Eating Healthy at School - 19 Things You Need to Know
Eating Healthy at School has become more challenging than ever, as more and more high-sugar, low-nutrition options are made available. But with some planning, you can make sure your kids are eating healthy at school.
School lunches have long been notorious for being bland at best, gag-inducing at worst. More recently, the debate about the lack of nutrition that school lunches provide has encouraged many parents to send their kids to school with packed lunches. But therein lies another challenge: how do you pack a healthy, tasty, satiating lunch that your kids will actually enjoy?
School lunches were not always around. Back in the early days of public education, oftentimes kids were sent home for their lunch hour, where their stay-at-home moms would have a delightful, well-balanced feast prepared (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating). But at some point, as population increased and the distance between homes and schools lengthened, sending kids home for an hour every day became impractical. Ergo, the school lunch.
But it is still possible to make sure your child has that nutritious, balanced meal at lunchtime. Here are some ways to make the best of that meal, whether it is conveniently packed or ordered from the lunch line:
Benefits of Eating Healthy
It also helps in the development and strengthening of bones and teeth. Helps to support a healthy weight and to keep them active and focused in school, improving their mood and overall mental health.
Many of the benefits of eating healthy are long-term, which is why it is so hard for us to stick to our healthy eating habits. But there are some results that you will see pretty quickly.
Eating healthy at school, when parents are not able to enforce smart dietary choices, is a crucial part of a child’s overall eating plan.
Improved Brain Function
What is more vital for children than their brains? Kid’s brains are always developing and taking in new information. A hungry brain does not function optimally. In order to get good grades and perform well on tests, their brains need the right kind of fuel.
Balanced meals that do not create large spikes and drops in blood sugar are critical for concentration and cognitive function. You can read about the harmful effects of excessive sugar in this article. In order for kids to perform their best academically, it is crucial that they eat in a nutritious way that promotes good overall health. Eating healthy at school is a big piece of this puzzle.
Eating healthy will automatically make you feel better about yourself. You will gain less weight and may actually lose weight.
Reinforcing good eating habits during formative years will pay dividends down the line. Children will develop with more optimism and better feelings about their own body if they stay within a healthy weight and develop sound eating habits from an early age.
Your body will look healthier and you will develop a greater sense of self-worth and self-confidence, which is essential for kids and teens.
Your self-image will be even further enhanced by how great you feel. You will be able to lead a more active, energetic lifestyle simply because you feel better.
While many kids don’t need additional energy, eating in a healthy way at school will carry them through the afternoon and allow them to stay focused after lunch.
Some of the benefits of healthy eating may surprise you. You will notice healthier teeth, fewer wrinkles, less stress, a better mood, fewer food cravings and even less picky taste buds.
- Benefits of a Balanced Diet
- 6 Reasons for Eating Healthy
- Health Benefits of Eating Well
- The Advantages of Eating Healthy Food
- Benefits from Eating Healthy
- 9 Hidden Benefits of Healthy Eating
While adults better understand the benefits of eating healthier, younger children are often ignorant about healthy eating. It can certainly be a challenge to convince an eight-year old to opt for vegetables over high-sugar, processed snacks by enticing them with fewer wrinkles or healthier teeth. But adults can set sound examples for their children by setting healthy eating habits at home, which can carry over to kids eating healthy at school.
Healthy Eating for Kids
So, one of the best things you can do for your kids’ futures is to help them build healthy eating habits. But it’s easier said than done.
“All parents want their kids to eat healthy, but unfortunately some, in an effort to make healthy eating happen, actually make it aversive. When you tell a child the only way they’ll be able to have dessert is if they eat their green beans, for example, you convey to him that green beans prefer something aversive, that he has to bear in order to get the good stuff. On the other hand, when you talk about the benefits of food with your child, how milk can make his bones strong, or carrots, help him see in the dark, you’re more likely to nurture an eater who makes healthy decisions on his own. Notice your child’s healthy eating and not their reluctance. Even if he’s just nibbled the stalk of a piece of broccoli, make a big deal about it. Let him know how impressed you are that he’s taking such good care of his body, and obviously committed to making his brain and his muscles stronger. In doing so, you’ll up the odds, he’ll soon be eating more than just a nibble, and on his own!” states SeedlingsGroup Co-Founder Bronwyn Becker Charlton, Ph.D.
The Challenges of Healthy Eating for Kids
It’s one thing to discipline your own eating habits, but what about your kids? Parenting is a challenge by itself and getting your kids to eat healthy is not easy. These are just a few of the challenges of healthy eating for kids that you might run into.
- Kids are picky eaters
- You can control what your kids eat at home, but you don’t know what they’re eating at friends’ houses, parties, camps and after-school programs
- Most kids are heavily influenced by their peers, placing a higher importance on what is cool than what is healthy
- Kids, especially teens, want what they aren’t allowed to have
You can’t control everything your kids do, but there are ways to counteract the forces that will sometimes lead them astray.
Treat Them like Small Adults
When laying the foundation for healthy living, avoid creating rigid, inflexible rules. This will only frustrate your kids, and they will find a way to eat what they want anyway; they’ll just do it behind your back.
When you know your kids are going to be eating a meal or snack away from home, don’t forbid them from eating certain foods. Instead, encourage them to use their best judgement. This will make them feel grown up and they will feel a responsibility to make the right choice. Of course they will give in to temptation occasionally, but that’s true for adults, too.
Let Them Be Involved in the Process
Kids feel capable and important when they are able to contribute. Invite them to help cook healthy meals, prepare lunches and pick out healthy snacks at the grocery store. If they are a part of the process, they will be more likely to enjoy the food.
One fun way to involve kids in the kitchen is by making yummy treats, here is a delicious and Healthy Breakfast- Carrot Cake (Quick Bread), by Amy’s Healthy Baking.
Be a Role Model
In order to get your kids’ buy-in, you have to prove your own commitment to eating healthy. If you tell them they can’t drink soda because it’s bad for you, and then they see you downing a Coca-Cola the next day, they will be resentful and they’ll probably beg you for a sip. If you show good eating habits, your kids will enthusiastically mimic you.
- Healthy Eating: strategies to encourage good eating habits for children
- Healthy Eating Habits for Your Child
- How to Maintain a Healthy Diet at School (Teens)
- How to Make Better School Lunches
- 10 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy Food
- Encourage Kids to Eat Healthy Food
Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Kids
If you plan on sending your child to school with a healthy packed lunch, keep things fresh and exciting by changing it up every so often so that he or she doesn’t get bored. If you are a busy parent, maximize your time by cooking a few items in bulk and divvying them up into single-serving Tupperware containers. In the morning all you (or your child) have to do is grab one. Check out these sources for some healthy school lunch ideas for kids.
- Back to School Kids Lunch Ideas
- 100 Days of Real Food
- Healthy School Lunch Recipes: creative lunches for parents with more time on their hands
- Healthy School Lunches and Snacks
Healthy Food for School
If you are feeling inspired and want to send your child off with healthy food for school of your own creation, start with a basic staple food as a base; something that you can make in bulk and that will keep for a few hours in your child’s lunchbox. This can be anything from pasta to quinoa to high-quality deli meats, all of which can be enjoyed cold or at room temperature. Add some spices, dried fruit, or salad dressing to give it some flavor.
If you don’t want to limit yourself to cold foods, buy your child a small thermos. A thermos can keep food scorching hot for hours. Using a thermos opens up more possibilities—brown rice, beans and even soup will stay warm. Just zap a bowl in the microwave that morning, leaving it in a bit longer than you would if you were going to eat it now. Then scoop it into the thermos, and make sure you seal that thermos tightly.
One of my favorites is lentil soup, which packs a healthy punch of nutritious protein and veggies that will energize your child and warm him/her up during the colder months.
- Practical School Lunch Ideas (Cold & Hot): practical ideas for packed school lunches
- Healthy Eating – School Lunches: what to put in healthier school lunches
- 41 Quick and Easy School Lunches: from sweet potato tacos to fried rice, this list covers everything
- 50 Healthy, Easy School Lunch Ideas: creative school lunch ideas from a mom
- Tools for Packing Healthy School Lunches: your go-to tools for quick and efficient lunch prep
Healthy School Lunches for Kids
Healthy school lunches for kids are so important for their well-being and success. When you skip lunch, or eat a fatty or sugary lunch, you don’t feel good. You probably get that 2:00 feeling of wishing you could lay your head down on your desk and nap until the end of the day. The same is true for kids who don’t eat well. Lunch marks the halfway point of their day, and they need to be alert and energized for their afternoon classes. Making sure they have an invigorating lunch is key.
- Feeding Young Minds: The Importance of School Lunches: read about the example of Harding Senior High School
- Why Healthy School Meals Matter: an article by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
- 5 Reasons You Should Care about School Food
- Why is Lunch So Important?
- How the Quality of School Lunch Affects Students’ Academic Performance
- The Importance of Eating Lunch to a Student
Healthy Snacks for School
Snacks are much easier to put together than full meals, especially these days. Your local grocery store probably has a space in the produce section for pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, which are perfect. Grapes, baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, chopped watermelon and chopped pineapple are all good examples of healthy snacks for school. For something a little more filling, pack an individual serving of peanut butter with a sliced apple.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, try to stay away from the snack aisle. Chips, pretzels and cookies are not going to do your children any good. Most of these foods are full of sugar, corn and refined flours and oils. If you really need to buy packaged snacks, lean towards those with less sugar, fat and other refined ingredients.
If you can wean kids off of processed foods at a younger age, they will naturally develop a taste for fresh, low-sugar, non-processed foods such as fruit and vegetables. The key is to set up kids for success early in life by making smart dietary choices for them before they are able to make their own.
It’s also important to know what types of snacks are available to your child at school in vending machines, snack lines and school stores.
- Healthy School Snacks: examples of healthy snacks from every food group
- A Guide to Smart Snacks in School
- 85 Snack Ideas for Kids (and Adults): this resource is full of examples of fruits and vegetables that are great for snacking
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
This is where it gets tricky. While as a parent you have control over what you put into a packed lunch, you may not have time to pack a lunch every morning. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot easier to hand your little one a couple of bucks. And it can be tempting.
While as an individual you might not have a say into what goes into school lunches, you can get involved to help encourage a program for healthy school lunches for kids.
Here are some other ways parents can stay informed and get involved:
- Know what foods are available at your child’s school
- Eat a school lunch with your child
- Join the committee that makes decisions on health and wellness for kids in your school district
- Ask the school about changes in the school lunches
- Offer to help with taste tests
One organization that is making a difference is Food Corps, a nationwide initiative to help bring healthy food to children and schools. They travel to schools, educating kids on nutrition and planting school gardens. The students they’ve worked with eat more fruits and vegetables and are less likely to be overweight than other children.
- Healthy School Meals: How Can You Help?
- Top 10 Tips for School Food Sustainability
- Brown Bag vs. School Lunch: Which is Healthier?
- 10 Ways to Promote Healthy Eating
- Children’s Eating Behavior: The Importance of Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools
Are School Lunches Healthy?
School lunches have come a long way. Today, school lunches offer a wider variety of options than they did in past decades. Here are some of the more recent federal requirements for school lunches:
- They must provide at least one-third of a child’s protein and vitamin daily requirements
- The fat content must not exceed 30% of a child’s daily requirement of fat
- Portion sizes must reflect the age group so that kids know how much they should eat at a meal
- They must be low in sodium and refined carbohydrates
- They must include low-fat dairy products
On the flip side, some schools are finding that these healthier foods aren’t getting eaten because kids don’t find them palatable. So are school lunches healthy? While school lunches are getting healthier, they are not necessarily getting eaten. The next step is making healthy school lunches taste good.
- Healthy Lunches, Healthy Students
- Why Students Hate School Lunches
- The School Lunch Just Got Even Healthier
- Why School Meals Matter
- School Meals FAQs: frequently asked questions and answers straights from the Centers for Disease Control
Locally, you can communicate with your school board and voice your concerns over nutrition for students. While most school are forced to conform with state or national standards, many school opt for less expensive but less nutritious food choices. Whether your children attend private or public school, your dollars are helping to fund the school, and you have the right to voice concerns about food quality and the availability of healthy options.
Healthy Eating in Schools
Many steps have already been taken to promote healthy eating in schools. The Let’s Move initiative by the Obama Administration achieved higher federal standards for nutrition in school lunches. But there is still more to be done.
Kids should be educated in nutrition and healthy eating, and the food they are served should match what they are taught. Other strategies for implementing a successful healthy eating strategies in schools include:
- School gardens
- Parent involvement
- Links to cooking at home
- Staff involvement
- Student involvement
Lunchtime does not have to be miserable for kids and school lunches do not have to be unappetizing. During these formative years, we should all be a little more conscious of what the kids in our communities are eating at school.
- The School Day Just Got Healthier Toolkit
- School Meals: Tools for Schools
- Tools for Schools: resources for getting involved
- Nutrition Tools and Resources: parent tips and tools for nutrition basics
Healthy Schools: guidelines from the Obama Administration’s Let’s Move campaign
Summer Banks has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with professionals in the weight loss industry and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University.