How School Lunches Can Benefit Your Child


USDA and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) lunches are carefully designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of students9.  By limiting salt, fat, and sugar content while increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals such as iron, school meals are becoming more nutritious9.  In addition to helping your child become healthier, these nutritious meals have also been shown to improve students’ social behaviors and academic performance9 .  

Academic Benefits

Students who eat full, nutritious meals like the ones provided by the school for breakfast and lunch have:

  • Improved cognitive function—Short-term memory, the ability to conceptualize, and abstract reasoning skills improved when students ate snacks that contained more nutrients4,5,910.
  • Higher test scores—Students who received the necessary levels of iron in their meals scored better on math and IQ tests1,3.
  • Better attention spans—Parents reported that their children could concentrate better after they had eaten more nutritious meals6.

Behavioral Benefits

Your child’s behavior can also change for the better if he or she is enjoying school meals.  Children who eat breakfasts and lunches that meet their nutritional needs, such as the ones provided through the NSLP, experience:

  • Better classroom behavior— Children and adolescents have been shown to get along better with classmates and cause fewer class disruptions when they have been eating properly2.
  • Fewer absences—Students who consistently eat enough throughout the day are less likely to miss school days or extra-curricular activities throughout the year due to respiratory problems910.  Students who attend class more often are more likely to perform well in school, so limiting absences is extremely important7.
  • Improved mood—Hungry children tend to be angrier and more irritable.  They also cannot socialize as well5


Tisa Hill- Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences

Julianna Apuzzo- Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences 


  1. Halterman JS, Kaczorowski JM, Aligne CA, Auinger P, Szilagyi PG.” Iron deficiency and cognitive achievement among school-aged children and adolescents in the United States.” Pediatrics. 2001;107(6):1381-1386.
  2. Howard, Larry. “Does food insecurity at home affect non-cognitive performance at school? A longitudinal analysis of elementary student classroom behavior.” Economics of Education Review. 2011;30:157-176.
  3. Otero GA, Aguirre DM, Porcayo R, Fernandez T. “Psychological and electroencephalographic study in school children with iron deficiency.Int J Neurosci. 1999;99: 113-121.
  4. Sandstead HH, Penland JG, Alcock NW, et al. “Effects of repletion with zinc and other micronutrients on neuropsychologic performance and growth of Chinese children.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(suppl 2):470S-475S.
  5. SankarR, Rai B, Pulger T, et al. “Intellectual and motor functions in school children from severely iodine deficient region in Sikkim.” Indian J Pediatr. 1994;61:231-236.
  6. Sever Y, Ashkenazi A, Tyano S, Weizman A. “Iron treatment in children with attention deficit  hyperactivity disorder. A preliminary report.” Neuropsychobiology. 1997;35:178-180.
  7. Stanca, L. (2006). “The effects of attendance on academic performance: Panel data evidence for introductory microeconomics.” The Journal of Economic Education, 37(3), 251-266.
  8. Taras, Howard. “Nutrition and student performance at school.” Journal of School Health. 2005;75:199-   213.
  9. United Stated Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2010). “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” 
  10. Van Stuijvenberg ME, Kvalsvig JD, Faber M, Kruger M, Kenoyer DG, Benade AJ. “Effects of iron, iodine, and beta carotene fortified biscuits on the micronutrient status of primary school children: a randomized controlled trial.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69:497-503.