You’ve likely heard about Healthy Schools Campaign, an initiative focused on improving school meals. While you may not be aware of this campaign’s goals, this nonprofit takes a systems approach to transforming school food. In addition to improving students’ health, it also supports the school’s core mission: education. It has long been known that improved nutrition leads to better focus, classroom behavior, and test scores. And there is a wealth of research to support these claims.
Start by reducing fats. Choose milk or soy drinks with calcium fortified content instead of skimmed milk. You can also opt for meat alternatives, such as lean meat or hard-boiled eggs. Avoid peanut butter and jelly. Some schools have nut-free policies and avoiding them is better for students’ health. While you’re reducing fats in school lunches, remember that it’s important to make sure children are getting the right amount of nutrients.
Make the transition to healthier school lunches gradual. Introducing new menu items gradually makes kids interested in them and is easier on foodservice budgets and inventory management. You can start with favorite dishes kids enjoy. Upgrade them with healthier ingredients and try different veggie and dip combinations several times a week. You can also switch up the traditional taco with a raw veggie wrap. If your students like tacos, consider a raw veggie wrap instead.
Increasing the time given for a 20-minute lunch period is also important. Research shows that kids will eat more if they have longer periods to eat. Therefore, extending lunch breaks to 30 minutes can help your child to get the proper nutrition. You can also check nutrition information posted on the school district’s website. Once you’ve made the change, you can begin monitoring your child’s school lunch choices and ensure that they are choosing the right foods.
Some districts and schools have taken the lead in making school lunches healthier. In Berkeley, California, Alice Waters created an edible schoolyard program that helps students grow organic foods and cook their own meals. Other major school districts have broken ties with sugar-rich corporate sugar-daddy companies. In Chicago, for example, soda-free lunches are banned. And some pioneering schools have introduced salad bars and more vegetables. And, while the federal government hasn’t made a final decision on the issue, there are other things that schools can do to improve their lunches.
Increasing the variety of fruits and vegetables on school menus is another way to increase students’ fruit consumption. Research shows that students who are offered more fruit and vegetables at school lunchtimes will choose them over a menu with fewer calories. In addition, pre-slicing fruit and vegetable items can reduce plate waste. Verbal reminders and healthy food options can also make the difference in choosing what to eat and how much to eat.
The benefits of making school lunches healthier are clear. Not only will it make students more likely to eat healthy, but it will also reinforce the messages of teachers and parents about nutrition. School lunches can help students develop lifelong healthy eating habits that will benefit their overall health and well-being. So, why not start today and make the school lunch healthier? So, make it a point to offer healthy options for all students and make them standard in school life.
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