Are Our Kids’ School Lunches Healthy?

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

There’s been a national push over the past few years, led by First Lady Michelle Obama, to make school lunches healthier by offering better food choices. With most schools now back in session, it’s a good time to take a look at whether kids are actually eating healthier, three years after the National School Lunch Program was enacted.

Approximately 31 million schoolchildren participate in this USDA program, which helps fund school lunches with the caveat that they provide healthier food (fruit, vegetables, whole grains) with less sodium and fewer calories. It’s an important endeavor—but is it working?

How to Make Your Sandwich Healthier

Read More

Early results are mixed. A new study published in Public Health Reports indicates that although the children observed selected more fruit and vegetables with their lunches after the government initiatives went into place, researchers found that the kids actually ate less of them and threw out more. The study had a small sample size (just two northeastern elementary schools) so not too much can be read into the results, besides the adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Or eat vegetables.

In contrast, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows more promising results for the program, concluding that students consumed more fruit and vegetables after the National School Lunch Program was implemented, and that they threw away a smaller percentage of their vegetables (even though the number was still high: 60 percent of the veggies were trashed). Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report last week demonstrating that school lunches are indeed getting healthier overall, with over three-quarters of schools offering two or more veggies and two or more fruits for lunch, and about 30 percent even offering salad bars.

So there has been some progress made with our children’s school lunches, but more research is needed to determine whether we have a long-term fix or if the current program needs tweaking. Ultimately, if you want to ensure that your child is eating well at school, take matters into your own hands—literally. Make your own lunches and snacks for your kids, like the ones recommended here on The Leaf, and you can take better control of their eating—and their health.