The Importance of Elementary School Lunch

by Lin Yuan
Class of 2016

Nowadays students from elementary school up through high school usually eat one of their meals at school along with other snacks provided in the school cafeteria. Though upper level students also lack access to nutritious school lunches, elementary students are at an age where proper nutrition is essential for healthy growth and a development of good eating habits. Even though some elementary students bring lunches to school that are prepared at home, a substantial number of students consume the lunches prepared by school cafeterias. These packaged foods do not add up to a fresh, balanced meal and elementary school students need access to an affordable, healthy school lunch to allow for proper physical and emotional growth.

In America, a large number of school lunches are mass manufactured at a food plant and then shipped off to various school districts in boxes to be heated for students. A few large corporations mass produce the food that will eventually go into the mouths of children. Also, a significant portion of the food, such as pizza, comes from restaurants. On a typical Friday, elementary school students usually will have a serving of pizza made in a fast food restaurant. A slice of small cheese pizza from Domino’s has roughly 1,340 milligrams of salt and roughly 40 milligrams of cholesterol. It is a wonder why elementary school lunches still import foods from local fast food chains as a substitute for a hot meal. On a regular basis, elementary school lunches also contain milk, a relatively nutritious drink with a good source of calcium, canned fruit or fruit in syrup, and vegetables along with a main meal containing carbohydrates and protein.

At a quick glance, some may maintain that this kind of lunch contains the four essential parts of a balanced meal: fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and dairy. Upon further examination, experts will find that the quality of food is inadequate and the foods are not a good replacement for hot, farm-grown, nutritious meals. Canned fruits do not have the same quality of nutrition as fresh fruits grown in a local farm and their nutritional value declines with age. Furthermore, there is a lack of variety of vegetables and fruits with vegetables most likely limited to corn, green beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and cucumbers and fruits limited to strawberries in syrup, canned mix fruit, oranges, and grapes. An increase in the diversity of fruits and vegetables would not only allow kids to have access to a greater variety of nutrients, but also allow them to be exposed to more rare produce. They will also learn an appreciation for trying new foods that they are familiar with. Besides the content of elementary school lunches, students also have a limited amount of time to consume them.

A further issue surrounding elementary school lunches is the time window that students have to consume and enjoy their lunches as well as socialize with friends. Typically, elementary school students will have roughly 20 to 25 minutes each day to eat their food. These numbers are a rough estimate and varies from school to school, but in general provides signs that these students are not getting enough time to sit down and enjoy their food. Students may feel rushed to finish and some students are not able to finish all they want to eat. This means that they are not developing healthy eating habits for the long run which is problematic. Rushed eating may lead to gastrointestinal problems, stomach pains, as well as other issues, so it is important for students to have an adequate amount of time to eat and socialize with peers for healthy growth and development.

Thus it is clear, these school lunches though at a quick glance contain most of the essential nutrients, but upon further examination lack in quality and combined with the time restraints for eating do not serve the elementary student population well. The solution may be to introduce local farm produce into elementary schools and include more farm-grown foods into these lunches. This will not only allow children to have access to quality, fresh meals, but will also garner their appreciation for farms.

Lin Yuan is a student in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition