Healthy school lunch is vital to the overall health and well-being of students. Three balanced meals a day is crucial to development in children. The foods that they eat provide nourishment for both physical and mental growth. The benefits of healthy school lunches and nutrition go far beyond the benefits of lunches sent from home. Some children come from communities that have little access to high-quality food and therefore suffer from food insecurity. Nutritious meals with adequate calories help meet the needs of young growing bodies.
Since nutrition is of importance to school success, school meals have taken on a greater importance. They have become a topic frequently discussed in the government, communities, and school board meetings. Various national school lunch programs have been created that help students and their needs get met. These programs have produced debates about the cost of including healthy food in school lunches throughout the school year.
What is the healthiest thing your kids can eat for lunch?
Eating habits of children develop young and may continue through to adulthood. A healthy lunch is one that meets nutritional needs contains key nutrients. But what are these key nutrients? Nutrients that are beneficial to proper health should be included on a menu that contains a meal of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other foods that are protein-rich and are low in fat.
It has been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but lunch, especially school lunch, is a key meal for children. When a healthy school lunch menu includes nutritious foods, it can help students stay alert and full throughout the school day. But healthy school meals are words that have not previously gone together. So, if you plan to pack a healthy lunch for your student to take to school, what should it include?
What are key items to include in a school lunch?
When choosing key healthy foods to include in a homemade meal or as part of a school lunch program, making healthier choices is key. High-quality food choices can help a child learn, grow and develop, fight against obesity, and meet health needs that may help keep the child well. Think of a school lunch as the fuel you put in the tank. If you choose the wrong kind of fuel, you might run out of energy before the day is over. Packing a lunch made at home can be an enjoyable activity for a child and their parents and can also give the child more ownership of their meal. So, what are key food items to include in a school lunch?
Kids generally enjoy eating fresh and fruity produce. Most fruits are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in folic acid, fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. Some options to consider include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or raspberries, dried peaches and apricots, pomegranate seeds, and orange or tangerine sections.
Crunchy vegetables should be included as part of a low in fat, healthy lunch. Often, if parents include a nutritious, child-friendly dip, it may increase the likelihood of kids eating them. Kids love to dip and dunk vegetables, so adding a dip or dipping sauce such as hummus can improve the fresh vegetables’ chances of being eaten. Vegetables are low in fat and contain many vitamins and minerals, including zinc, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins A, E, C, and phosphorus. Most are high in fiber and aid in digestion. Studies have shown that kids who ingest vegetables regularly are far less likely to suffer from digestive issues and stomach problems.
If your student is tolerant of dairy, naturally flavored yogurt, icy cold milk, and cubed or string cheese are possible choices. Students like the fun of peeling apart string cheese, creating bite-sized pieces. Dairy products supply many essential nutrients that kids need for proper brain and physical development. Milk is also a great source of protein, which helps students stay fuller for longer. If your student is dairy-sensitive, almond, soy, or rice milk are great options. However, make sure the version you choose is fortified with calcium.
Plenty of freshwater. Although water is a liquid, it is paramount that children drink enough water to eat a healthy eating plan. Scholars should keep well-hydrated by drinking approximately 6-8 glasses of water per day. Research has shown that when water is incorporated into school lunches, it may prevent up to a half-million kids from succumbing to obesity.
Students should also have a protein as part of lunchtime food choices at schools. A meat or plant-based meat alternative should be included. A hard-boiled egg or peanut butter may also fit the bill. However, check your school or district policy to see if nuts may be brought to school. Some schools do not allow peanut butter or other nuts due to nut allergies.
Grains are crucial for kids to eat as a part of better lunches. These grains are critical to the development of strong and healthy scholars. They are chock full of minerals and fiber and contain vitamin B. Meals should include healthier grain options rather than those that include refined grains. Unrefined grains, as opposed to refined grains, are a better choice for a developing child.
The refining process strips fiber, germ, bran, and other nutrients from grains. Students need these grains, which provide a fuel source and help children focus, and kids get the energy they need to learn new information. There are various ways to provide this high-quality part of school food, including flatbread, wholegrain crackers, grain cereal, or a healthy roll.
Do healthy lunches improve test scores?
A research study conducted by the University of California Berkeley made news when it gathered test score data from more than 9,700 elementary, middle, and high schools that had food service contracts with a healthy meal vendor. The study showed that scholars who ate nutritious food as part of a healthy foods program at school increased test performance measurements by between .03 and .04 standard deviations. This is a notable improvement, especially for scholars who may be food insecure or economically challenged.
Eat better to get better.
Lunchroom food doesn’t need to have a negative connotation anymore. It should be appealing and feature items students like to eat but should also be full of nutrients and lower in fat. Luckily, there are many options that students who either bring or purchase their lunches throughout the year can explore with relatively simple navigation.