From the intoxicating smell of French fries and burgers to the endless lineup of desserts, school cafeterias can be a smorgasbord of temptation for kids of all ages. Ordering a healthy lunch can be a challenge when they are surrounded by their favorite treats.

Teach your child the basics of a balanced meal at home to help ensure your child eats right in school all year.

Healthy Go-To Choices

According to the USDA and HHS 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy diet should consist of go-to food items that are good for your child and tasty, too. They include:

  • Vegetables of all types—dark green, red, and orange
  • Beans, peas, and lentils, and starchy veggies
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain
  • Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Nuts, seeds, and soy products

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Learning to Balance

Teach your child the simple math of building a balanced meal. That means:

  • ½ of the plate should be fresh fruit, salad, or veggies
  • ¼ of the plate should be a starch (grains, potatoes, rice, or quinoa)
  • ¼ of the plate should be lean protein
  • Low-fat white milk or low-fat yogurt on the side

Cafeterias have a variety of food choices, so every balanced meal depends on the daily options.

Pack a Lunch

The best way to watch what your child eats is to personally pack school lunches for or with your child. Home prep allows for portion control, monitored meals, and a variety of healthier choices. Pack a sandwich on whole grain bread, baked chips or pretzels, bottled water, small yogurt or white milk, and fresh fruit or vegetables. Personalize your child’s lunch by adding a small note or sticker to help brighten their day.

Limit Sweets and Junk Food

The cafeteria carries an endless variety of treats. Moderation is key, so teach your child how to pick wisely. Limit your child to eating desserts or unhealthy choices only once or twice a week, and teach them to enjoy the healthy options instead.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.