Are school meals healthy? Myths and stereotypes abound, but the facts are clear when it comes to meals served through the National School Lunch Program: school meals are nutritious and an important part of addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.
What do "school meals" consist of? Know the facts!
Meals served through NSLP and SBP are required to meet national nutrition standards by federal law. In return, schools receive reimbursement for each meal served. All other foods are typically served through vending machines, a la carte foods, fundraisers, class parties, etc. These foods, often known as "competitive foods" because they compete with NSLP and NSBP, are not required to meet federal law.
Below are several popular misconceptions about school meals and the truth behind the myths.
Myth #1: School meals make children obese.
Fact: Students that eat meals served through the National School Lunch Program are more likely to be at a healthy weight. Research published in the August 2003 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine concluded that "girls in food insecure households had significantly reduced odds of being at risk of overweight if they participated in the [National School Lunch, School Breakfast and Food Stamp Programs]." The research highlights the importance of food assistance programs to low-income children not only in addressing hunger "but also in potentially protecting them from excess weight gain."
Myth #2: Schools serve junk food for school lunch.
Fact: Meals served under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) must, by federal law, meet nutrition guidelines based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. No more than 30% of calories can come from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat. School lunches provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories. These guidelines apply over the course of one week of school lunch menus.
Myth #3: Schools serve fried, greasy foods.
Fact: Schools may serve French fries, chicken nuggets or pizza at times. However, because the meals are always required to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances, the foods still meet required nutrition standards, including fat and saturated fat. This is because they are often baked, not fried, made with low-fat or lean ingredients, and served with vegetables, fruit and other options that make each meal balanced and nutritious.
Myth #4: Sack lunches from home are better than school meals.
Fact: Research by Dr. Alice Jo Rainville of Eastern Michigan University concluded that students who eat school lunches consume less calories from fat than students who bring their lunch from home. Furthermore, the research found school lunches contain three times as many dairy products, twice as much fruit and seven times the vegetable amounts as lunches brought from home
School nutrition professionals are committed to providing safe and nutritious meals to all children. Parents are encouraged to visit their student’s cafeteria, try a lunch and talk to the school food service director about the nutritional profile of foods served.
by Carole Knight
Director of Food Service