4 Tips for Healthy Cafeteria Lunches

By Julia Bauer

Candy, chips and other tasty but not-so-healthy foods are appealing to people of all ages – especially children. 

If your child doesn’t bring a lunch to school, they get the freedom to choose what they want to eat in the school cafeteria. The lunch line leaves the fate of nutrition in the hands of your child. 

If you’re worried about what your child chooses to eat at school, here are four ways to help guide them to make healthy lunch decisions in the cafeteria. 

  1. Have healthy food available in your home

Stocking up on healthy food at home will make healthy eating a habit for your child, thus encouraging them to eat the same at school. Make sure your child eats food from all the food groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a guide to the “MyPlate” food groups here. Teach them to model their school lunch after the MyPlate guide to help them make good food choices in the lunch line. 


  1. Be a role model for healthy eating 

Kids view their parents as role models. This means your eating habits can affect your child. If your child sees you constantly eating junk food, they’re going to want to do the same. However, if your child sees you eating your fruits and veggies, they will be more inclined to develop healthy eating habits. Make healthy meals at home and enjoy them together.


  1. Pay attention to food advertising your child may see

Have you ever seen an advertisement for healthy food? Probably not. Healthy food receives only 3% of advertising compared to unhealthy food, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The constant consumption of unhealthy food advertisements affects your child’s food preferences. However, unhealthy food preferences can be unlearned with your help. Teach your kids that healthy eating is important to their growth and development (in more fun terms, of course). Also, limit the media your child sees to decrease their exposure to unhealthy ads. 


  1. Treat them to junk food every once in a while 

Don’t go too far with having healthy food available in your home. While your child’s diet should consist of healthy foods for the most part, it is OK to treat your kids to junk food as long as it doesn’t become the norm. Give your kids fast food, salty snacks or sweet treats from time to time or for special occasions.

Federal nutrition standards for school meals help your child eat healthy. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the USDA to regularly update nutrition standards, according to the School Nutrition Association

School lunches always include fruit, vegetable and whole-grain options while limiting sodium, calories and unhealthy fats. 

Help ensure your child is choosing to eat nutritious foods at school. Be a role model – encouraging your child to make healthy choices in the cafeteria starts at home. 


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