There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
In schoolyard culture, it goes without saying that lunchtime is rule-exempt. It’s not uncommon for kids to strike up deals with other kids, swapping part of their lunch for another child’s, or for kids to load up on foods they aren’t allowed to have at home. So, what’s a parent to do? Read more >

Unless you’re an undercover FBI agent, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to ever completely know what your child is really eating at school. Kids need healthy, nutritious diets, but kids (like adults) know that they hold a lot of power in the choices they make about food. And let’s face it, lunchtime at school is the one meal of the day when kids don’t have a parent telling them what (or what not) to eat. It’s important for parents to be realistic about the choices their kids are making, and the potential consequences—like eating disorders or obesity— that can result when they make bad choices about their own nutrition.

That’s why it’s critical for parents to take advantage of the time that they do have together, and try to eat with their kids as often as possible, and have open conversations about the importance of health and nutrition.

Get more tips for teaching your kids to make healthy, balanced selections every day.

To School Lunch, or Not To School Lunch? That Is the Question.
Parents continue to be divided over the quality of cafeteria lunches at school, and recent outrage over Congress passing a bill that allows the tomato sauce on school lunch pizza to be considered a serving of vegetables has added fuel to the fire.

To put things into perspective, here are some facts about school lunches:

• A University of Michigan study found that middle school students who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight (or obese), develop poor eating habits, and having high levels of bad cholesterol.

• British chef Jamie Oliver advocates for U.S. schools to improve their lunches through his Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV show.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released new standards for school lunches for the first time in 15 years. Part of the standards involves increasing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

• Although the school lunch program is a national program, each state administers the program, which is why some states have more nutritious school lunches than others.

Although some families decide to pack the brown bag lunch to improve their child’s nutrition, they sometimes may be surprised what their kids are actually eating. We know of one family who carefully packed an organic, vegan lunch for their daughter only to learn years later that as soon as lunch started, she quickly traded everything for a bag of chips, some cookies, and chocolate milk.

Then there’s the bigger issue surrounding school lunches…

While 31.6 million kids in the United States eat school lunches each day, 63 percent of them receive free and reduced-priced lunches. That means their families can’t afford school lunches. Many teachers say that free and reduced-priced lunches have helped young people pay more attention in school and do better academically because they’re not so hungry.

It really brings new meaning to the old adage:

When it comes to our children’s nutrition, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” is there?

Here’s what I think: If we think the school lunch program needs to change, we need to work to change it for everybody—not just for our own kids.

What do you think?——> Are you satisfied with the current state of school cafeteria food?

1. University of Michigan Health System (UMHS), “Children Who Eat School Lunches Are More Likely to Be Overweight,” UMHS Newsroom, news release, March 13, 2010.

2. Health and Nutrition, ParentFurther.

3. Food Research and Action Center, “National School Lunch Program,” Child Nutrition Fact Sheet, 2010.

4. Nanci Hellmich, “USDA Calls for Dramatic Change in School Lunches,” USA Today, January 12, 2011.

5. Kim Painter, “Your Health: School Lunch Debate Is in Session,” USA Today, April 5, 2010.

6. Image via Ben+Sam on Flick’r.


My kids schools try really hard to offer fresh options like salad bar for lunch but my kid, like many others wouldn’t choice that if he had an option. What we do in my family is we sit down and circle which school lunch is going to be consumed and which days my youngest will take his own lunch. On days he brings his “Home Lunch” we use this as the opportunity to teach about portions, balanced meals, and come up with themes for that lunch. So, last week the theme at school was Cowboy day. We took that idea and carried it through to his lunch. We packed a turkey wrap with light ranch (ranch – get it?) dressing with vegetables, black beans (that he had to warm up at school), juice, fruit leather, and trail mix with chocolate. It all was put into his regular lunch box then wrapped with a bandanna. He loved it not only because it carried the theme but he “made” most of it himself.

We have to become just as creative about healthy stuff as they are about unhealthy stuff!

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