4 School Lunch Myths You Need to Know the Truth About
Have you been in a school cafeteria and noticed what students are eating? Some students are eating school lunch or bring a lunch from home that represents MyPlate guidelines. Other students bring a bag of chips, can of soda pop and some fruit snacks or buy a few a la carte treats from the cafeteria.
As a parent, it can be difficult to know which lunch options are best for your child. School lunches in particular seem to get a bad rap; however, thanks to new standards implemented in 2012, school lunches have improved, providing a well-balanced option parents can feel good about.
If you’re worried that your child will be missing out on important nutrients or are worried school lunches haven’t changed much since you were in school, you may be surprised to discover that many of these notions simply aren’t true.
Myth: School lunches aren’t as well-balanced as packed lunches.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016 showed that students who ate school lunch had an overall higher diet quality than those who brought their lunch from home. Another study published in Childhood Obesity in 2012 also showed that children who brought lunches from home were significantly less likely to have fruits, vegetables and dairy in their meals.
Repeated studies have shown less nutritional quality in packed lunches compared to school lunches.
Myth: School lunches are primarily comprised of unhealthy foods… like tater tots.
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 requires that a fruit or vegetable is taken with each meal. Milk, a fruit, a vegetable, a whole grain serving and meat are all required to be offered. School meals must also stay within set calorie, fat and sodium limits. In addition, no trans fats are allowed to be served.
And if you are worried that the only vegetable to be offered will be a white potato; think again! Schools are required to have a vegetable serving from each of the vegetable sub-groups: dark green, red and orange, starch, bean, pea, and legume.
By offering up a wide variety of foods, students not only receive a balanced plate, but have the opportunity to learn what components of a meal make it healthy so that hopefully they can replicate the meal at home.
Myth: School lunches are just for kids that need free meals.
It is true that students who qualify by household income levels receive free or reduced-price meals. One in five children in the United States doesn’t get the food they need. School meals fill a serious need for many children. However, school meals are for all students. Schools are required to treat all students equally and not overtly identify those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. All students in the school can benefit from eating healthy school meals.
Myth: School lunches served today are the same as the lunches I received when I was in school.
School food service directors are working hard to keep improving the nutrition and appeal of school meals. Many are implementing what’s called the Cornell’s Smarter Lunchroom techniques. The goal is to make healthy foods more appealing to kids, so they eat the healthy food that is offered. Guidelines include offering at least two fruit choices and two vegetable choices daily, including both fresh and raw food options. Studies show that kids take and eat more fruits and vegetables when they are given choices. The guidelines also include promoting “combo meals,” so students take all of the components offered. Other schools are trying seasoning stations or flavor bars, so students can add herbs and spices to balance the reduction in sodium but still add flavor.
School meals are designed to meet the nutritional needs of the students they serve. As a parent, you can be confident that the health of your child is a top priority shared by those preparing school meals each day. It’s a solid option to consider as you look to support your child’s learning and development.