The Effects of Unhealthy School Lunches

Image Courtesy USDA

Image Courtesy USDA

Parents who send their children to school to eat lunch might assume that the foods they’re given are healthy and part of a balanced diet. Since school lunches are part of a federally subsidized program to feed children, it might surprise you to find out that many of these lunches simply do not make the grade. Whether the portions are too small for growing pre-teens, filled with too much fat or salt, or just not of a good quality, there can be ramifications, both now and in the future. Here are some of the results that unhealthy school lunches can cause.

Learning Difficulties

If children are eating a too-heavy, too-light or too-sugary lunch, it will be difficult for them to stay alert and aware during afternoon classes. As an adult, you probably know about the mid-afternoon slump. You also might notice that your own slump is worse when you hit the drive-through or vending machine for your mid-day meal.

If a child is given a lunch that doesn’t fill them up or is greasy or carb-laden, this could result in sluggishness, hunger and stomach discomfort. In order to learn properly in the afternoon, kids need to eat a balanced lunch with lean protein, fiber, fruits or vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.

Obesity and Other Health Problems

If your child eats an unhealthy lunch occasionally, this can usually be overcome with healthy foods at breakfast and lunch. If it’s a daily occurrence, however, health problems can result. One of those is obesity. With one out of three children suffering from obesity, this is not a theoretical problem, but a realistic one.

Filling up a child with unhealthy foods like hot dogs, fried chicken nuggets or pizza on a regular basis, as might be done in a school, can lead to obesity. With that condition comes a host of others; heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and a higher risk of cancer are some of them. While these foods are okay in moderation, they should not be the mainstay of your child’s lunchtime diet.

What’s the Solution?

While packing your child’s lunch is one option, it’s one that is not feasible for some busy families. Not only does packing a lunch take more time, but it can also be more expensive. Talking to your child’s school administrators about offering additional lunch options beyond the normal cafeteria fair can be a good place to start. Encourage them to look for a school lunch provider that places nutrition and good taste at the top of their priority list. Also, encourage your child to choose the healthier options when a choice is available. For example, ask them to take a whole apple instead of apple crisp, or steamed carrots instead of cheesy corn casserole.


By taking the steps to improve your child’s lunch, you can help him or her do better in school and avoid some health problems, both now and in the years and decades ahead.