Head Back to School with Delicious Nutrition to Fuel Strong Bodies & Smart Brains

Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, is Past-Chair of the School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group (DPG) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Adapted from her blog, School Meals That Rock.

School nutrition – including in-school meals offered for breakfast, lunch, and after-school snacks - are hot topics these days. Everyone, it seems - from the First Lady to local administrators - is talking about the importance of nutrient-rich meals for children's health and academic performance. All of this interest in school nutrition is good news for families who want healthful foods for their children, and all across the country, school nutrition programs are upping their game to offer nutritionist-approved, kid-pleasing options!

The school lunch program serves 30+ million students a variety of choices every day.  Thanks to the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, as well as dedicated school nutrition professionals and thousands of health, nutrition and industry partners, kids now have access to a truly amazing variety of:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes from school gardens
  • Whole grains, including freshly baked whole wheat rolls and whole grain pizza crusts
  • Gluten-free options
  • Lean proteins like farm to school crab cakes, lean beef, hummus, black bean salad, and chef salads with eggs
  • Greek yogurt parfaits and berry smoothies in addition to low-fat/fat-free milk

That's just a taste of what schools are serving to help students to be well-nourished, healthy, and ready to succeed. What’s next on the horizon? You will likely see more farm to school options, entrée salads, and fruit and vegetable snacks in the school cafeteria, as well as more nutrition education in the classroom and more school gardens. Now that USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rule is being implemented nationwide, school snacks and fundraisers will be more healthful too! What a great time to be eating at school!

Parents with busy schedules can feel good about taking advantage of the options offered for lunch and breakfast at school! Wonderful things are happening in school kitchens and cafeterias all across the country - and your children can enjoy them as they head back to the classroom this fall. 

If you have questions about your school's meals (or wonder when you school will offer the options listed above), it’s always a good idea to discuss your concerns directly with the school’s nutrition director. Listen carefully to what they are already doing and find out how you can work together for the future health of all students.


 The great news is that the real school nutrition revolution has been going on for years.

"Lunch ladies" (and gentlemen) from coast to coast have been working hard to serve up school meals with delicious nutrition to fuel strong bodies and smart brains.

   The Low-Down on School Lunch: How We’re Doing:

  • 6,724 schools in 49 states and DC have met rigorous nutrition and physical activity criteria. (USDA HealthierUS School Challenge)
  • Hundreds of chefs now work in school programs as directors, leaders, and regular volunteers to train staff and energize kids. (Chefs Move to Schools)
  • ​1.7+ million students are eating up produce packed into 3,400+ new salad bars donated to schools from coast to coast. (Salad Bars Move to Schools)
  • The nation’s top chefs at the Culinary Institute of America offer culinary resources to schools so they can continue serving tasty, appealing, nutritious food to children. (CIA Healthy Kids)
  • Regional efforts can have a nationwide reach to provide nutrition education and culinary training to schools. (Vermont FEED)

(Lunch trays image courtesy of Savannah County Schools, GA)

Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, helps agencies and organizations create healthier school environments across the country. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and read in-depth analysis of school food issues on her blog, School Meals That Rock.

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For more on keeping your kids healthy and well-nourished for Back-to-School, check out the It's All About You guidebook.