Get the Facts - Get Involved
from the School Nutrition Association
How can parents get involved in school meals programs?
Getting involved in school meals programs is easy. Start with these easy steps:
Review cafeteria menus with your child and be encouraging about trying new menu items. Try new foods – especially fruits and vegetables – at home and your child may be more willing to try these foods at school.
Visit the school cafeteria to make your own observations and have lunch. Check with the principal first to make sure that is allowed!
Introduce yourself to the school nutrition staff at your child’s school. They can answer questions or concerns about everything from product offerings to meal preparation methods to waiting time in line.
Healthy School Meals
Are school meals nutritious?
School meals are well-balanced, healthy meals that are required to meet science-based, federal nutrition standards.
No more than 30% of calories can come from fat, less than 10% from saturated fat
Meals must provide 1/3 of Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium
School meals are served in age-appropriate portion sizes
Every School Lunch Includes five great choices that add up to a great value:
Milk – Fat free or 1% – flavored or regular
Vegetables – From jicama slaw to fresh carrot sticks
Fruit – Everything from kiwi to locally grown apples; often fresh
Grains – More whole grain items like rolls or sandwich bread
Meat or meat alternate –White meat chicken, bean chili, lean beef
Are school meals safe?
School nutrition professionals care for the children they serve, and through strict food safety procedures and staff training, school nutrition professionals maintain a superior safety record while providing nutritious meals to millions of children each day. Some of the steps schools take to ensure their meals are safe include:
Taking at least two internal temperatures from each batch of food being cooked
Maintaining records of cooking, cooling, and reheating temperatures in the food preparation process – the basis for periodic reviews of the overall food safety program
Prechilling all salad ingredients to help maintain cold food temperatures
Preheating transfer carts before food is transported
Why should I encourage my children to eat school meals?
Providing students their choice of milk, fruits and vegetables, grains and proteins, school meals are a great value and a huge convenience for busy parents. School cafeterias offer students a variety of healthy choices and help children learn how to assemble a well-balanced meal. Parents can rest assured that there’s no super-sizing in school cafeterias because federal regulations require schools to serve age-appropriate portions.
Don’t school meals contain processed foods?
What have become known as “processed foods” are increasingly being prepared with healthier ingredients, as well as less fat, sodium and sugar.
Pizzas are increasingly made with whole grain crusts, low-sodium sauce and reduced fat cheese.
Chicken nuggets regularly use whole grain breading and are baked rather than fried.
French fries are often without trans fat and baked instead of fried – and many schools are now serving baked sweet potato fries
My child’s school has vending machines – are the foods sold in these machines subject to the same regulations as school meals?
All school meals are required to meet federal nutrition standards, but other foods that are served in school through vending machines, a la carte lines, fundraisers, class parties, etc. are not required to meet federal nutrition standards. These items are increasingly being subject to local and state laws that require nutrition standards. SNA is advocating for federal nutrition standards for all foods sold in school during the school day.
What are the beverage options with school meals?
School nutrition programs offer fat free or low-fat milk (flavored or regular) with each meal. School meals offer flavored milk as an option because experts agree that to ensure intake of calcium, vitamin D, protein and other nutrients important for growth and development, it is better for children and adolescents to drink flavored milk than to avoid milk altogether.
Federal law prohibits the sale of soda in the cafeteria during the school lunch period. State and local regulations may further prohibit the sale of soda before or after the lunch period or in other locations on the school campus.
How are school nutrition programs working to make healthy meals kid-friendly?
Children can be notoriously picky eaters, but school nutrition directors are always working to find new healthy recipes that children are willing to eat. Many conduct student taste tests and involve students in menu planning.
Schools and the foodservice industry are making student favorites more healthy, such as serving pizza on whole grain bread with low-sodium sauce and low-fat cheese. Students often don’t even notice the difference. School nutrition programs also work to incorporate culturally appropriate foods into their menus to meet the tastes of their diverse student populations, as well as provide alternative foods for students with dietary restrictions and allergies.
Are school nutrition programs supporting Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign?
As members of the School Nutrition Association, 53,000 school nutrition professionals are partnering with Let’s Move! in support of programs that further the health and well being of the nation’s children. Partnership goals include:
More school nutrition programs achieving USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Certification.
Creating an active partnership with the CDC’s Coordinated School Health Programs to involve the entire education community in improving school health environments.
Meeting the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) National Nutrition Standards for school meals.
Advancing opportunities for all students to learn about good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle as part of their education experience.
How many schools participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs?
The National School Lunch Program operates in nearly 95% of America’s schools, providing lunches to more than 31 million children daily with 5 billion lunches served annually. Approximately 85% of schools participate in the National School Breakfast Program (NSBP), which serves 10.6 million children daily, or 1.8 billion breakfasts a year.
Do all students have access to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs?
All children at participating schools may purchase meals, meeting federal nutrition standards, through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, but families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free or reduced price meals. Families receive applications for the free and reduced price program from their school nutrition department at the start of the school year.