The School Nutrition Department operates the National School Lunch Program, which is a USDA program aimed at providing healthy, affordable lunches to school students. A hungry child cannot learn!

School lunch has its share of stereotypes: grouchy lunch ladies slopping mystery meat on trays, while children turn up their noses. But how much of the hype is true? Below are some popular misconceptions about our program and the truth behind the myths.

Myth #1: School meals make students obese

Truth: Research shows that students who eat school lunch have healthier weights than their peers1. An additional study showed that students tend to gain weight during the summer and return to healthier weights when they return to school1. School menus are designed to provide students with a specific amount of calories, depending on their age2.

Myth #2: School meals are made up of junk food

Plate with food groupsTruth: School meals follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Some of the key messages in the Dietary Guidelines include incorporating whole grains, choosing fat-free or low-fat milk, keeping saturated fat and sodium below limits, and consuming a variety of vegetables, all of which schools are required to do2,3.

School meals are constructed with similar principles to the MyPlate method, where every student has the opportunity to choose a meal that contains all 5 food groups in appropriate portions2.

Myth #3: Schools don't serve enough fruits and vegetables for lunch

Truth: For fruit, schools are required to offer 1/2 cup to K-8 grade students and 1 cup to 9-12 grade students2. For students aged 9-13, that accounts for 1/3 of their daily requirement!4

For vegetables, schools are required to offer 3/4 cup to K-8 grade students and 1 cup to 9-12 grade students. Realizing their importance, Hamilton County offers 1 cup of vegetables to all of its students. For a girl aged 9-13, this would account for 1/2 of their daily needs and about 40% for boys4. We also carefully plan menus in order to offer all 5 important vegetable subgroups: dark green, red/orange, starchy, beans, and other.

Myth #4: Schools serve fried, greasy foods

Truth: The majority of our schools don't have fryers in them anymore. Most schools bake their french fries, and all schools bake their chicken nuggets, fish, and chicken patties. Additionally, items that are typically thought to be greasy, such as pizza and hamburgers, have been specially formulated for schools to be reduced-fat, reduced-sodium, and whole grain.

Myth #5: Lunches sent from home are healthier than school meals

Truth: One study showed that, on average, lunches brought from home contained more snack foods and less dairy, fruits, and vegetables, compared to school lunches1. This led to the sack lunches containing more fat and less vitamins and minerals than school lunches.

Myth #6: Soda is served with school lunch

Truth: Soda is not a meal component and is never served as part of a school meal, nor is it sold a la carte in any Hamilton County School Nutrition Program.

Myth #7: A la carte lines and vending machines contain only junk food

Truth: All schools have strict guidelines as to what they can serve outside of the meal program. This means their chips are baked, ice cream is reduced sugar or fat, and portion sizes are age-appropriate. Additionally, healthy items, such as reduced-fat cheese, whole grain graham crackers, raisins, fresh fruits, and vegetables are available to purchase a la carte.

Myth #8: There's no telling what kind of meat is being served at school

Truth: We use brands you would typically serve at home, such as Tyson© chicken nuggets, Pilgrim's Pride© grilled chicken, Jennie-O© and Butterball© turkey, and Idahoan© potatoes.

Additionally, we source meat that has few added ingredients and never any nitrites/nitrates. For example, our ground beef is made of just beef and spices, our chicken sandwiches are just breaded chicken breasts, and our pork BBQ is real pit-smoked pork. We take pride in using quality ingredients in our meals!

Additional Resources

USDA Lunch Pattern 
What Makes a School Lunch


(1) School Nutrition Association. SNA News - School Meals Proven a Healthy Choice.

(2) Food and Nutrition Services. United States Department of Agriculture - Final Rule Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Jan 2012.

(3) United States Department of Agriculture. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 - Dec 2010.

(4) United States Department of Agriculture - MyPlate website.

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