Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Health
Are School Lunches Making the Grade?
School lunches are important because they provide brain power for afternoon classes and energy for after-school activities according to Terry Egan, nutrition specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
Meals funded by USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs, including breakfast and lunch, must meet specific requirements for meal balance and fat content.
“School lunches are intended to be nutritious and appealing,” said Egan.
A 2004 study by the USDA showed that children who eat school lunch consume 29 percent fewer calories from fat and twice as many fruits and vegetables than children who bring a typical bag lunch.
“Parents can play an important role in creating healthy nutrition environments at school,” says Egan. “Read menus carefully, visit the cafeteria, buy a meal and eat with your child, and talk to foodservice staff about the healthy changes they are making.”
If you have concerns about the school food program, look for positive ways to support changes. PTA/PTO organizations, as well as parents, can discuss foodservice and meal options with the school according to Egan.
Families can also play their part by packing nutritious meals. A balanced lunch includes a whole grain, a vegetable, a fruit, a protein and a milk food.
“It’s as easy as lean turkey on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomato, an apple and a carton of milk purchased at school,” said Egan.
For variety, parents could choose to pack peanut butter on mini rice cakes, string cheese, baby carrots and a box of 100 percent fruit juice.
“It is important to give kids the calories and nutrients they need in order to perform their best in school subjects and during active play. Parents and school personnel need to work together to provide healthy choices in a healthy environment,” said Egan.
Terry Egan, Nutrition Specialist, Greene County, University of Missouri Extension
Phone: (417) 866-3039
Last update: Tuesday, September 01, 2009