School Food Policies

Eating a healthy diet helps children stay alert during class, fight off illnesses, and grow into strong, healthy adults. School children get up to half the food they need each day at school, which makes schools an important place for learning healthy eating habits. School food policies help schools provide children with foods and drinks that are part of a healthy diet.

The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program provide complete meals to millions of American children every day.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires the meals served by these programs to be healthy and nutritious.  New guidelines effective in 2012 will make school meals healthier. 

Students may also buy foods and drinks from vending machines, school stores, and á la carte cafeteria lines. These foods and drinks are called “competitive foods” because students may choose to eat them instead of the nutritionally balanced meals provided by the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Many states and school districts have adopted policies to make competitive foods healthier, and the USDA is considering new federal nutrition guidelines for these foods.

School food policies may also include limits on food for celebrations and rewards, restrictions on food and beverage marketing in schools, and development of farm-to-school programs and school gardens.

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Feeding America’s Schoolchildren: Resources for Public Health and School Stakeholders

Federal school nutrition programs are a critical component in national efforts to reduce childhood obesity. At the same time, school officials are faced with a complex system of legal requirements and practical challenges to getting nutritious food on children's trays. By understanding the school food system, those who support serving nutritious foods in schools will be in a better position to support school efforts, identify opportunities for collaboration, build new partnership, and obtain critical resources. These resources provide public health officials and other school stakeholders with an overview of legal and practical considerations impacting federal school nutrition programs.

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