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What you need to know about school lunches

Michelle Maffei is a freelance copywriter covering a variety of topics both online and in print, from parenting to beauty and more. Combining her two favorite loves, writing and motherhood, she has found joy in even the most challenging ...

Solve the mystery behind the meat

The National School Lunch Act provides low-cost or free healthy lunches for kids daily. Yet, even if your child is paying full price for his or her school lunches, the standards laid out by this lunch program applies to every meal served up by your child’s school.
School lunchline

Before you send your youngster to the cafeteria to buy a meal, find out what you need to know about school lunches.

Are school lunches nutritionally complete?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, The National School Lunch Program provides low-cost or free nutritionally-balanced lunches in more than 10,000 public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. And, while the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 spurred an update to the nutritional standards — upping the fruits, vegetables and whole grains served in the school menu, setting age-appropriate calorie limits and curbing the sodium content — it’s ultimately up to the local school food authorities to decide what foods are served and how they are prepared. This leaves the menu varying from campus to campus, leaving the answer to whether or not school lunches are nutritionally complete a bit on the blurry side.

Packing a lunch instead? Find out why kids should use a bento lunchbox >> 

Where do school lunches come from?

Because school lunches are funded by the federal and state government, much of the food your child finds on his plate is made of commodity or surplus foods from the USDA to make funding go further. However, some school districts even buy food through commodity cooperatives, limiting the ingredients in which they can access. So, while the nutritional standards set forth keeps schools from serving up only salt-laden foods, districts choose a food service company based on bids that include price, foods and meal options like hot breakfast items which ultimately determines what your child has for lunch.

How are school lunches prepared and stored?

Storage and preparation can vary from campus to campus, which also plays a hand in determining what type of food is served in the school cafeteria. Although most would agree that a healthy school lunch is the most important thing, the schools cannot prepare fresh produce and non-canned or frozen cuisine unless they have a way to refrigerate and store the food. Additionally, growing concerns about food allergies and cross-contamination in the cafeteria kitchen have come to light, but it doesn’t mean schools are required to change a thing. Although there are tons of sources to train and educate school cafeteria staff about the food allergy epidemic, it is ultimately up to parents to cope with their kids’ food allergies at school.

Get tips on how to manage your kids’ food allergies at school >>

While improved nutrition standards have helped combat the child obesity epidemic and made parents happier, students aren’t pleased with the healthy lunches for kids on campus. But, are reports of lunch boycotts really cause for concern? Perhaps the best way to combat the protests arising from the school lunch program standards is to take what you need to know about school lunches and passing on the message to objecting students that healthy eating habits are a win-win for everyone.

More about school lunches

Michelle Obama’s school lunch program makes kids hungry
Are your kids really eating their school lunch?
Break the school lunch rut

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