Healthy School Meals
National PTA's Healthy School Meals Initiative aims to encourage families to partner with their school leaders to help support the school meals program and advocate for an environment that promotes healthy behaviors.
The Importance of School Meals
Currently, one in six adolescents are obese, while one in five face hunger on a daily basis. For many students participating in the school breakfast and lunch programs, these meals provide up to 50% of their daily nutrient needs.
Schools meals are a good source of the age-appropriate, calories and nutrients necessary for students to grow properly and perform well in school. Additionally, schools are where children learn and reinforce their health behaviors that they will carry into adulthood. Therefore, it is important that the behaviors promoted in the school environment are positive, healthy behaviors.
Nutrition standards set by the federal government aim to ensure students receive healthful foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk, and lean proteins while limiting foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and trans-fat.
Teaming Up for School Nutrition
Although many schools are successfully managing the current nutrition standards, some schools are still facing challenges. Schools may encounter difficulties finding products that satisfy the nutrition standards and students’ tastes, meeting school nutrition staff training needs, funding kitchen equipment needs or competing with less healthy snack foods. These circumstances create barriers to serving appealing and enjoyable meals and ultimately impact student participation in and enjoyment of the lunch and breakfast program. Learn how to team up with your school to help support healthy school meals.
School Meals Timeline
- 1946: National School Lunch Act established the National School Lunch Program.
- 1966: Child Nutrition Act is signed into law and pilots the school breakfast program.
- 1968: Child Nutrition Act is amended to establish the Summer Food Service Program.
- 1975: Child Nutrition Act is amended to make the National School Breakfast Program permanent.
- 1994: Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act requires school lunches meet nutrition guidelines set in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- 2004: The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 establishes the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program as a permanent program and requires school districts to develop nutrition and physical activity wellness plans.
- 2010: Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 sets nutrition standards for school meals and snack foods sold in school, increases access to the summer meals program, and sets standards for local wellness policies.
- School Meals Leader's Guide: Developed by National PTA to help local PTAs partner with their school leaders, school nutrition team, families and students to support schools in serving healthy school meals.
- Healthier School Day (USDA): Resources to help schools meet the new nutrition guidelines.
- Team Nutrition (USDA): Supports the Child Nutrition Programs through training and technical assistance for foodservice, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity.