How Healthy Are School Lunches?

By Erin Haas

Photo courtesy of DC Central Kitchen via Flickr

Many parents rely on school cafeterias to feed their children a healthy, nutritious meal but how healthy are school lunches, really? According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Healthy School Lunch Campaign, school lunches are too rich in saturated fat and cholesterol and too low in fiber and nutrient-rich veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

This is scary considering how important it is for children to eat a nutritious meal at lunchtime. Not only does eating a good lunch at school every day help children develop healthy eating habits for life, it also provides them with the fuel they need to stay energized throughout the day and perform well in the classroom.

The Problem with Giving Students the Power to Choose

Kids who aren’t prepared to make intelligent food choices have far too much control over what they eat in the school cafeteria. Many cafeterias have “a la carte” programs that allow students to pick from unhealthy foods like pizza and French fries. Some students bypass the cafeteria altogether and head straight to the vending machine, where they buy chips and soda for lunch.

So, how healthy are school lunches overall? Not too healthy. But many cafeterias offer nutritious items, like apples, yogurt, fruit juice, sandwiches, and vegetable sticks. You just have to teach your children to go for those options instead. Or better yet, pack healthy lunches for your children and get them involved in the food preparation process, so you can instill them with healthy eating habits.

I still have memories of my high school cafeteria’s lunches and they aren’t pretty. I remember getting frozen hash browns, hot dogs, canned fruit, and other processed foods in my meal. Now that I’m a mom, I definitely don’t let my daughter eat whatever’s offered in a set lunch at the school cafeteria. But I do trust her to make the right choices because she has been raised to eat only healthy, nutritious food.

Why it’s the Parents’ Job to Teach Their Kids What to Eat at School

It’s the parents’ job to teach their kids healthy eating habits. If you eat chips, soda, French fries, and frozen pizza at home all the time, guess what your kids will be eating when they go to school? They’ll make the same choices, of course. But if you teach your kids from a young age to eat well, they’ll make healthy food choices in the school cafeteria, too.

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