What’s For Lunch?
Today’s school lunches are required to be well-balanced meals that meet tough federal nutrition standards, which means you shouldn’t find any super-sizing in the lunch line. Less than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat, plus, the meals must offer students the right mix of low fat or fat free milk, fruits and vegetables, grains, and meat (or a meat alternative). Schools must also eliminate trans fats from meals and cut back on sodium. This is what a well-balanced tray should include. Is it what you’re seeing at your child’s school?
The minimum 3/4 cup of fruits or veggies a day is a great way for kids to take in a variety of healthy vitamins and nutrients. Orange veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin, are good sources of vitamin A, which is important for a strong immune system. Dark green veggies, like broccoli, kale, and spinach are a great source of iron, a nutrient that’s needed to make red blood cells. Schools must now offer at least one serving of dark green and red/orange veggies every week. Not only is serving veggies with low fat dip or salad dressing a guaranteed kid-pleaser, but it provides them with a healthy dose of fat, a must-have for kids’ brains and nervous systems to develop correctly. Plus, fat is essential for helping the body absorb certain vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Schools know that milk does a kid’s body good, which is why at least eight ounces of milk is part of the meal. Milk ranks among the top sources of calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin and zinc, making it especially important for kids’ growing bones and overall development. Schools must offer fat free or 1% milk options to help keep excess dietary fat and cholesterol in check—you’ll find all the protein of whole milk in the lighter milk options, but minus the extra fat and calories.
More than a satisfying treat for a sweet tooth, fruit is an important component of a well-balanced lunch tray. Schools are required to offer at least two daily servings of fruits, veggies, or both—and kids are now required to take one with every lunch. Fruits are good cholesterol-free sources of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and folate, and most are naturally low in fat and calories. Fresh, whole fruit is best, but fruits canned in their own juices, as well as frozen or dried options, also offer loads of nutrition.
Pile up whole grain bread, lean protein, and veggies, and you’ve got a sandwich full of nutrition. The whole grain bread contains fiber plus vitamins and minerals, such as B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, and vitamin E. Move onto the sandwich filling, and you’ve got protein, the building block of bones, muscles, and blood. Schools must serve a lean protein with every meal, such as turkey or chicken, peanut butter, hardboiled egg, or yogurt.