How to Give Your Child a Healthy School Lunch that Promotes Learning

The State of School Meals

School cafeteria food has undergone some improvements in recent years; however, it still leaves a lot to be desired in the way of nutrition.

What they consist of

So, as you can see in the video, the content of school lunches has gone from only offering snacks like pickles in the early 20th century, to a more well-balanced diet in the mid-1900s, to the fast food crap of the late ’90’s & early 2000’s, to the more “real food” diet of the last ten years. Now, mind you, that is still greatly dependent on the local of the school and how much emphasis the community puts upon offering quality foods in schools.

As a result, so much of the problem of certain schools failing to offer nutritional breakfasts and lunches, is the lack of funding allocated for this important task of feeding our kids. Can you believe that in 1981 the government approved ketchup as an official vegetable due to significant budget cuts?

I do notice that schools, in general, are trying more than they used to. For example, my daughter’s school’s lunches offer a local fruit and vegetable on certain days. These are often foods that many of the kids don’t typically eat, so they are offered a “I tried a new food” type of sticker when they do brave this new produce. Despite these attempts, I am still appalled at things like two high sugar foods being offered for breakfast.

Stimulating Change

healthy school lunches are important

When it comes to making changes in regard to anything with the public school system, it can often seem an insurmountable task. I know I, myself, feel my motivation waning when I read about all of the bureaucratic challenges.

But then I think about how *ucking important this all is! I mean, sure I have the means to send my kid to school everyday with an organic, non-gmo certified lunch–but what about all the rest of them? Don’t they deserve basic nutrition, too?

Let’s think about the power of the school lunch for kids in poverty. If they can’t afford the two bucks for lunch then they probably aren’t able to afford good food at home either. This is an opportunity to get some nutrition in them–the very source of healthy brain cells, good focus and energy to learn.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of teaching them how to eat for life and not be at high risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In the long run, it would save our country a lot of money!

Therefore, if you are looking to make some waves in the way it’s currently done, just like I am, here is a good list of ways to get started:

  • Talk to someone who can give you the lowdown on what is currently being done (i.e. food services director or superintendint)
  • Obtain the Chef Ann Foundation’s Parent Advocacy Toolkit. It provides all kinds of info on school food, as well as how to take action.
  • Learn how to get a Farm to School Program initiated at your school.
  • Talk to someone who can give you the lowdown on what is currently being done (i.e. food services director or superintendent)
  • Obtain the Chef Ann Foundation’s Parent Advocacy Toolkit. It provides all kinds of info on school food, as well as how to take action.
  • Learn how to get a school garden going.
  • Start a Meatless Monday tradition at your school.
  • Push for a schedule that puts recess before lunch and allows 30 minutes for eating.
  • Contact your elected officials and get them onboard!
  • Get your kids involved in making a change.

Why is it So Important?

healthy school lunches for learning

I think schools are so overwhelmed that they often don’t place enough focus on things like diet and exercise at school–but they are completely intertwined, in my opinion, as well as many other health experts. Here is why it’s so important to offer healthy lunches at school:

  • It increases memory functioning, concentration & cognitive abilities. Studies show that children who aren’t well-nourished have a hard time focusing on what they are trying to learn. It has also been found that diets high in saturated fats or low in vitamins impair this area as well. Besides all that, poor diets lead to sickness which leads to school absences. So, yeah, it should be a no-brainer!
  • It improves children’s overall health outside the school, too. In fact, one study found that quality nutrition in schools had the ability to improve students’ diets and overall health outcomes for life!
  • It results in better behavior at school as well as substantial decreases in disciplinary issues that take away from learning time. Kids who are fed well are less hyper, less aggressive, and more compliant in general.
  • It leads to better academic performance. There is so much emphasis on schools getting kids to score well on those standardized tests. Well, healthy school lunches are definitely going to increase the chances of excellence in this area, too.
  • It reduces students’ chances of becoming obese, and sets them up for better dietary habits throughout their lifetimes. One study by the New England Journal of Medicine predicted that most of today’s toddlers will be obese by the time they are 35–that’s unacceptable! Another study determined that those states with better school nutrition were seeing lower rates of obesity.

What should go in a Healthy Lunch?

healthy food for learning at school

According to one dietitian with the University of Washington, a balanced meal includes a minimum of at least 3 food groups (veggies,fruits,protein,grains,calcium-rich). It’s important to avoid processed options like canned soups or deli meats,etc. Instead opt for whole foods such as fresh produce, nuts and whole grains. However, lightly processed foods like frozen produce and canned salmon are fine.

Allergy-specific Options

In today’s world, food allergies seem to run rampant. Most school cafeterias that I’m aware of don’t do the best job of catering to these new needs, so if your child deals with them, then this is definitely one more reason to pack that healthy lunch!


Did you know you could make your own grain-free blender bread? It’s honestly not hard! How about a quinoa mac ‘n’ cheese? Such a childhood staple, and now your gluten-free kids can eat it, too!


Running low on ideas? Make up a big batch of these homemade pita chips–and don’t forget to replace the butter with a dairy-free alternative. Add some hummus and your kid will have a tasty meal!

For those kids with an egg allergy–which is also pretty common–try this avocado mayo recipe for the perfect sandwich condiment substitute.


Peanut allergies in particular have increased more than 20 percent since 2010. Reactions can be so serious that some kids need an epi-pen prescription to keep them alive in case of exposure. And it doesn’t even always have to involve eating them for it to be a danger. That’s why many classrooms around the country have gone so far as to ban them.

For those parents packing lunches for children with nut allergies of any kind, here are 25 nut-free lunchbox ideas to get you started.

Make it Fun . .

Kids are much more likely to get excited about eating something if it’s presented in a fun manner. Think bright colors and fun faces! Our eyes are naturally drawn to color, and offering them a colorful variety, our kids are also much more likely to receive all of the vitamins their bodies need.

There are so many great ideas for funny face sandwiches on pinterest. And did you know there was such a thing as USDA organic edible food paint? Neither did I, but what a great idea! The possibilities are endless and no more uneaten lunches . .

And Easy

Some evenings it seems like their is way more to do than my exhausted mom mind and body feel up to. In preparation for those occasions it’s a good idea to make a few kid-friendly meals ahead of time. Here is a great list of options, many of which can be prepared in bulk and frozen for later.

And get your kids involved in helping!

Put Thought into the Packaging

healthy school lunch

All those single-use plastics moms have become accustomed to using to pack a school lunch? Yeah, convenience is often not eco-friendly, unfortunately . . But there are so many sustainable alternatives now available to us.


Those ziploc bags and that plastic wrap? They are full of toxins like BPA and BPS that the foods they contain end up absorbing. Stainless steel bento boxes can eliminate all of that along with the non-recyclable waste!


I also love these reusable silicone ziploc bags for packing things like sandwiches and snack foods. These little bowls with lids can hold things like yogurt. Think of all the fish you will protect from ingesting single-use plastics!

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  1. Thank you for sharing all these very important information regarding why school lunch needs to be healthy. I know for us, food strongly affects our boys’ behaviors especially because they are “differently wired.” Thank you for all the healthy options!

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