A young girl getting school lunch in a cafeteria.
A diverse group of children eating healthy lunch at school.

The meals, drinks, and snacks that schools provide to students should be as healthy as possible.

School meals help prevent hunger and provide nutrients that kids need to learn and thrive. These meals are essential to tens of millions of children and families.

Healthy school meals have a range of benefits, especially when offered for free to all students. Strong nutrition standards for meals are associated with students having healthier diets. Some research also shows that providing healthy school meals for all students supports attendance and even academic performance.

The last major update to school nutrition standards happened in 2012, and the changes made then—including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains along with limits on saturated fats and sodium—increased the nutritional quality of meals by more than 40 percent, with student participation highest in schools that served the healthiest meals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently proposing additional updates to those standards. By joining together, we can ensure that school meals support a healthy future for all children.

An illustration of a healthy school lunch tray.

Key Findings on the Benefits of Healthy School Meals

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School meal nutrition update 2.0: How to get it right

A study from Healthy Eating Research, funded by RWJF, finds that fully aligning school meal nutrition standards with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) would make school meals more nutritious, increase student participation in school meal programs and help children do well in the classroom.  In an op-ed for The Hill, RWJF Senior Program Officer Jamie Bussel says that "Healthy school meals make an enormous difference for millions of children."

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Read expert perspectives and the latest research from RWJF to explore the opportunities and complexities of this topic.