What Are Your Kids Having for Lunch?

How to help your children eat healthy at school

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

When it comes to lunches for her kids, Rallie McAllister, MD, has a house rule: "We take our lunch to school. No questions asked."

Getting kids to take a healthy lunch from home is one way to fight the high-fat, high-sugar, and high-sodium offerings found in many school cafeterias and vending machines, says McAllister, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.

But even McAllister -- a family practice doctor in Kingsport, Tenn., who specializes in nutrition and weight loss -- concedes that in the end, parents have to let kids make a lot of their own food choices. "You can't be completely hard-nosed about this," she says.

The crusade to get children to eat more healthfully during the school day is one that McAllister and other health-care professionals, educators, and parents are serious about -- and with good reason.

Public school lunches must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for nutrition (for example, no more than 30% of their total calories can come from fat). And many schools take pains to make sure their offerings include healthy choices. But that's not necessarily translating to our children eating better at school.

One reason, many experts say, is the "a la carte" items offered alongside the standard school lunch, or sold at in-school snack bars or vending machines (often, proceeds go to help the schools meet their budgets). Further, some physicians' groups believe that the USDA guidelines don't go far enough to ensure that children eat healthfully.