Merchandise Healthy School Lunches

September 12, 2012

Back to school is in full swing, but parents can always use an extra hand. Here are some great ways to show parents you care.

This year’s school meals must meet new federal nutrition standards requiring more whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables (including legumes, dark green and orange vegetables every week), and less sodium and calories. Every school meal now comes with fat free or 1% milk, and lunch entrees meet strict limits on saturated and trans fats. Cafeterias are serving a wider variety of vegetables including vitamin and mineral packed choices like broccoli, sweet potatoes, and red pepper strips, as well as more fiber-rich beans and legumes.

According to the USDA, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the nation's second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In 2010, it operated in over 101,000 public and nonprofit private schools (grades K-12) and residential childcare institutions. The NSLP provides low-cost or free lunches to nearly 32 million children daily.

Any student in a participating school can get an NSLP lunch regardless of household income. Eligible students can receive free or reduced-price lunches. For those kids that don't go to a school that participates in the NSLP but whose parents want to give their child a similarly nutrient packed brown bag lunch based on the new school guidelines, the Lempert Report has a few ideas supermarkets can use to merchandise to parents needs.

Create areas based on healthy school lunches and breakfasts that are now being served in schools. Here are a few examples:

Whole grains: Whole grain bread with lean deli turkey, lettuce and avocado instead of mayo. Egg salad or tuna salad on whole grain bread is also an option. Marketing whole grain pasta to be prepared as a pasta salad with veggies and mozzarella cheese is another excellent option.

Low fat dairy: Kids love milk, so merchandise the single serve fat free or 1% milk containers as well as yogurt for a great source of calcium at lunch.

Orange veggies: Obviously carrots, but also think orange peppers and sweet potatoes for a nutrient packed side. Create easy washed and pre-cut single serve bags of these veggies for a quick and healthy snack.

Dark green veggies: Broccoli makes a great veggie to dip. Use spinach on sandwiches and even in pasta salads. Edamame is a great source of protein and fun to eat as well.

Beans: Black bean dip with veggies, a warm chili in winter, and even hummus as a sandwich spread are great options.

Fruits: Kids love fruit, but make sure it’s pre-cut so they will actually eat it.  Apples, oranges, plums, grapes, watermelon, the list goes on – but make sure to merchandise what’s in season.

Back to school is already in full swing, but parents can always use an extra hand. Running this sort of campaign post New Years is also a great idea as parents and kids adjust back to their routines after a long and gluttonous holiday season.