Good nutrition is important to health especially for children as they grow and develop habits that will last a lifetime. Healthy food offered at school contributes to children’s academic success, growth and development of health habits. Below are some tips, as a pediatrician, you can discuss with parents regarding the health benefits of school meals.
► Healthy school lunches contribute to the overall diet quality of student’s diets. A 2012 USDA study found that the foods provided as part of school lunch were healthier than those in the average child’s diet. School meals provide children with one-third of the calories, protein, calcium, iron, Vitamins A and E that children need. Starting with the school year 2012-2013, school meals have more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These ‘new’ nutrition standards reinforce healthy food choices to help contribute to the prevention of childhood obesity.
► If children come to school hungry it is hard for them to concentrate and be successful in the classroom. Participation in the School Breakfast Program makes healthy foods available to children so that they are ready to learn.
Some benefits of school food that you may not have considered:
► School meals expose students to healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains. In many cases children have opportunities to try new fruits or vegetables and other foods they haven’t previously experienced. The influence of peers can contribute to the likelihood that children will try new foods. Research suggests that what other children eat at the table influences acceptance of foods.
► Schools provide health and nutrition classes. Teachers link what is offered in the cafeteria to good health and healthy food choices. In a sense, the cafeteria becomes a ‘laboratory’ for children where they apply what they learned in the classroom as they make healthy food choices when offered school foods.
So, you see, school meals do more than feed children…they contribute to academic success and good health!
Ellen Schuster, University of Missouri
Food Research and Action Center. “Breakfast for Learning.”
Salvy S.J., de la Haye K., Bowker J.C., Hermans R.C. Influence of peers and friends on children’s and adolescents’ eating and activity behaviors. (2012) Physiol Behav. 106(3):369-78.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. “Nutrient and MyPyramid Analysis of USDA Foods in Five of Its Food and Nutrition Programs.” Table 3-39. January 2012.