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Why We Love School Lunch (And You Should, Too!)

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Dec 17, 2014 8:35:00 AM

Bringing lunch from home

When my son was younger, he was a picky eater. He didn’t like to eat the school-prepared lunches…he always wanted to bring lunch from home. In our minds, I think we both thought his packed lunches would be like this:


But in reality, being a working mom with a busy family, his lunches looked more like this:


Some of you may think this lunch looks pretty healthy, after all, there is an apple in that picture!  But in reality, lunches brought from home are less nutritious than lunches purchased from schools.  

National School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program has been in place since 1946.  Congress created it after an investigation into the health of young men rejected in the World War II draft showed a connection between physical deficiencies and childhood malnutrition. Since then multiple studies have shown that children who participate in school dietary programs have superior nutritional intakes compared to those that do not participate.  Proper nutrition improves a child’s behavior and school performance.

In 2012, new nutrition standards were implemented by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for school meals. The new standards require school cafeterias to offer more fruit, vegetables and whole grains and to limit sodium, calories and unhealthy fats.  Grain-based desserts, like cookies, have been limited to twice a week and must be whole grain rich.  While there was some resistance from students on the healthier meals, studies have shown that students’ intake has improved with the new guidelines.

School meals that rock!

School foodservice directors have become creative in delivering a healthy school lunch menu that appeals to kids…I love the site,, because they showcase all of the healthy school lunches served in school cafeterias. You can check out actual school meal trays here, but below is an example from their site of a tray that meets the new USDA standards.  



Are school meals the healthiest option?

If you still aren’t sure that school meals are the healthiest option for your family, a new study from Virginia Tech University might change your mind.  The researchers compared school lunches with those children brought from home.  Here is what they found:

  • Calories, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, and sugar were higher in packed lunches.
  • Protein, fiber, vitamin A, and calcium where higher in school lunches.  (Sodium was also higher in school lunches. However, new sodium standards for school lunches are being phased in, so this is expected to improve.)
  • Packed lunches had more dessert items, savory snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • School meals had more milk, fruits and vegetables.

Be a good example

If your children are like my son and resistant to eating lunch from the cafeteria, here are some tips from the USDA:

  • Join your child for lunch in the school cafeteria
  • Let your child see you eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • When your child gets home from school, ask them what he or she ate for lunch
  • Grocery shop with your child and talk about where foods come from
  • Offer new foods one at a time and always with something your child likes with that food.  Discuss how the food smells, tastes, and feels.

Childhood health and nutrition is important to GA Foods.  For more information on nutrition and children, read this blog post.

GA Foods Child Nutrition Programs

GA Foods offers nutrition programs for...

See How GA Foods is Making a Difference in Children's Lives


Topics: Child Nutrition, Healthy Lunch, Lunch from Home, School Lunch

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