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School lunches are packed with nutritional value.

In a recent study, researchers found that lunches served in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have higher nutritional quality than lunches bought from home. The report stated that the lunches are high in dairy-rich foods, lower in empty calories from solid fats and added sugars, and lower in refined grains.

The NSLP, established in 1946, is a federal nutrition assistance program that gives nutritionally-balanced, low cost or free lunches in over 100,000 K-12 schools throughout the United States.  Menus for school lunches must contain certain nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


A diet low on nutrients and calories

The recommended requirement for calcium for children ages 4 – 8, is 800 milligrams a day. Those ages 9 – 18 should consume 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Overall, children’s diets are lacking in calcium, and other vitamins and nutrients. A large number of children in the U.S. eat food that contains solid fats and added sugar. A solid fat is a fat solid at room temperature. Added sugars are things like syrup, pastries, donuts, cookies and sweet toppings.  Lastly, refined grains lack fiber which children need. Refined grains include white rice and foods made with white flour. The USDA recommends that at least half of the grains offered must be whole grain-rich (e.g., whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice).


Here’s how children are getting their nutritional value

A sample lunch menu for elementary school students could consist of Chicken Quesadilla, or spaghetti noodles with meat sauce or marinara sauce, mixed baby greens salad with light Italian dressing, low-fat milk, or skim chocolate milk.

Lunch for middle school students could consist of Cheeseburger on a whole wheat bun, or roast beef on a wheat role, a chef salad with a 1 oz. of turkey, or reduced fat cheese, romaine/spinach with low sodium salt crackers, ½ cup of potato wedges or ½ cup of broccoli, and a choice of a side order of pear halves or fresh fruit

In addition to food sold in the cafeteria, school meals must meet nutritional standards under the “Smart Snacks in School Rule.” Foods and beverages sold separate from the cafeteria include sides, snacks or drinks sold during the school day in vending machines, snack bars and a la carte lines.

To help children make nutritious choices, here is a sample of resources of cooking meus, activities and games:






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