School meals are a great way to introduce children to new foods and encourage healthy habits that last a lifetime. They are nutritious, affordable and easily available right at school!
What is the National School Lunch Program?
The National School Lunch Program was enacted in 1946 to ensure all school children had access to healthy meals so they could learn and succeed in school. The program offers meals at a free or reduced rate for families who need assistance.
What Makes a School Meal?
School meals are heavily regulated and have strict requirements for nutrition–including calorie count, sodium content limits and fat limits. Over 30 million children enjoy healthy lunches every school day and school meals must be in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For example, they should include:
- 1 cup of 1% or fat-free milk
- ¾ cup of vegetables
- ½ serving of fruit
- Entrée must include whole grains and lean protein
School Breakfast is also regulated and must provide at least ¼ of the day’s recommended calories for the child’s age, along with aligning with the dietary guidelines.
Meal Service and Food Choices
Traditional school meal service happens in the cafeteria–students wait in line, get their food and sit down to eat. For lunch, most age groups can choose from multiple options for each of the required food groups. Offering choices increases the likelihood of students eating the food rather than discarding it.
Many schools encourage students to learn about healthy eating by offering a variety of fruits and vegetables, sometimes including food grown on-site at school gardens! This helps students learn to implement MyPlate eating recommendations in a real-life setting.
School breakfast and school lunch can be served in different ways to ensure all students have access to nutritious meals – before school in the cafeteria, after the bell, or in the hall between class periods for older students. All these service models offer a chance to help students be successful and ready to learn.
Why do Dairy Farmers Support School Meals?
Milk supports children’s brains and bodies with an amazing package of 13 essential nutrients, plus kids love it! Ensuring the next generation of children is healthy and ready to learn is a priority for dairy farmers because it should be a priority for all of us.