Encourage Healthy Eating Behaviors and Promote School Lunches

cooking with kids


Students who eat full, balanced meals everyday are more likely to perform better academically and behaviorally.5  Often, the breakfasts and lunches provided by the school are the best way for children to get the nutrition that they need to concentrate in the classroom.  In order to encourage your students to participate in the school lunch program, try these tips for modeling and promoting healthy eating habits.

Eat school lunch yourself. When students see you eating school lunch in the cafeteria, they may be inspired to follow suit.  Seeing their teacher eat school lunch will show them that this is an easy, healthy option for mealtime.2

Focus on how different foods make them feel. Healthy foods tend to make you feel better and ready to take on the world—encourage students to realize this for themselves through activities that promote healthy choices.1  For example, have students talk about how they feel after they eat a banana versus how they feel after eating greasy fries.  Allow students to make their own choices regarding snacks, but help guide them toward the “right” answer. 2 Use this as an opportunity to point out the nutritious snack foods that your school offers and draw attention to the fact that you are eating those yummy, healthy snacks.

Teach students about their body’s need for nutrients.  If students understand why their body cannot thrive on a constant stream of junk food, they may be more likely to change their eating habits by utilizing school lunches.4

Plan a “field trip” to your school’s kitchen.  Showing students how and where school lunches are made will personalize the food process while acquainting them with the staff.  Once students get a firsthand look at the food program, they will see how clean and well-thought out each meal is which will encourage them to eat school lunches.3

Show students where to find more information. If you find that there isn’t enough time to talk about all of the benefits of the school lunch program, help provide students with more information in an age-appropriate way.  For younger children, open up a dialogue using this superhero exercise to empower children and prime them for healthy eating. Then play games that teach them about basic nutrition. For older students, provide pamphlets or helpful websites like those of the CDC or USDA so that they can find out more information on their own time. The more they know, the more likely they are to make the right choices.4


Tisa Hill- Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences

Julianna Apuzzo- Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences 


  1. Boehm, J.K.; Williams, D.R.; Rimm, E.B.; Ryff, C.’ and Kubzansky, L.D. (2012). Association between optimism and serum antioxidants in the midlife in the United States study. Psychosomatic Medicine. 75:1; 2-10.
  2. Food and Nutrition Service. Tips for educators on supporting healthy school meals.
  3. Public Broadcasting Service. PBS Parents: Encourage Kids to Eat Healthy. 
  4. Perry, Cheryl; Mullis, Rebecca; and Maile, Marla.  Modifying the Eating Behavior of Young Children. Journal of School Health. 2009;55:399-402.
  5. Taras, Howard. Nutrition and Student Performance at School. Journal of School Health. 2005;75:199-213.