Healthy food may be the last subject on students’ minds by the time lunch arrives. With the demands of school, lunch can sometimes be a matter of grabbing anything edible.
But students require much more, said Sandy Procter, a Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition educator and registered dietitian.
“Lunch is an important part of the day and makes a difference,” Procter said.
The midday meal typically provides a third or more of the total daily calorie intake for children, she said. Nutrients must also be incorporated into the combination to satisfy requirements.
Procter said packed lunches rarely give the balance of a meal provided by school.
“It is too bad for the kids who do not get a variety, too bad for parents who have to worry about packing it and too bad for schools who count on their numbers,” she said.
To help parents gain the full experience of a school lunch, Procter recommends sitting down in the cafeteria for an occasional meal.
“Eat lunch with your kids at school,” she said. “Most places will encourage parents coming in for a meal. They can learn to see why things are the way they are. It shines a positive light on food service.”
Going through a lunch time first hand allows parents to determine the objectivity of the comments volleyed around school lunches.
“Most of the complaints from kids are not on menu items themselves, but rather the methods of preparation and choices available,” Procter said. “Parents can become informed without being confrontational.”
Through the years, many improvements have been made in school lunch programs.
“Active, involved people have taken a look at many issues to find ways to do things better,” she said. “There are all sorts of cases where a single person has initiated changes – whether the issue has been lowering fat in menus or offering more fresh fruit each day.”
Procter encourages parents to find a connection where they can get involved.
“We can educate ourselves about the full scope of the situation and hear from the folks working in the system,” she said. “Everyone benefits when parents play an active role. Many people work hard to offer nutritional foods to students. It is important for parents to pay some attention to the issue.”
Most schools print menus each month or week to give students an opportunity to prepare for meals.
“This gives parents a chance to talk with their child to plan ahead of time and talk about alternatives and options,” Procter said.
As students grow, schools offer more freedom and choices in their lunchtime meals.
“Early actions set the stage for choices to become ingrained into habits,” Procter said. “They will continue even out of school.”
For more information on health and nutrition, interested persons may contact their local K-State Research and Extension office.
School Breakfast is a Smart Start
Eating breakfast remains the best way to start a day, said Sandy Procter, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator with K-State Research and Extension.
“Bar none, breakfast has everything to do with daily success,” Procter said. “It hits nutritional groups early in the day that otherwise may not get eaten any other time through the day.”
A range of foods can fulfill those nutritional requirements.
“Breakfast gives a full shot of nutrients through enriched cereals and fruit juices,” she said. “These simple foods are packaged right to give a full burst.”