School lunch is more than a meal. It’s a business, whose suppliers and consumers include the schools that serve lunches, the parents and federal agencies that pay for them, and the students who — hopefully — eat them and gain some nutritional value.

Butler University Professor of Education Debra Lecklider and senior education major Jessica Blackport are researching lunch programs offered by five Indianapolis school districts, serving close to 82,000 students. You and your child can follow their tips to become super school lunch consumers.

Understand your school’s lunch options. “Schools offer the ‘reimbursable meal,’ designed to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines regarding nutrition and food components,” said Blackport. “This is the meal outlined on school lunch menus and served hot every day. The government reimburses a school at least 26 cents for every purchase.”

Individual foods from the reimbursable meal might be available “a la carte.” Some schools offer students additional snack foods, juices, ice cream, etc. “Knowing what is allowed by USDA and served at your school is important for making healthy purchases,” Blackport said.

Talk to your child about food. Discuss what your child should try to eat at school. “Maybe you want them to get all five food groups in lunch, or to steer clear of snacks and extras,” Lecklider said. “Tell them your expectations.” One district studied by Lecklider and Blackport requires children to eat a school lunch before they can purchase any snack foods. “Parents can do that, too,” said Lecklider.

Eat at least one meal at school with your child. “You can spend some time with your child, get to know their friends, continue that talk about food and lead by example,” said Blackport. “It’s also a great way for you to see the world through children’s eyes so you can better understand what they eat and why.” FYI — Adult meals cost more than student meals.

To learn more about school food service and nutrition and current USDA guidelines, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/

Professor Debra Lecklider, Ph.D., is Associate Dean of the Butler University College of Education. She has directed Butler’s graduate program for effective school leadership by principals, and specializes in the building of educational teams, climate and culture. Lecklider mentored senior Jessica Blackport’s research on school lunch programs during the 2011 Butler Summer Institute for Research and Scholarship (www.butler.edu/BIRS/); they are continuing this study during the 2011-12 academic year.

To arrange an interview contactMary Ellen StephensonAssociate Director of Public RelationsButler University(317) 940-6944mestephe@butler.edu

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