School Meals Overview
A Healthy Diet is vital for your child's physical and mental health and they are likely to perform better at sports and also academically. It is common knowledge that a poor diet can lead to unhappy, overweight or obese kids (for example, one third of American children are overweight or obese). This can result in social and confidence issues and health problems later in life including a shorter life expectancy. Read our articles here for general information on 'CHILD OBESITY' and 'HEALTHY NUTRITION OVERVIEW'.
Since your child is at school for a large part of their waking hours, it is extremely important for their growth and development to make sure you are aware of the pros and cons of school meals versus packed lunches. Then you can make an informed decision as to what is best for your child. Encourage your child to choose the healthy options as much as possible if you do opt for School Meals and an option is available.
If your child takes packed lunches you MUST chill your child's food for transit to school AND ensure your child has access to and immediately uses a school refrigerator. Studies have shown that over 95% of packed lunches are stored at unsafe temperatures risking food poisoning which is a real health hazard and particularly dangerous for children under 4 years of age. Read our 'SCHOOL PACKED LUNCHES' article here.
Recent studies in the United States have proven that children who eat school lunches are less likely to be obese than those that do not. However the schools that stuck closer to or exceeded the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines tended to have even lower obesity levels. However, there have been some criticisms. Recently (2013) some students have complained about meal portion sizes in the U.S. (and being left hungry) and having to top up with some packed lunch on top so there has been some relaxing of the quantities served but this is currently being further reviewed and in some isolated cases a few schools have quit the program saying it was costing them money in lost revenue because they had lost approximately 10% of students because of it. Our recommendation would be to have the school meals but just take some additional fruit and a few nuts for snack times.
In the United Kingdom and United States, the food must meet certain nutritional standards. Not every school meets it perfectly but you can rest assured that typically the food is of a nutritionally sound standard. Lower income families in both the U.S. and U.K. can get free or discounted school meals but normally there is a nominal charge for school meals in both countries but the price is definitely worth it because it is critical to your child's health.
In the United States, the requirement for school meals is to meet the DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS 2015 which places emphasis on eating good nutritional food, balancing calories intake to age and gender and carrying out physical exercise.
In the UK, the requirement is for high quality meat, oily fish or poultry with a minimum of 2 portions of fruit and vegetables and high energy carbohydrates too. There is a maximum of 2 deep fried portions of food per week and no crisps (chips), chocolate, sweets or fizzy drinks are allowed in the meal or in vending machines.
Whatever your choice on food, you should always provide a bottle of water (clean it daily) for your child to take to school and get them to drink it and top it up regularly throughout the day especially when the weather is hot or they are exercising. See our articles here on 'HYDRATION' and 'SUN AND HEAT SAFETY'.
A healthy snack in between meals means your child is less likely to want to overeat at meal times too and this also keeps up the body's metabolism so ensure your child has plenty of healthy options such as fruit and nuts, for example.
If your child has any special nutritional requirements (for example if they suffer from Protein Intolerance and Allergies) then it is highly recommended to discuss the best way forward with the school and your health professional.
For the vast majority of children, school meals are the healthiest way to bring up your child. Supplement this with some healthy snacks that don't need refrigeration. In this way they are more likely to maintain a normal weight with all of the physical and emotional and health benefits that will result.
The papers are sorted by various topics (tags) such as including 'Annual Survey of School Meals', 'Impact of school food standards', 'Better food and behaviour', 'School meal takeup', 'economics', 'cooking skills' and more.
The Trust is the No.1 Charity in the UK that advises schools and nurseries on nutrition. There is a section of the site devoted to the Early Years with advice for nurseries, kindergarten, breakfast clubs plus further advice for schools and parents.
Information provided by the USDA (United States Department for Agriculture) Food and Nutrition Service. This American legislation allows funding for various core child nutrition programs. There are links to proposed, interim and final rules as well as implementation links too.
School meals should meet this guideline by the 'US Dept. of Agriculture' and the 'U.S. Department of Health and Human Services'. It includes a message from the secretaries of these two organisations. There is detailed information in the key sections - 'introduction', 'Balancing calories to manage weight', 'Foods and food components to reduce', 'foods and nutrients to increase', 'building healthy eating patterns' and 'helping americans make healthy choices'.