Making Healthy Choices in the School Lunch Line

A group of children standing in line at a school cafeteria.Aug 30, 2023

You may have noticed, or heard your child talk about, some changes lately in school lunch and breakfast options. New nutrition guidelines are in place to help kids make smarter choices. Even with these new rules to make school breakfast and lunch healthier, parents can help their children make good choices.

Most schools offer many different food options at breakfast and lunch. Lunch lines may include a salad bar, hot food area, sandwich station and more! Many schools have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available every day as a nutritious and convenient option. Some schools also have vending machines available for students to use during mealtimes.

So how can you help your child make healthy choices in the school lunch and breakfast line?

Look at the menu together. Most school lunch and breakfast menus are available online. Look at the menu together and ask your child what foods sound good to them and what they will probably choose. Talk about the foods your child likes and encourage nutritious options that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and peanuts and peanut butter. Some school districts even provide nutrition information such as calories and sodium levels on their website. Try to avoid telling your child that they must eat a certain food or that they cannot have a food.

Make your plate look like MyPlate! MyPlate is a model created by the USDA to encourage healthy eating. One great thing about this model is that there are many options to fill in each section of your plate! Talk about what foods and drinks your child can choose to make their plate, or lunch tray, look like MyPlate. Try to include fruit, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. Check out for ideas.

Talk about what foods your child chose. Talk about your child’s food choices with them. Did they choose the foods you all had talked about? Did they try any new foods? Did they get a food from each of the food groups? Praise your child for good food choices!

Eat healthy at home! Your child may be more likely to make good choices when they are in the school lunch or breakfast line if they are used to eating healthy at home. Practice making nutritious meal choices at home like Peanut Butter Stir Fry Noodles for lunch, Peanut Butter Overnight Oats for breakfast, or Peanut Butter Vanilla Yogurt Dip as a snack. This can help make healthy eating more of a habit, and not a chore!

Bring food from home. Did you hear that school lunches may be healthier than lunches from home? If your child is not interested in the meals at school the next day, be sure to work together to pack a healthy meal. By packing a healthy lunch, you may help your child avoid unhealthy impulse buys. While vending machine foods are OK as a snack every now and then, they do not make a very healthy daily meal! Try making a lunch with foods like wraps, sandwiches, fresh fruit, and low-fat milk. See the links below for more information, resources, and ideas.

If your child’s school has issues with food allergy management, please visit

Happy Eating!


This post was written by Georgia Department of Public Health dietetic intern Heather Meyers and reviewed and approved by Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN.

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