Eating Healthier at School

Elementary Pupils Enjoying Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria

Kids learn better eating habits when schools provide healthy foods. Find out what you can do to promote nutritious foods at your school.

Educate Families About School Meal Programs

Schools play an important role in shaping lifelong healthy eating habits by offering nutritious meals through federal child nutrition programsexternal icon. School meals include milk, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and they provide key nutrients like calcium and fiber. As students return to school in person or do virtual learning from home, schools may be using a variety of methods to ensure students have access to nutritious meals.

Some students may eat meals in their classroom, while students learning from home may pick up grab-and-go meals from the school or other community sites. It’s important for schools to communicate with families about the benefits of school meals and different meal options during in-person and virtual instruction. Families can find more information about where to pick up meals for students on the Find Meals for Kids When Schools are Closed web page.external icon

Schools can use CDC’s School Meals Toolkitexternal icon to let parents know that free school meals are available for all children and to encourage their participation in school meal programs.

Encourage Students to Start Their Day With School Breakfast

Healthy students are better learners. Research shows that eating habits pdf icon[PDF – 480 KB] and healthy behaviors are connected to academic achievement. Student participation in the School Breakfast Programexternal icon is associated with better grades and standardized test scores, reduced absences, and improved memory.

Give Students Enough Time to Eat School Meals

When school meals are served in the cafeteria or classrooms, it’s important for students to have enough time to eat, socialize, and enjoy their meal. Schools should ensure that students have at least 10 minutes, once they are seated (seat time) for breakfast and at least 20 minutes for lunch. Having enough seat time is linked to more consumption of fruit, vegetables, lunch entrées, and milk, and less waste.1-3

Promote Healthy Eating Throughout the School Day

Schools can use the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) approach to promote federal school meal programs and nutritious snacks outside of school meal programs. Parents can take part in promoting healthy eating in school by asking that healthy foods and beverages are available at school events, celebrations, and fundraisers. CDC’s Parents for Healthy Schools offers more ideas on how to get involved and advocate for your child’s health and well-being.

Boy eating breakfast in classroom

Make Nutrition Education Part of Instruction

Nutrition education is part of a well-rounded health education curriculum but can also be included in other classes. For example, students could:

  • Count with pictures of fruits and vegetables.
  • Learn fractions by measuring ingredients for a recipe.
  • Grow vegetables at school.
  • Learn about cultural food traditions.

More information

References

  1. Bergman EA, Buergel NS, Englund TF, Femrite A. The relationship between the length of the lunch period and nutrient consumption in the elementary school lunch setting. J Child Nutr Manage, 28(2): October 2004.
  2. Cohen JFW, Jahn JL, Richardson S, Cluggish SA, Parker E, Rimm EB. Amount of time to eat lunch is associated with children’s selection and consumption of school meal entrée, fruits, vegetables, and milk. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(1):123-8.
  3. Gosliner W. School-level factors associated with increased fruit and vegetable consumption among students in California middle and high schools. J Sch Health. 2014; 84: 559-568.