Healthy Changes for School Lunches

We sat down with Nancy Rice, president of the School Nutrition Association, to chat about kids' school lunches and what can be done to make them healthier.

Rosemary-Parsley Hummus

Raise a Vegetable Eater

Use our tried-and-true tips for getting kids not only to eat vegetables, but also enjoy them.

How can parents help their children make better decisions in the lunch line?
Every school lunch offers two fruits or vegetables, but many children won’t try them! When parents serve a wide variety of healthy foods at home, kids are more likely to select them at school. Going over the cafeteria menu with your children before school can also help them make healthier choices in the lunch line. Even better; join your children for school lunch one day so they can see you make the right choices!

Do you have any advice for parents who want to serve healthier meals at home?
As a Registered Dietitian, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of fruits and vegetables – kids just aren’t getting enough of these nutritional powerhouses! Experiment with new foods and serving methods. Sometimes cutting your produce with fun-shaped cookie cutters, serving them on toothpicks, or offering a side of low-fat yogurt dip is all it takes to get your child to try something healthy.

With so many regulations, how can government agencies encourage schools to use locally grown fresh foods? 
Many schools are serving locally grown foods, thanks to Farm to School programs, relationships with farmers or school gardens. Challenges remain - from short growing seasons to farmers who can’t provide evidence of meeting strict school food safety regulations and local farms that can’t supply the volume or consistency required to serve large districts abiding by monthly menus. But schools will continue to work with regulators and growers to get more local foods in the cafeteria.

Are there ways for parents to help schools get more funding for healthier school lunches?
As Congress searches for new ways to trim federal deficits, contact your representatives and ask them to protect child nutrition programs. Schools are stretching tight foodservice budgets to meet costly new nutrition standards, and with many families struggling to put food on the table, now is not the time to be cutting our school meal programs! Some state and local governments support school nutrition programs, so contact your local legislators, too.

If parents are not satisfied with the lunches their children are being served at school, what can they do to advocate better menus?
Visit your school cafeteria for a meal and chat with the cafeteria manager about what’s being served. Next, meet with your school nutrition director about efforts to improve the meals and how you can help. Maybe you can get involved in your district’s local school wellness committee or lobby for local funding. School food advocate Dana Woldow shares some great suggestions on how to get started in her post on The Lunch Tray blog.


Dawn Williams
Mar, 2011
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