The Benefits of Participating in the National School Lunch Program

Healthy Food Choices in Schools October 01, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

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There are many benefits to buying lunch at school.  Here are a few facts to consider:

School Lunches are Healthful

  • The National School Lunch Program provides school children with 1/3 or more of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for key nutrients including protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and calcium. [1]
  • The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 updated the school lunch meal patterns and nutrition standards beginning in the 2012-13 school year.  Changes included increased availability of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Schools are serving age-appropriate portions for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
  • Sodium content in meals is being reduced over time, with a 10% reduction expected by school year 2014-2015.[2]

What the Research Says

  • USDA research shows that children who participate in school lunch have better nutritional intakes compared to those who bring a packed lunch from home by being more likely to consume milk, meats, grains and vegetables compared to students who bring lunch from home.[3]
  • Research shows that children who consume milk at lunch are more likely to get the calcium they need than children who drink other beverages with their meal, such as juice drinks.[4]
  • Good nutrition can improve a child’s behavior, school performance and intellectual development.[5]

[3] USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Children's Diets in the Mid-1990's: Dietary Intake and Its Relationship with School Meal Participation, 2001.

[4] Johnson, RK, et al Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2002.  102:853-56.

[5] The Learning Connection: The Value of Improving Nutrition and Physical Activity in Our Schools. Action for Healthy Kids, 2004. Available at: http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/component/content/article/19-resource-clearing-house/138-the-learning-connection-the-value-of-improving-nutrition-and-physical-activity-in-our-schools.


 

 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.