School Lunch Tips for Growing Healthy Minds and Bodies
Kids need good nutrition to learn. Without the right fuel, they won’t have the energy they need to stay focused. When kids benefit from a healthy and delicious lunch, the whole school community benefits. Cook up an appetite for learning in your school with these easy, tasty lunch time tips.
With busy mornings and hectic schedules, school lunches are often packed with convenience in mind instead of healthy ingredients. Keep it fresh and follow the Choose MyPlate guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- Make half your plate veggies and fruits.
- Add lean protein.
- Include whole grains.
- Don’t forget the dairy.
- Avoid extra fat.
Classroom Tip! Put a healthy snack station in every classroom. Offer small portions of bite-sized vegetables, fruits and crackers so kids can supplement their lunch and satisfy the mid-afternoon munchies.
Thirsty for More?
Sweet drinks go down way too easily and don’t deliver the nutrients kids need. At about 140 calories in a 10 fl oz bottle, even apple juice packs a high-calorie sugar punch. Encourage kids to drink water instead of soda and fruit juice. For a refreshing twist, try infusions with mint leaves, cucumber slices or citrus wedges.
Look up the nutritional and calorie content of foods with USDA’s Food Tracker.
Classroom Tip! School administrations can help by installing water fountains that double as filling stations for reusable bottles.
Lunch Box Challenge
Coming up with ideas for healthy and quick school lunches is a challenge. Getting kids to eat them can be downright hard. The lunch box may go home empty, but that doesn’t always mean the food was eaten.
Little appetites can be stimulated in a big way! Get creative with:
- Bright and colorful foods and dishware.
- Funky shapes and forms or “faces.”
- Textures little fingers will love.
- Notes, jokes or cartoons slipped into the lunch box.
Help parents fuel their children’s school day with easy-to-whip-up, nutritious, kid-friendly lunches. How can families help make lunch time healthy and enjoyable?
- Try new foods at home, not at school. Kids need to taste a new food a few times to “get used to it.”
- Plan days when parents can eat lunch at school with their children.
- Offer taste-testing events or surveys about the school lunch menu.
- Help kids learn about what’s on the menu. Make it a class project to learn about items they regularly have for lunch.
Classroom Tip! Monitor the waste. Keep an eye on what kids are throwing out and make it a rule that what doesn’t get eaten gets taken back home.
Explore Where Food Comes From
Helping kids learn about where their food comes from and who produces it may motivate kids to make healthy choices.
Get kids involved in gardening with a schoolyard garden.
- Start small with some easy-to-grow seeds and a container for each student.
- Create a classroom window herb box.
- If space permits, create a full-fledged garden in the schoolyard.
The USDA offers a list of things to consider when planning a school garden.
Classroom Tip! Take a field trip to a local farmer’s market or farm stand and gather ingredients for a meal to prepare together in class. Find a market near you!
School Might Be Out, but Healthy Food Is Always In
During the summer, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.