Eating Healthier at School

Elementary school girls eating healthy meal in cafeteria lunchroom.

Kids can practice better eating habits when schools provide healthy foods. Learn what schools can do to promote the nutritious foods that are served.

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 programs. School meals include milk, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and they provide key nutrients like calcium and fiber.  Schools can communicate with families about participation in school meal programs and let them know some students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals.

Encourage Students to Start Their Day With School Breakfast

Healthy students are better learners. Research shows that eating habits  [PDF – 480 KB] and healthy behaviors are connected to academic achievement. Student participation in the School Breakfast Program is associated with better grades and standardized test scores, reduced absences, and improved memory. Some schools provide breakfast in the classroom or during a morning break to ensure that all students can have a nutritious breakfast at school.

Give Students Enough Time to Eat School Meals

Whether school meals are served in the cafeteria or classrooms, it’s important for students to have enough time to eat, connect with peers, 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.

Elementary age students are working in school garden with teacher, planting vegetables and learning about plant life.

Make Nutrition Education Part of Instruction

Nutrition education empowers children with knowledge and skills to make healthy food and beverage choices. 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


  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. 2004;28(2):1–11.
  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.