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The School Lunch Revolution

Healthy Lunch Ideas What's in a Good Lunch?

  • Colorful veggies: “You want an appealing salad bar so kids will take what’s offered,” says Andrea Giancoli, RD, of the American Dietetic Association. And the brighter the veggies, the more nutritious. “Our kids favor baby carrots and raw broccoli with dip or salsa,” says Penny McConnell, director of Food and Nutrition Services, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
  • Whole grains: The fiber in whole wheat and brown rice fills kids up and gets them used to different tastes.
  • Less fat: Whole milk is unnecessary. Nonfat or low-fat yogurt is an option for non-milk drinkers. Lean proteins are better, as are less oily salad dressings.
  • New foods: Kids should be exposed regularly to unfamiliar vegetables like butternut squash, pea pods, and bean sprouts as well as ethnic dishes. Variety is vital to good nutrition, so increasing kids’ food repertoire is key. The more food choices they have, the more they’ll try.

What to Watch Out For

  • Too many potatoes: Better to have more green vegetables instead.
  • Very high sodium: “The recommended intake is 1,500 mg for a whole day, with 2,200 mg the upper limit,” says Giancoli. “Some school lunches can have as much as 2,200 mg in a single meal.”
  • No color: In some districts every food is the same blah brown -- chicken, bun, curly fries, and apple slices, for instance. They lack the eye appeal that attracts kids to food.
  • Iceberg-only salad: Deeper greens (romaine or spinach) are healthier.

Be a Food Coach

Teach your kids to make better choices using these suggestions.

  • Talk it up. Without nagging, discuss your child’s lunch options with him. Explain how good nutrition fuels his body.
  • Monitor what goes down. Many schools have computer systems that allow parents to go online to see what kids are buying. (You prepay your child’s meals and when she goes through the line she just punches in her PIN.) For more info on one such system, go to
  • Have them cook. Learning to make healthy food at home can create good habits elsewhere, according to Marjorie Sawicki, a dietician at the School of Public Health at Saint Louis University.

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