Friday, August 9, 2019

What’s for lunch? Get your child ready for the school cafeteria

By EMILY PINEDA | School Health/Early Childhood Education Manager, Well-Ahead Louisiana and ANGELA VANVECKHOVEN | Health Education Manager, Well-Ahead Louisiana

Getting your children ready to go back to school includes getting supplies, buying new clothes, learning bus routes and many other details. You might not think about what is being served in the cafeteria, but many Louisiana students eat both breakfast and lunch at school, so it’s an important part of your child’s day. 

Here are some questions to ask and things to think about as your kids head back to the school cafeteria.

What is my child’s school cafeteria serving?

Review the cafeteria menu with your child. Menus often list alternate choices, such as entrée salads and sandwiches, available to students who don’t care for the daily special. Ask your children about the fruit and vegetable choices offered with each meal, and encourage them to try new things.

If you want more information, many school nutrition departments have a page on the school district’s website that lists ingredients, nutritional facts and allergen information.

Finally, make plans to have lunch with your child in their cafeteria, and see for yourself how the meal looks, smells and tastes.

Who should I contact with questions or concerns about the school cafeteria menu?

The school’s cafeteria manager can talk with you about anything from meal preparation to how long students wait in line for their food. If you have more detailed questions, the cafeteria manager may refer you to the nutrition director, who oversees cafeteria operations, food procurement and menu planning for the entire school district. Also, be sure to ask your child’s teacher about classroom policies regarding food rewards and items served during classroom parties.

How can I get involved in my child’s school meal program?

Ask the cafeteria manager and principal about volunteer opportunities in your school cafeteria or school garden, if there is one. Some schools request parent volunteers to help usher students through the lunch line and encourage them to try their fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, all school districts have an advisory council and wellness policy to help establish and update district nutrition and physical activity policies. These policies can affect such things as the choices available in vending machines and the amount of time allotted each week for physical education, among others.

My child has food allergies. Do school cafeterias accommodate special dietary requirements, such as being gluten-free or nut-free?

If your child has a life-threatening food allergy, it is important to build a team of key individuals at school who can help safely manage his or her needs. Start by contacting your school nurse to discuss implementing an allergy action plan. The school nurse can work with parents and healthcare providers to develop a healthcare plan to meet the unique needs of each student.

Is my child’s school a WellSpot?

In and out of the cafeteria, schools make a major impact in the health of children. Schools designated as WellSpots make the well-being of their students and staff a priority.  School WellSpots meet benchmarks that are centered on a campus-wide tobacco-free policy and a school wellness program that includes physical activity and nutrition components for both students and staff. 

To learn more about how School WellSpots make the healthy choice the easy choice, visit Well-Ahead Louisiana’s School WellSpot page and share it with your child’s school.

For more information

To learn more about school health, visit Well-Ahead Louisiana’s website or email

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