Get the Facts

Get Involved

How can parents get involved in school meals programs?

  • Getting involved in school meals programs is easy. Start with these simple steps:
    • Review cafeteria menus with your child and encourage them to try new menu items. Prepare new foods – especially fruits and vegetables – at home and your child may be more willing to try these foods at school.
    • Visit the school cafeteria to make your own observations and have lunch. Check with the principal first to make sure that is allowed!
    • Inquire about volunteer opportunities in your school cafeteria.  Some schools request parent volunteers to help usher students through the lunch line and encourage them to eat their fruits and vegetables.  Many school districts have a wellness committee comprised of community volunteers, to help establish district nutrition and physical activity policies.
  • For more information, visit Tray Talk’s Get Involved page.

Who should I contact with questions/concerns about my child’s school cafeteria menu?

  • For information about cafeteria menu items, nutritional information, or ingredients in your child’s school lunch, contact your school Cafeteria Manager.  He/she can answer questions about everything from meal preparation methods to waiting time in line.  For more detailed questions, the Cafeteria Manager may refer you to the Nutrition Director who oversees cafeteria operations and menu planning for the entire school district.  The Nutrition Director’s contact information is usually available on the district website.
  • In most cases, the Cafeteria Manager and Nutrition Director do not manage vending machines or snack bars located outside the cafeteria.  Contact your school principal for more information on these food choices.

My child has food allergies. Do school cafeterias accommodate special dietary requirements such as gluten or nut free?

  • If your student has a life-threatening food allergy, it is important for you to build a team of key individuals at school who can help safely manage your child’s food allergy.  Start by contacting your school nurse before the first day of school to discuss implementing an allergy action plan. The school nurse can work with parents and health care providers to develop a health care plan to meet the unique needs of each student.
  • The school nurse can also assist with outreach to teachers, coaches, school nutrition, transportation and maintenance staff and others to discuss dietary restrictions and methods for safely managing your child’s food allergy at school.
  • School cafeterias must provide food substitutions for students whose food allergies constitute a “disability.”  The student must provide a statement, signed by a licensed physician, which identifies the disability, explains why the disability restricts the child’s diet, and lists the foods to be omitted from the child’s diet and recommendations for alternate foods. 
  • Even if your child’s food allergy does not constitute a “disability,” contact your school Cafeteria Manager to discuss the school menu and safe food choices available for your child.  Your cafeteria might offer alternate choices that are not listed on the monthly menu.

Healthy School Meals

Today's School Lunch
  • Fresh Carrots and Grape Tomatoes

    Innovations like farm-to-school projects with locally grown produce or school gardens are impacting students' choices on the tray.

  • Fruit Medley

    A variety of colorful fruits are offered each day in cafeterias, supplying an array of essential nutrients that are critical for growth and development.

  • Low-fat or Fat-Free Milk

    Milk (white or flavored) ranks among the top sources of several nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin and zinc.

  • Turkey & Cheese Sandwich with Whole Grain Bread

    Grains (increasingly whole grain items) and lean protein sources are served in age-appropriate portions that limit fat and saturated fat.

Are school meals nutritious?

  • School meals are healthy meals that are required to meet science-based, federal nutrition standards limiting unhealthy fat and calories and requiring that schools offer the right balance of fruits, vegetables, milk, grains and protein with every meal.
  • On July 1, 2012, new federal nutrition standards for school mealswent into effect. Under these standards, schools must prepare meals that meet the following requirements:
    • No more than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat and schools must eliminate added trans-fat.
    • School meals must meet age-appropriate calorie minimums and maximums.
    • Schools must gradually reduce sodium levels in school meals.
    • Cafeterias must offer larger servings of vegetables and fruit with every school lunch, and children must take at least one serving.
    • Schools must offer a wide variety of vegetables, including at least a weekly serving of legumes, dark green and red or orange vegetables.
    • Milk must be fat-free or 1% (flavored milk must be fat-free).
    • By the 2014-15 school year, all grains offered must be whole-grain rich.

Do the foods sold in school vending machines and snack bars meet the same standards as school meals?

  • Currently, foods sold in school vending machines, snack bars and a la carte lines are not required to meet federal nutrition standards. However, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires the federal government to create standards for these “competitive foods.” Once these regulations are finalized, all foods sold in school will be healthy choices. The law does not impact food brought in from home, served at classroom parties or available through school fundraisers, but some schools have established their own restrictions on these items. Contact your principal for more information on nutrition policies at your school.

Are school meals safe?

  • School nutrition professionals care for the children they serve, and through strict food safety procedures and staff training, school nutrition professionals maintain a superior safety record while providing nutritious meals to millions of children each day. Some of the steps schools take to ensure their meals are safe include:
    • Taking at least two internal temperatures from each batch of food being cooked
    • Maintaining records of cooking, cooling, and reheating temperatures in the food preparation process – the basis for periodic reviews of the overall food safety program
    • Prechilling all salad ingredients to help maintain cold food temperatures
    • Preheating transfer carts before food is transported

How are school nutrition programs working to make healthy meals kid-friendly?

  • Children can be notoriously picky eaters, but school nutrition directors are always working to find new healthy recipes that children are willing to eat. Many conduct student taste tests and involve students in menu planning.
  • Schools and the foodservice industry are making student favorites more healthy, such as serving pizza on whole grain bread with low-sodium sauce and low-fat cheese. Students often don’t even notice the difference. School nutrition programs also work to incorporate culturally appropriate foods into their menus to meet the tastes of their diverse student populations, as well as provide alternative foods for students with dietary restrictions and allergies.

What are the beverage options with school meals?

  • School nutrition programs offer fat-free or 1% white milk or fat-free flavored milk with each meal. School meals offer flavored milk as an option because experts agree that to ensure intake of calcium, vitamin D, protein and other nutrients important for growth and development, it is better for children and adolescents to drink flavored milk than to avoid milk altogether. In fact, leading health and nutrition organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the School Nutrition Association, have all expressed their support for low-fat and fat-free milk in schools, including flavored milk.
  • Now, fat-free flavored milk is lower in calories and sugar than ever before, while maintaining all of its 9 essential nutrients. On average, school flavored milk now has 132 calories per serving, according to a new national analysis of milk in school. And that’s a 21% reduction in calories and a dramatic 40% less added sugars over the last 5 years. It’s the result of ongoing work by the nation’s milk processors to provide nutritious new products with the same great taste kids love. To find out more on the importance of flavored milk to a student’s nutrition, and how milk processors have lowered the calories and sugar in flavored milk served in schools visit
  • Federal law prohibits the sale of soda in the cafeteria during the school lunch period. State and local regulations may further prohibit the sale of soda before or after the lunch period or in other locations on the school campus.

Why should I encourage my children to eat school meals?

  • Providing students their choice of milk, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, school meals are a great value and a huge convenience for busy parents. School cafeterias offer students a variety of healthy choices and help children learn how to assemble a well-balanced meal. Parents can rest assured that there’s no super-sizing in school cafeterias because federal regulations require schools to serve age-appropriate portions.

Don’t school meals contain processed foods?

  • What have become known as “processed foods” are increasingly being prepared with healthier ingredients, as well as less fat, sodium and sugar.
    • Pizzas are increasingly made with whole grain crusts, low-sodium sauce and reduced fat cheese.
    • Chicken nuggets regularly use whole grain breading and are baked rather than fried.
    • French fries are without trans fat and baked instead of fried – and many schools are now serving baked sweet potato fries

Are school nutrition programs supporting Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign?

  • As members of the School Nutrition Association, 55,000 school nutrition professionals are partnering with Let’s Move! in support of programs that further the health and well-being of the nation’s children.

How many schools participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs?

  • The National School Lunch Program operates in nearly 95% of America’s schools, providing lunches to more than 31 million children daily with 5 billion lunches served annually. Approximately 85% of schools participate in the National School Breakfast Program (NSBP), which serves more than 12 million children daily, more than 2 billion breakfasts a year.

Do all students have access to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs?

  • All children at participating schools may purchase meals, meeting federal nutrition standards, through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, but families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free or reduced price meals. Families receive applications for the free and reduced price program from their school nutrition department at the start of the school year.