How To Get Your Child's School To Serve A Decent Lunch

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Compassionate Eye Foundation/Martin Barraud

Do you think that the lunchroom at your child or teens school needs to make serious changes? Do your children come home complaining about their school lunches all the time? There are steps you can take to help ensure your children can get good tasting nutritious food from their school cafeteria.

Today's schools have a variety of options for parents who wish to offer input about what their local schools are serving to students. You can pass on your thoughts to the school about a small change that should be made, or become more deeply involved in helping to shape and review food choices and policies. The following steps are things that you can do, ordered from least to most involved.

Step 1: Have Good Food At Home

Many children and teens that complain about school food do so because they are not accustomed to the larger servings of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains that most schools are now required to serve. Check first to see if perhaps your children's complaints about the school food are the result of not being used to healthier food. If you are a busy parent (and what parent isn't busy?) who could use some ideas on how you can serve healthier, fast meals at home, search VeryWell for ideas.

Step 2: Visit your Child's School For Lunch

Check with your child or teen's school to see what school policies there are for parents visiting during lunch. A visit to the lunchroom will give you a first-hand glimpse of what the lunchroom is really like. You can go over the lunch menu with your kids. Talk about what they like and don't like about the food.

You can find out what ingredients and cooking techniques are used to prepare the food. Check over any nutrition information listed on the lunch menu or in the lunchroom. School cafeterias have available new techniques and more whole foods to increase the nutrition in their meals.

Step 3: Ask For More Info From The School's Lunch Room Staff Person

The person who is in charge of the school lunchroom can likely address many of your questions or concerns about the school food. Once you have visited the school lunchroom, read the menu and talked with your child you will be in a good position to ask questions.

When you first bring up concerns you have, it is always a good idea to make sure you are having a dialogue where you listen well to what the other person is saying. If you are unhappy with what you see in the lunchroom, listen carefully to what the school lunch person has to say.

Many new rules and regulations about school lunches have been put into effect in recent years. Whenever new policies are put into effect, organizations often need time to adjust to them.

Okay, so what if you have taken the above steps to do your homework about what your school's cafeteria is serving, and you still have serious concerns? What if you find out that the school lunchroom is serving food that clearly does not comply with the healthy guidelines set forth in the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act? What if they are serving all kinds of snack and a la carte items that are loaded with sugar and sodium? Or what if your child's school is complying with the new regulations, but the food has truly become so awful and inappropriate for children to eat that even though children who would normally try fruits, veggies and whole grains won't touch what is in their school lunches? Then the next steps are what you want to try.

Step 4: Still Concerned?Tell the Person In Charge ofThe Lunchroom

If you are concerned about what is being served in your child's school lunchroom, the first person you should talk with is the person in charge of the school lunchroom. When you go to speak with them, remember to stay calm and state facts about what your concerns are without including personal judgments. Let them know that you are interested in finding a solution or change to what you see. For example, if you see that ice cream and candy are being sold in the lunchroom every day, tell the school lunchroom person that you have seen the items for sale during lunch, that you know it does not comply with the new guidelines, and you would like it removed from the lunch room.

Step 5: Work Towards Stay Seeking a Solution Together

You may get a response from the school explaining why the lunchroom is the way that it is. If this is new information for you, take time to review whether things really are okay the way that they are. If you believe there is still room for change, you may want to make suggestions on how the situation could be improved. If the children complain about the healthy lunch options, share these ideas on how lunchrooms can encourage school children to make healthy food choices. If your child's school finds it difficult to afford good quality, healthy ingredients, ask if they have explored different programs such as Farm to School, or creating partnership with local food suppliers.

Step 6: Go Up The Chain Only When Needed

If you speak with school lunch person and are not getting a suitable response or seeing any change, then you will need to move up to the next person in charge. For each step, make sure you state exactly what your concerns are, what you have done so far to get change, and what the results of your efforts have been so far. Always remember to state what change it if you want to see.

After the person in charge of the school lunchroom, your next stop is the school principal. If that doesn't result in a good ending to your concerns, take your concerns to the school district's nutrition services office. The next step up to take your concerns is your local school board, and finally, local political leaders. 

Step 7: For Lasting Influence, Join the Local Wellness Policy Committee

Whether you have concerns about school lunch or child nutrition happens to be a passion for you, joining your school districts local wellness policy committee could give you the opportunity to have a positive impact on school food for all of the school children in your area. Amendments to the National School Lunch Policy include a provision that all school districts will develop a local wellness policy that will be reviewed and updated over time. Being a parent or community representative on the committee that develops and reviews these policies is a great way to be involved in your child's education while enhancing your own skills in advocacy.

A Final Word From Verywell

Sometimes, getting a change to happen in a school can take time. Much like parents, schools must also make choices in what foods they have the time and funds to serve to children, who can be very picky eaters. By learning about the choices the school is making and providing thoughtful input, you can provide the parent support that is key to tailoring local school lunches to local children.

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