There is often a stigma around letting kids eat school food. We’re here to tell you why school meals are important for everyone to support!
What are school-provided meals?
The lunches and breakfasts served at public schools are federally funded. The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service supports child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, which are crucial in helping ensure school-aged children receive nutritious meals and snacks each day that support their health and academic abilities.
Why are school-provided meals important?
In communities with less access to healthy food, schools provide an opportunity to positively impact students’ health; especially as research has shown living in low-income and minority communities is linked to poorer diet quality in children. Some states, like California, have begun implementing universal school meal programs with 2 free meals a day. Studies have shown that students who have access to these free meal programs have better attendance knowing that there is a reliable food source for them at school.
Even if you choose to pack food for your child, it is important for all parents to support their school community by advocating for improved access to, and overall healthier food provided at school. When more students have access to nutritional food, they are better able to succeed academically, and the whole school benefits.
What are the nutritional regulations followed?
The nutrition standards of school meals must meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. During the 2012-13 school year, schools began implementing updated nutrition standards mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that increased fruit, vegetable, and whole grain requirements and reduced sodium levels.
For many children, the two meals provided by public schools are the majority of their daily food source and are often more nutritious than other meal options because of these regulated standards.
Should I let my child eat school food?
Depending on the state you live in, there may be policies in place to provide universal school meals free of charge for all students regardless of income status. This helps to destigmatize school lunches and those who receive them. These meals have nutritional regulations that require certain amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains to be served each week. For busy parents, choosing school-provided meals for your child may be the right choice. You can review the school lunch menus with your child to find out what types of foods they would be interested in eating, and plan to pack lunch on days with meals they are not interested in.
What can I do to help?
Recently, there has been news about gradual standards being introduced for school-provided meals to better meet nutrition guidelines. New recommendations will be made for limiting added sugars, reducing sodium, and increasing whole-grain options. Updated nutrition standards are projected to take effect for the 2024-25 school year to improve the nutritional quality of school meals.
The USDA opened a commentary period for this policy change where you can include input on the new standards. You can make your voices heard until April 10th about the proposed new changes to school nutrition by submitting a comment. Progress in improving meal quality at schools is important to ensure all students receive the most nutritious meals possible.
Let us know in the comments what nutrition changes you want to see made at your child’s school!