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Lunchtime: Providing Nutritious Meals to Our Children.

By Sara Turner-Smith, BGSU Dietetic Intern, co-authored by Patrice Powers-Barker
Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County
The Truth Contributor

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 caregivers dread.

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 nutrition staff.
  • Encourage your 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.




Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/06/19 00:47:56 -0400.

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