This year in particular we’ve been reminded without a shred of doubt that school nutrition is essential to our communities. School food service departments across the country have continuously gone above and beyond to provide great meals to students. Through pandemic and natural disaster, school meals are always there. We want to take a moment to celebrate school lunches with you by sharing our TOP 5 reasons why we love school meals!
Five Reasons Why We Love School Meals
1. They Set Healthy Examples
School lunches are a great way to set healthy eating examples for young children. From getting daily offerings of nutritious fruits and vegetables, to establishing proper breakfast and lunch norms, the school cafeteria carries a huge influence on children, especially if they aren’t exposed to healthy habits at home.
2. They Allow Students to Explore
Providing options in the cafeteria can not only help younger students make independent choices, but also give them crucial opportunities for trying different foods. Presenting a variety of menu items to choose from also encourages students to figure out their preferences along the way. For example, the school cafeteria might cook meatloaf a different way than mom does at home, changing their minds completely! Or they may decide to pick a veggie that they’ve never had before, because they weren’t sure if they’d like it. Availability, presentation, and curiosity can go a long way in the cafeteria!
3. They Offer Cultural Exposure
In the lunchroom, students are not only introduced to american classics like grilled cheese and tomato soup, but to local and cultural favorites too! Think enchiladas, sweet and sour chicken, or jambalaya. Outside of the home, school cafeterias can be the first interaction that students have with new and diverse foods.
4. They Nourish Our Mind and Body
What many people don’t realize about school meals is that they are carefully crafted for our children to provide the right amount of nutrients that little minds and bodies need. A lot of work goes into menu planning to ensure they are USDA compliant. What we get in return are tasty meals that nourish us throughout the day, and for many students, they’re often the only real meal of the day. Since the pandemic, food insecurity has increased among our children. Up to 1 in 4 students could face food insecurity next year.
5. They are accessible and affordable to all
Even through an unprecedented pandemic, the accessibility and affordability of meals has never been more apparent. They’re curbside, they’re delivered, and as of recently- they’re entirely free this year! Although we don’t know what will happen after this school year, meals can still be accessible and affordable for families. Parents can apply for benefits for their children to receive free or reduced meals, which ultimately save them time and money. According to the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management “When time is computed as part of the total cost of NSLP versus packed lunch options, including homemade packed lunches, replicated school meals, and convenience lunch options, the NSLP is the least expensive choice.”
Overall, school meals win! They provide a foundation for developing healthy habits, they’re diverse, nutritious, and reach millions of children every day. While National School Lunch Week may only last five days of the year, we’re always here to celebrate them!