Are school meals healthy?

Feeding our kids is a fundamental nurturing act we perform daily, and parents do their best to provide their kids a good nutritional foundation for optimal health. But what happens when kids are out of the home? Do the school meals and environment promote health?

Congress will be reauthorizing the school lunch, school breakfast, and other child nutrition programs this year, a process that occurs every five years, so I’d like to take this five guest post opportunity to look at what kids eat at school, and what we can do about it.

A short introduction to the school meal program:

In 1946 the National School Lunch Act created the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) with a dual purpose—to feed kids and prevent dietary deficiency and to provide an outlet for surplus agricultural commodities. One can already see that the dual purpose of the program throws in some problematic conflicts of interests, but let’s go on. The school lunch program operates in all public schools and in many private schools too.

The School Breakfast Program was established in 1975 to help meet the nutritional needs of kids from low-income families and is offered in fewer schools.

On any average school day more than 30 million kids eat a school lunch, and 10 million kids eat a school breakfast. Fifty-nine percent of the kids eating a school lunch are from low-income homes, as are 80 percent of school breakfast eaters.

So what’s for lunch?

The third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, which evaluates the school meal program, came out recently. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association devoted over 130 pages in a special supplement to its findings. There’s much to read and think about in its data. I’ll be looking at the menu of the school lunch tomorrow.

In the meantime, an adventurous school teacher vowed to eat the school lunch every day this year, and she’s posting musings and photos of her cafeteria meal in a daily blog.

Take a look at the pictures. Take note of the amount of packaging.

I’d love to hear your first impressions.

Published on: February 15, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Ayala Laufer-Cahana MD

Dr. Ayala is a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), entrepreneur, artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. Dr. Ayala’s main interests are preventive health care and nutrition. She is a serious home cook and strongly believes that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand.

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