For the Health of It!
by Cheryl Stoner -School Nutrition Director
School breakfast and lunch help students to be healthy and successful,
and they’re affordable and convenient for parents.
Myth: “Students Don’t Get Enough Food”
Fact: School lunch is designed to provide about one-third of the calories the average student needs each day. Students, especially those who are very active will likely need to consume a snack after school.
Myth: “School Food is Poor Quality”
Fact: School districts are offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables these days. Many schools purchase fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, and fish to help provide healthy high quality meals to students. Additionally, a growing number of Wisconsin school districts are purchasing locally grown foods. In 2015 Farm to School census showed 49% of districts in Wisconsin participate in Farm to School programming, with over 9 million invested in local food.
Exciting Times for School Meals
All children in Wisconsin deserve the chance to fuel their bodies with nutritious food. The National School Lunch Program ensures school children have access to a well-balanced meal every school day.
School meals recently received an overhaul and likely look different from meals served in the past. Now, school meals are healthier! They offer roughly double the amount of fruits and vegetables as meals under the previous standards. Meals also feature more whole grains and less sodium.
Making the Case for School Lunch
School Meals can be a time saver for busy families. Think about how much time you or your family spend packing lunch each day. Having your children eat school lunch may make sense to you financially.
- Elementary school lunch = $2.45
- Fast food kid’s meal = $3.62
- Packed lunch = $2.51^
On average, school meals have been shown to be healthier than lunches brought from home. Studies have consistently observed that packed lunches contain less fruit and vegetables and more desserts and sugar sweetened beverages than their school.
Parents Can Make a Positive Impact
See what school lunches look like:
- Have lunch with your child. Most schools will happily accommodate parental visits at lunchtime.
- Review the school menu.
- Discuss school lunch choices with your child.
Offer nutritious foods at home:
- Include fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks.
- Prepare whole grain-rich foods.
- Be a role model for your child by eating meals together.
The National School Lunch Program is funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture based on the laws set by U.S. Congress. School meals are designed to assist families in meeting a portion of a child’s nutritional and caloric needs over the course of the day. The standards for school meals are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which use the most current nutrition science and data on the dietary needs of school children. School meals are intended to provide optimum nutrition while keeping fat, saturated fat, sodium, and calories at reasonable levels to address current trends, which include childhood obesity, increased hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other nutrition related health concerns in American school children.
In an era when most restaurant meals are over portioned, it’s easy to see how a balanced school meal might be perceived as not meeting a child’s nutritional needs. However, school lunch when entirely consumed, will meet 1/3 of a child’s daily dietary requirement, and school breakfast, when entirely consumed, will meet ¼ of the daily requirement for most children. That said, it is true that some children may require more calories and nutrients than the average school lunch provides. This is why most schools offer additional options for purchasing extra food (such as the ability to purchase a second entrée) and why many households provide food from home to fill the gap for their highly active children. Also, keep in mind it is very normal for students to be hungry when they come home from school because, as is the case of your highly active teen, the calories they consumed at lunch have been expended during the afternoon’s learning and afterschool activities.
Keep in mind that school lunch is intended to meet only a portion of a student’s daily nutritional needs. Most students require 3 nutritious meals and 2-3 nutritious snacks each day for optimum health so providing additional snacks from home for him/her to consume prior to practice is the perfect way to ensure your teen is getting the calories they need for their active lifestyle. The goal of the school nutrition program is to ensure that students learn what a healthy portion looks like to assist them in learning lifelong healthy eating habits.