school lunch for families suggests:
Try new foods
at home. Kids need many opportunities to taste a new
food to “get used to it.”
Talk with your
student about what’s on the menu. Make sure he or she
knows about all the foods that are included at school.
Check with the
school about eating lunch with your child. Some schools
encourage it and offer meals to adults for a low cost.
Learn more about what’s offered and meet the school
child or teen to join in taste-testing events or surveys
about school lunch, when available.
Finally, children who adopt healthy eating habits have
better school performance, higher grades, and standardized
test scores as a result. Why not set children up for success
in any and ways that we can? The next time you find yourself
with no ideas to pack for lunch the next day, remember that
having them eat lunch at school will continue the work you
have started in laying a nutritional foundation that will
contribute to their achievement this school year and beyond.
Information from the National School Lunch Program USDA ERS
(online) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Visit Choosemyplate.gov/Families for additional tips and
activities for families.