The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was started in 1946 by the federal government as a way to guarantee that kids would get at least one healthy meal every day. School lunches are supposed to be healthy and provide us with all the nutrients that scientists say we should have. Scientists looked at the latest nutrition research and wrote a document that outlines what Americans should it. It’s called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. All school lunches are supposed to provide 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for lunch and be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Here’s a quick summary of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
    • Eat a variety of foods
    • Balance the food you eat with physical activity
    • Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits
    • Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
    • Choose a diet moderate in sugars
    • Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium
But the truth is most schools don’t live up to these standards.  A study done by the California Food Policy Advocates (2008) found that less than 8% percent of the schools serve lunches that meet all of the standards.
Here’s the biggest problem.  It’s called “commodities”.  The federal government sells food to schools really cheap.  In California more than 82 percent of the money spent on commodities ordered by school districts went to meat and cheese items, both relatively high in fats and saturated fats. By comparison, fruit, fruit juice, vegetables, and legumes amounted to 13 percent. 

Over half of these commodity foods are then sent to processing companies before they are delivered to the schools.  These companies “process the foods” into even unhealtier foods – they add more sugar and fat.  Why?  Because makes the food last longer and makes more money for these companies. They take fruit and turn it into pies and turnovers.  They take vegetables and add cheese and they take potatoes and make french fries.  THIS IS REALLY BAD FOR US KIDS. One study showed that  kids who eat school lunches are actually fatter and less healthy than kids that don’t eat school lunches. 

So how come a government program that was started to help us kids become healthier has turned into a program that’s helping to make us fatter and unhealthier?
It seems that too many companies make lots of money keeping things the way they are rather than change. So we kids have to fight back!  Here’s how! Make better choices.  A dietitian made up the tables below to help us make better choices.  If your school doesn’t have these better choices then click here and print this letter and give it to all your friends. Have them (and their parents) sign it and give it to your school board members.  We need to let them know that we mean business.

            Every school lunch must provide the following foods in the indicated amounts.
Food Categories
Portion Size
1 Milk
8 ounces of skim or 1% milk
1 Fruit
3/4 cup
1 Vegetable
3/4 cup
1 Protein
2 ounces meta/fish, or 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
1 Grain
1 slice bread, or cereal, or crackers, or pasta,  or  rice,  etc.

Meat/Alternative: A two ounce serving (edible portion) of lean meat, poultry, fish, or cheese; one-half cup cottage cheese; one large egg; four tablespoons peanut butter; one-half cup cooked dry beans; other nut and seed butters; 1 cup yogurt. Beans are a great choice. Whenever possible choose beans as a meat alternative. 

Eat This
Not This
Baked Chicken  Nuggets
Fried Chicken Nuggets
Baked Spicy Chicken (on a whole wheat roll)
Spaghetti with Marina Sauce
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
Bean and Cheese Burrito
Steak and Cheese Sub
Turkey Sandwich
Corn Dog
Baked Fish Sandwich
Ham Hoagie
Cheese Sticks

Fruit/Vegetable: A three-fourth cup serving of two or more fruits and/or vegetables. Fruit: The best choices of fruit are any that are fresh, frozen or canned without added sugars. Choose canned fruits in juice or light syrup Dried fruit and fruit juice are also nutritious choices, but the portion sizes are small so they may not be as filling as other choices. Vegetables: Starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas are included in the “Whole Grain Foods” section because they contain more carbohydrate. Fresh vegetables are best choices because they have less sodium than canned or frozen vegetables. 

Eat This
Not This
Fresh Fruit
Fruit Juice
Green Beans
Cheesy Green Beans
Cheese and Bacon Broccoli
Strawberry Pie
Apple Sauce
Onion Rings

Grain: Eight servings per week of an enriched or whole-grain bread or grain product; or rice; or an enriched pasta product. The most popular grain in the US is wheat. To make 100% whole wheat flour, the entire wheat grain is ground up. “Refined” flours like white and enriched wheat flour include only part of the grain – the starchy part, and are not whole grain. They are missing many of the nutrients found in whole wheat flour. Examples of whole grain wheat products include 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, tortilla, and crackers. Popcorn is also a whole grain but be sure not to add lots of butter or salt. 

Eat This
Not This
Whole Wheat Bread
Whole Wheat Cookies
Oatmeal Bread/Crackers
Oatmeal Cookies
Whole Wheat Pasta
White Pasta
Brown Rice
White Rice
Whole Wheat Tortilla
White Tortilla
Corn Bread

Milk: One-half pint of fluid whole milk and unflavored low-fat milk must be offered. Milk that has 2% fat has double the fat of 1% and is not a healthy choice

Drink This
Not This
Fat Free Milk
Whole Milk
Non Fat Yogurt
Whole Fat Yogurt
Non Fat Light Yogurt Without Added Sugar
Yogurt With Added Sugar
Non Flavored Soy Milk
Flavored Soy Milk (has sugar added)Getting Involved

Here are some fun ways you can get involved in helping to make your school lunches healthier. 
  1. Talk to your mom and dad and ask them to get involved by talking to your teachers.
  2. Talk to your teachers and ask them how you can help to improve the lunches in your school.  Maybe you can do a science project like Becky and RJ in the book “NO”.
  3. Ask you parents and teachers to work with the school board to improve the quality of your school lunches.
  4. Most important, make healthy lunch choices.  You have to “take charge” of your own health.