How Nutritious are Public School Lunches?

It’s time to encourage kids to eat their fresh fruits and vegetables

A boy who already ate his steamed broccoli enjoying the remainder of his school lunch. Photo courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a graduate of public schools, I have fond memories of burritos, hot sauce packets, coffee cake and pizza. I doubt any of that was healthy, it sure tasted good. While I wouldn’t go near any of that today, well maybe the coffee cake, public school lunch is still a rite of passage for school-aged children.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama with children eating school lunches. Photo courtesy of Chuck Kennedy/White House.

Public school lunches have come a long way, and it’s refreshing to know that Title-I-funded schools meet the National School Lunch Program nutritional standards. With a big push from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, lunches now include more fruits and vegetables. Though the goal was aimed at providing healthy meals to stem the tide of childhood obesity, it also raised the nutrition content of the food. Nutrition is essential for focusing on lessons, having a calm body and end-of-year test taking.

At both public and private schools, “many practices improved, such as participation in school gardens or farm-to-school programs, and availability of whole grains and only lower-fat milks in lunches.” There is even a study that suggests that public school lunch environments are better than private schools, and yet, children from ethnic-minority groups are not consuming the entire lunch leading to suboptimal nutrient intake, the report further claims.

What Can Parents Do?

Parents are a child’s first teacher. She will learn from you how important it is to finish a meal, especially one that is healthy. Engage them about their school lunch and find out what they like. You can always send snacks to supplement what’s on the school menu. For example, almost all kids like grapes or apples, which are filled with fiber. Allow them to use dips like ranch dressing for broccoli or hummus for carrots. Many grocery stores sell snack packs of pretzels and peanut butter, which is also a solid source of protein.

Let’s all channel our inner former First Lady Michelle Obama and encourage our kids to eat their fresh fruits and vegetables. If that doesn’t work, bribery is always an option.


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