three facts about school lunches

Giving your child money to purchase lunch at school might seem like an easy and convenient way to go, but it can come at a cost to his or her health. Learn the facts about school-prepared lunches—and discover the benefits of packing a homemade lunch for your child.

  1. School lunches are not nutritious.
    Recent data shows that while an estimated 30.6 million US students eat school lunches, only 6% of school lunch programs meet the nutritional requirements established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although many school districts are improving their offerings, most are still loaded with fried foods, soda pop and foods that are high in fats and sugars. 
     
  2. They contribute to childhood obesity.
    Compared with kids who brought lunch from home, those who ate school-prepared lunches were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.2% vs. 24.7%).
     
  3. They can take a bite out of your wallet.
    The cost of school lunches can add up over time, even if they are less than an adult would pay for lunch. Packing a lunch for your children means that you can choose healthy and inexpensive items to keep them fueled for the school day. 
     

Tips on how to pack your child's lunch

 
Switching to homemade, packed lunches—at least a few times a week—can have a positive impact upon your child's health and nutrition. However, there’s no way to be sure that what you’re packing in your children’s lunches is what they are actually eating: since foods can be traded and snacks can be bought from vending machines or local stores.

Help your kids to make the right choices by explaining how a nutritious lunch will give them the energy to finish the school day and enjoy after-school activities. And allow them to participate in choosing their favorite foods—recommending the healthier ones—so they’re more likely to eat them.

If you decide upon a packed lunch, some simple choices can make all the difference. For example, give your child’s lunch a nutritional upgrade by substituting a lean turkey on whole wheat sandwich for beef bologna on white, grapes for a fruit cup and homemade trail mix for cookies.

Compared side-by-side, the difference is clear: far fewer calories and less fat.

Typical lunch Nutritional upgrade lunch Difference
980 calories 725 calories 255 fewer calories
48 g fat 13.5 g fat 34.5 fewer grams of fat
13.5 g saturated fat 2.5 g saturated fat 11 fewer grams of saturated fat

Whether you pack a lunch or your child buys it at school, remember to follow these simple guidelines: Let whole grains reign, steer clear of packaged snacks and balance your lunch by including a mix of food groups for good nutrition.

For more information on making healthy decisions for your child, check out our Children & Teen Fitness offerings.

Sources: Children.WebMD.com, KidsHealth.org

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