Healthy Tip Tuesday: Importance of School Nutrition

(Dennison, Ohio) – Most US children attend school for 6 hours a day and consume as much as half of their daily calories at school.

In this week’s Healthy Tip Tuesday, Trinity Hospital Twin City is bringing awareness to the importance of nutrition at school through research and stats published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The school nutrition environment and services is part of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model and can help shape lifelong healthy eating behaviors.

CDC recommends that schools implement policies and practices to create a nutrition environment that supports students in making healthy choices. A healthy school nutrition environment provides students with nutritious and appealing foods and beverages, consistent and accurate messages about good nutrition, and ways to learn about and practice healthy eating throughout the time children spend on school grounds—including before- and after-school.

What Are School Meal Programs?

Many schools provide students with access to meals through federal school meal programs including the National School Lunch Programexternal icon and the School Breakfast Programexternal icon. These programs are administered by the United States Department of Agricultureexternal icon and state agencies by reimbursing schools for providing healthy meals to students.

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Who Can Participate in School Meal Programs?

All students can participate in school meal programs, and some students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals.

What about meals and snacks after-school?

  • Programs like the National School Lunch Program’s Afterschool Snack Service, the At-Risk Snack and Meals component of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the Summer Food Service Program offer financial support to provide children and youth with nutritious snacks and/or meals. CACFP and SFSP specifically reach children from low-income areas.
  • School food service departments have experience following food safety and nutrition guidelines. This makes them strong candidates for serving as a Child and Adult Care Food Program or Summer Food Service Program sponsor.
lunch tray of food

Benefits of School Meals

Research shows that students who participate in the school meal programs consume more milk, fruits, and vegetables during meal times and have better intake of certain nutrients, such as calcium and fiber, than nonparticipants.1,2 And, eating breakfast at school is associated with better attendance rates, fewer missed school days, and better test scores.3–6 Meals served through these programs must meet specific nutrition requirementsexternal icon. These requirements were revised in 2012 to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and decrease the amount of sodium and trans fat.

Schools can encourage students to participate in the school meal programs by

  • Providing meals that are nutritious and appealing
  • Obtaining input from students and parents about items they would like to see served in the meals
  • Ensuring that students have adequate time to eat their meal (i.e., at least 10 minutes for breakfast and 20 minutes for lunch)
  • Preventing the overt identification of students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals

What are Smart Snacks in School?

Smart Snacks in Schoolexternal icon refers to the national nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold outside of the federal reimbursable school meal programs during the school day. These items are called “competitive foods” because they can compete with participation in school meal programs.

As of the 2014–2015 school year, all competitive foods and beverages sold during the school day must meet or exceed Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards, which include limits on fat, sugar, sodium, and calorie content. These standards are the minimum requirement for schools, but states and local education agencies can continue to implement stronger nutrition standards for all competitive foods in schools.

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