How can I get a healthy meal in the school cafeteria?

Deborah Beauvais
Nutrition & Dietetics

Here is some information and tips to ensure and enjoyable healthy meal at school.

School meals are healthy meals that are required to meet science-based, federal nutrition standards limiting fat and portion size and requiring that schools offer the right balance of fruits, vegetables, milk, grains and proteins with every meal.

On January 25, 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama announced new school meal nutrition standards that go into effect starting on July 1, 2012. Under these standards:

  • No more than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat and schools must eliminate added trans-fat.
  • School meals must meet strict calorie limits.
  • 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 dark green and red/orange vegetables and legumes.
  • Milk must be fat-free or 1% (flavored milk must be fat-free).
  • Within two years, all grains offered must be whole-grain rich.


  • Review cafeteria menus with your child and be encouraging about trying new menu items. Try 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!
  • Introduce yourself to the school nutrition staff at your child’s school. They can answer questions or concerns about everything from menu options and meal preparation methods to waiting time in line.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.