School meals undergo a national healthy make-over

Encourage your child to enjoy the new, healthier options they’ll be given during breakfast and lunch times at school.

The school lunch you enjoyed (or not!) as a child is not the same school meal being served to your child today. The National School Meal program has been undergoing a makeover the last few years and whether you have children in school or not, our country benefits from students who are properly fed and nourished. Children who eat a balanced breakfast and lunch have a greater chance of being ready to learn, are healthier from being properly fed, and develop lifelong health habits.

These guidelines have been based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and give children the energy they need to be successful in school. The new guidelines also work to reduce their risk for serious chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Keep in mind that school meals have been designed to only meet a portion of students’ nutritional daily needs. Schools and parents must work together to ensure that students are eating healthfully whether at home or school. Portions on the school meals reflect the necessary balance between all five food groups and are high in nutrients while meeting caloric needs.

A few of the changes you will notice:

  • More fruits and vegetables will be offered at lunch than in past years
  • The amount of fruit offered at breakfast will double beginning school year 2014-2015
  • Whole grain requirements have increased
  • The amount of sodium allowed per meal has decreased
  • Many students will be served the same amount of protein; however, meat/meat alternates for each group are updated to be in line with current nutrition science.

So the quality of the food has improved; will students eat it? This is where adults (school staff AND parents) can really impact school meals. Here are tips for reinforcing and encouraging students to eat healthfully at school:

  • Keep your comments positive
    If you have serious concerns regarding the quality of food being served, address it with food service staff. Negative comments about the appearance or smell of the food impact how students accept it. Many students who receive free/reduced lunch do not have a choice to take their own lunch from home. Talking negative about the food they have to eat may affect their emotional health as well.
  • Post the lunch menu at home and in the classroom; talk about it daily
    Point out foods from each food group, special menu items and encourage students to try a new food each week. Teachers can use menu items as writing prompts, journal entries or discuss colors with younger students. Parents can ask children what they ate at breakfast and lunch: “How did the grapes taste? What color were the apples?” Food is a critical part of the day and is crucial to the success of your child. Elevate mealtime to a place of importance in your classroom and home.
  • Volunteer to be a presence in your child’s lunchroom
    Having positive adults in the lunchroom, educating students on nutrition, encouraging them to try new foods and creating a supportive and pleasant mealtime is a right all students have. Teachers sitting with their classes and eating the same food is a powerful visual motivator. Principals walking around the lunchroom, eating carrots and discussing how crunchy the carrots are sends a message to students that lunch is important.

It is not enough to serve healthy food; students must eat it, too. That takes encouragement and education from adults. Working together, we can all make a difference in the health of America’s children!

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