11 Things Parents Need To Know About School Lunch Programs

Kids can't learn on an empty stomach, but sometimes families can't afford to send a packed lunch or money to buy it at school. That's where the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) comes in — it helps provide nourishment to kids in need.

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President Harry Truman started the program under the National School Lunch Act in 1946 and students have benefited from the meal assistance ever since. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) to update the program, with the goal of offering healthier choices and implementing policies to match. While the changes have been controversial, they're here to stay.

New food standards aim to reduce childhood obesity by cutting out junk food while promoting items from the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and whole grains. The reason for these changes? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the lunch program, says that almost one third of American children are at risk for preventable diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, because they're overweight or obese.

Kids seem to like the healthier standards set by NSLP. A new survey of school administrators and food service staff from over 500 schools found that 70 percent of kids give the meals a thumbs-up. Administrators and staff from schools where two thirds of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches say the nutritious meals are a hit with students.

Still, lunches from home aren't affected by the new rules. A new study shows most brown bag lunches don't meet the same standards the NSLP has for the five food groups mentioned above. When Tufts University researchers analyzed packed lunches of 600 third- and fourth-graders at Massachusetts public schools, they found none of the lunches from home had servings from all the food categories.

The good news? Healthy fare is on school menus. From weird cafeteria fare of the past to exciting new health reform, take a look at 11 things you might not know about the NSLP.

Lots of Lunches!

lunch programs

Since the National School Lunch Program started in 1946, over  224 billion lunches have been served. Each day about 32 million students get their lunch through the program.

Lunch Then & Now


A sample menu for an elementary school student is focused on meeting healthy meal standards. Under the Obama administration, the standards were updated to offer kids more balanced meals without junk food. So instead of the old menu of pizza sticks and marinara sauce with a banana, raisins, and whole milk, kids are now served a chef's salad with low-fat salad dressing, corn, carrots, a banana, and skim chocolate milk.

Learn more about lunches here. 


This article was originally published August 25, 2014