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Publication #FAR8064

Tips for Nutritious School Lunches 1

Linda B. Bobroff2

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As parents, many of us were caught unaware by the creative challenge required to provide our children with satisfying school lunches that they actually would eat! Pepperoni double cheese pizza, French fries and soft drinks aren't what the doctor or dietitian ordered when it comes to providing the nutrition children need for their growing bodies. Yet in many schools, these types of foods are available in the cafeteria.

So what's a parent to do? Encourage your child to take lunch to school. If your child likes sandwiches, try various types of breads, pita, bagels, tortillas, flatbread, and crackers. Gradually move toward whole-grain foods if they are new to your child. To pack a nutritional punch in sandwich spreads (such as tuna fish, egg salad, and even reduced-fat cream cheese), add finely minced carrots and celery (a food processor will come in handy).

When including lettuce leaves (the darker the better!) and/or tomato slices for sandwiches, pack them separate from the sandwich so it doesn't get soggy by the time lunchtime rolls around.

Peanut butter is a quick, easy, and popular sandwich choice that's also healthful (in moderation). Use whole-grain bread, and add sliced banana, fruit preserves, or honey and a thin slice of Muenster, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella cheese to your child's favorite peanut butter. (Check that your child's school does not have a peanut butter ban in place due to allergies.)

If your child is buying lunch, find out what foods your child's school cafeteria serves. Lunches that are supported by the USDA National School Lunch Program must meet dietary guidelines, but other foods offered are not bound by these rules. If you are not satisfied with foods available, get involved in the school's wellness council or other group that can affect policy.

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of UF/IFAS Extension, the UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you'd like to learn more, please visit our website at

To listen to the radio broadcast:


National School Lunch Program website:

School Lunches at KidsHealth:

Back to School Lunchbox Makeovers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest:



This document is FAR8064 (broadcast as program 523), one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date February 2009. Reviewed February 2018. Visit the EDIS website at In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified.


Linda B. Bobroff, professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.