Getting Your Child to Eat a Healthy School Lunch

healthy school lunch

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Does your child come home from school complaining about school lunch food? Do they complain that the food is tasteless? That it is greasy? That the food has changed to be healthier, or that the lunches are just plain gross? What do you do as a parent? You want your child to have access to and eat quality school lunches that are healthful and tasty.

Here's what you can do:

1) Talk to Your Children About Healthy Food Choices 

If you want your children and teens to make good choices about what they eat, let them know it matters by talking to them about food choices. Research studies have shown time and again that school children who eat balanced lunches learn better than children who do not eat lunch or do not eat a balanced lunch. 

2) Model Good Eating Habits at Home 

Children and teens pick up a lot of their thoughts and attitudes, even those towards food, from watching you, their parent. If you are eating healthy foods at home, your children and teens will understand the importance of eating healthy foods and be more likely to choose them at school.

Tastes for foods are developed in large part by learning and habit. If you have never tried food, it can be scary to try something for the first time. If your child is not used to eating fruits and vegetables, the new larger servings of fruits and vegetables required under the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act will take some adjustments. If your children have already learned to like green vegetables, legumes, and fresh fruit, then your children will appreciate being offered these items at school.

When the new standards for more fruits and vegetables in school lunches were first implemented, there was an increase in kids who didn't want to eat all of their lunches. 

Over time, though, the children started to try the new fruits and veggies being offered. Soon many of the kids were happy to get a side of fresh broccoli and carrots. It just took a little time for the kids to get used to it. You can help speed up this process by providing healthy foods at home.

3) Explore Local Foods, Farms, and Gardens 

Everywhere you go in the US, different areas produce different foods. Historically, the US has a large agricultural background. Find out what foods are produced in the area where you live. Try visiting a local farm or growing a garden at home. Children and teenagers alike love getting the hands-on experience of growing or harvesting their own food. 

Some schools have even started school gardens that integrate hands-on learning outside with growing fruits or vegetables, which the school students get to eat. Programs like Farm to School also help provide funding for schools to buy produce from local farmers for school lunches. This provides support for local farmers while putting local foods right in the cafeteria of school children who then try locally grown healthy foods.

4) Look at the School Lunch Menus Together 

Sit down with your child and look at their school lunch menu. Ask your child which lunches they like the best and the least. If you notice foods on the menu that don't sound healthy, like pizza or french fries, look for information about the ingredients used and the methods used to prepare the food.

Many school lunchrooms have found ways to incorporate healthy ingredients into traditionally high-calorie and nutrient-poor foods.

New preparation methods may also lower fat and calorie content while retaining nutrients, like serving baked sweet potato fries instead of deep-fried french fries.

5) Visit Your Child's School for Lunch 

Check with your child's school to see what policies they have about parents coming to eat lunch with their child. A lunch visit from a parent will let you see right into what your child's school day is really like. 

It also allows you to see exactly what the food and cafeteria are really like. If your child complains about school food, this will give you the chance to see first hand what is really served up by the school. If you are concerned that your child's school is still serving children unhealthy food despite the new standards for lunches and increased public concern about school lunch nutrition, a first-hand visit can let you know what is really being served and sold to children at school. 

6) Advocate Smartly for Improvement If Needed 

If you have concerns that your child's school lunchroom needs to make some changes, then it is wise to take steps towards making those changes. Chances are if you think the lunches need to improve, then other parents and children may think so, too. The US public school system is unique in its bottom-up grassroots style of policy and change making. Parents making their voices heard is a huge and important part of our system. It is one reason why parental involvement is so critical to the success of our schools.

7) Avoid Fighting or Nagging About Food

If your child is hesitant to try healthy foods at school, a negative approach isn't likely to help. You want your child to enjoy eating healthy foods, rather than feeling like they must eat particular foods. Children who feel pressured to eat particular foods may resist eating those foods. 

Remember that you want your child to learn to make healthy food choices that will last throughout their lives. While you may be concerned that your child eats enough nutritious food to grow up healthy and strong, providing choices and information about healthy foods is often the best strategy.

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