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University of Illinois Extension

Sit down to National School Lunch Week

October 8, 2013

Mekenzie Riley, Nutrition and Wellness Educator for Tazewell, Mason, Fulton, and Peoria Counties, shares a seasonal article written by fellow educator, Caitlin Huth. Visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/ for information on upcoming extension programs.

URBANA, Ill. - As students are piling back into the classroom for the new school year, cafeterias are firing up the grills and pulling out scoops and ladles, ready to serve lunch, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

"With nearly 200 million lunches served to Illinois students during 2010, National School Lunch Week from October 14-18, is a great time to promote school lunches," said Caitlin Huth. "This year's theme is School Lunch Across the USA. We want to celebrate all the diverse and healthy foods and dishes served throughout each region of the country."

Besides promoting school lunches, National School Lunch Week gives schools the opportunity to highlight the important changes to lunch and breakfast meals being served this year, she said.

"To improve the nutritional quality of school meals and help students have better diets, the USDA will require schools to offer more whole grains, larger portions of fruits and vegetables, including more dark green and red and orange vegetables, and low-fat and fat-free milk, including flavored fat-free milk," Huth said.

Some of the changes are happening this school year, including making half the grains offered whole grains and offering daily fruits and vegetables. However, some changes such as reductions to the amount of sodium in meals, will be coming over the next few years and even decades, she said.

"With all these changes, some meals may taste different, and students may be offered unfamiliar foods. This is an opportunity for teachers, parents, and food-service staff to turn new foods into teachable moments. Talk about their color, shape, taste, and texture, or even how they can be eaten or used in recipes," Huth said.

If students turn up their noses at new offerings, Huth advises food-service personnel not to be discouraged and continue to offer students new foods and recipes.

"Students may need to try a new food more than 10 times to decide if they like it," she said.

Parents who prefer to send lunches with their students should look to MyPlate as a model for those meals, she said. "Getting those MyPlate food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy—can be easily done by adding a single food from each group into the lunch," she said.

"If including each food group on its own becomes repetitive, consider combining food groups, such as topping a parfait made with low-fat vanilla yogurt with cut strawberries to get in dairy and fruit. Or pair carrot sticks and whole-grain pretzel sticks with peanut butter or hummus dips to get in vegetables, grains, and protein," she added.

Huth advises parents to remember to pack lunches brought from home safely. If any foods are perishable, such as yogurt, deli meat, cheese, and cut fruits, they should be packed in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack or frozen bottle of water to keep them at a safe, cold temperature.

Whether students eat lunches from their school or their home, healthy lunches contribute to healthy diets. During National School Lunch Week, sit down and eat up! Huth advised.


Source: Mekenzie Riley, MS, RD, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness, meklew@illinois.edu

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