Why Is School Lunch Important to Eat?

by Jill Corleone, RDN, LD

If your children are skipping school lunch, you may want to make some changes to what they are getting. Like breakfast, lunch gives your kids the energy they need to concentrate in school and participate in after-school activities. It also helps make sure they don't gorge on unhealthy snacks when they come home from school.

Hot Lunch

Lunches served by schools sometimes get a bad rap, but it's a nutritious and cost-effective meal option for your kids, providing protein, vegetables, fruit and milk. Plus, it will save you time from having to make lunches at home, and may provide the additional variety your kids are looking for at lunch. Go over the school menu together with your kids and decide which meals work best for them, then you can work on your menu for lunches brought from home. Planning the menus together may help get your kids to take more of an interest in their meals so they eat them.

Designing the Lunch Box

It's important that you provide your kids with nutritious options at lunch so they get the nutrients they need for continued growth and development. It works best if you agree on some basics: each lunch box meal should include a protein, grain, fruit and vegetable, with milk purchased at school.

Main Dish

Sandwiches make a great main dish for lunch and help meet the protein and grain portion needed for healthy lunches. Try switching up the bread and fillings for variety. Good choices include a whole-wheat pita stuffed with hummus, or peanut butter and jelly on a whole-wheat bagel, or turkey rolled in a whole-wheat tortilla. Salads are also a healthy main dish option for your kids at lunch, plus they are an easy way for you to use leftovers. Mix greens with diced chicken, or leftover pasta with diced ham, cheese and leftover vegetables. Single-serving sized containers of creamy dressing are an easy way to pack dressing separately from the crisp greens. Leftover take-out, such as pizza or Chinese food, also makes a fast and easy option that kids are almost sure too eat.

Healthy Sides

Healthy sides round out the meal, and provide your kids with the extra energy they need to make it until snack or dinner. Fruit makes a good healthy side dish, plus it requires minimal preparation. Send along apples, oranges, grapes, bananas or raisins. Vegetables also make a healthy side dish. Grape tomatoes, carrot sticks or sliced cucumbers travel well, and are tempting when paired with your kid's favorite salad dressing for dipping or some nut butter. Whole-grain crackers, rice cakes and pretzels also make good traveling companions.

Sweet Endings

It's okay for kids to have a small sweet treat with their lunch meal, as long as you and your children agree on the choices, and keep the serving sizes small. Good choices include a package of fruit snacks, a couple of cookies, a small cupcake or two bite-size candy bars.

About the Author

Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.

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