Choosing a healthy school lunch isn't always easy, but we have some tips. Pictured: children eating.

More than 30 million children in the U.S. purchase their lunch at school, and many parents find themselves unsure whether what their kids are eating is healthy and nutritious.

On one hand, school lunch standards improved significantly with 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandated more whole grains and lean proteins, a gradual reduction of sodium levels, and a cap on calories and saturated fats. 

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On the other hand, the Department of Agriculture started rolling back these rules last year, allowing schools more flexibility on serving flavored milk (which has added sugars), easing requirements for serving whole grains, and loosening restrictions on sodium.

As a parent, where does that leave you? You might be tempted to pack all your kids’ lunches at home, to ensure you know exactly what they’re feeding their growing bodies and minds. But it can be tricky to find time every day to prepare meals that are nutritious—and that your kids will actually eat.

I’ve compiled some tips for helping your kids navigate the school lunch line. After all, I use them with my family, too!

Look Over the Menu Together
At the beginning of each week, take a look at the menu with your child and talk about the options. Encourage healthy choices like fresh fruit and vegetables, rather than only pointing out foods you’d like them to avoid, like hot dogs or pizza. Explain how a healthy lunch gives them energy and helps their bodies grow stronger.

Ask Your Child About Lunch Each Day
Let your child know that what he or she had for lunch is just as important as a grade on a spelling quiz or how fun gym was. Reinforce good habits and suggest options for items that weren't appealing. If they are struggling to find things they like, tell them to take a look at their friend’s lunch. Try something new!

Show Them the Power of Choice
It is important to begin the lessons of choosing healthful foods early on. Children need to learn how to make healthful choices on their own, and doing so will give them independence and encourage them to try new foods. To model how to make healthy meal choices, I take my kids grocery shoppingsometimes, and I explain what makes me choose various items.

Encourage Water or Plain Milk
Sugars in juice or sweetened milk can add up fast and should be minimized when possible. If your child is a big chocolate or vanilla milk fan, discuss certain days to splurge (e.g., Tuesdays and Thursdays).

Plan Around Fruits and Veggies They Like
Even the pickiest eaters will generally have a few healthy items they prefer, like carrot sticks or apple slices. When you see those items on the lunch menu, those are good days to plan for a cafeteria lunch.

Consider School Breakfast
Many schools now offer healthy breakfast choices, an option to consider if you are strapped for time in the morning. There’s a wealth of research that shows breakfast is the most important meal for kids, so you want to be sure they’re starting their day healthfully.

Let Them Have Some Fun Foods
It’s okay to allow the occasional pizza or other less healthy option for lunch if you feel your child is generally eating well and making smart choices. You don’t want them to feel like you’re taking all the fun out of eating.

Teach Them Not to Waste
A 2014 study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that 60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fruit in school lunches were being thrown away. School lunches are a good opportunity to discuss food waste with your kids, and how they shouldn’t take anything they aren’t going to eat. You can explain things like how landfills are filling up and how valuable food is.