Online Health Chat with Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

August 11, 2014


School lunches have long had a bad rap – not any longer. New government regulations are requiring healthier meal and beverage options to be offered at school. Children have the option to select healthy menu choices at school, or there is always the option to pack a lunch. There are so many decisions to make and options to consider when deciding on lunches. Many kids get bored with the lunch they pack and end up trading it or throwing it away. Learn how to avoid these situations and involve your kids in boosting their nutrition during the school day.

Cleveland Clinic nutrition specialist Laura Jeffers will discuss how to incorporate nutrition in school lunches, including:

  • Selecting the healthiest school menu options
  • Packing a healthy lunch
  • Packing healthy snacks for after school
  • Involving your children in meal planning

Also, find out how your diet can contribute to digestive system difficulties and if you are getting the adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables and fiber your body requires for good digestive health.

Don’t miss this opportunity to chat with an expert on school nutrition. Please join registered dietitian Laura Jeffers from the Center for Human Nutrition at Cleveland Clinic.

About the Speaker

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with the Center for Human Nutrition. She focuses on patient counseling for weight management, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and inborn errors of metabolism. She developed and oversees the Eat Right at School Program. Eat Right at School is a menu award program for schools that go above and beyond the requirements for serving nutritious meals at breakfast and lunch. These schools also must implement changes to how their lunchrooms are set up to promote healthy eating behaviors. Laura is committed to assisting schools in providing the healthiest options available.

Completing her undergraduate degree at Ashland University, her graduate degree at Cleveland State University and her dietetic internship at the Oakland County Health Division in Michigan, Laura was involved in a variety of organizations throughout her academic endeavors including the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics at the national, state and local levels.

Let’s Chat About Back to School Nutrition

Moderator: Welcome to our chat today with registered dietitian Laura Jeffers of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Human Nutrition. We are thrilled to have her here with us to share her expertise about school nutrition.

Let's get started with our questions...

Breakfast Tips

robb1959: I desperately need some ideas for breakfast before school. I am not a fan of sugary cereals and have heard that protein is the way to go. Your thoughts?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Homemade breakfasts are best, but they're not always doable. It is true breakfast at home should be routine for children. Incorporating protein such as eggs, egg whites (egg beaters) or turkey bacon with whole grain bread is a great start. Trying Greek yogurt with berries topped with a small serving of granola is another great idea. Protein plus complex carbohydrate will keep kids fuller, longer.

It has been shown that breakfast improves attention and performance in school. It is better to eat something as opposed to skipping breakfast altogether. On some days of the week, it may be impossible for parents to make breakfast, and they must feed kids on the go. Stressing the importance of eating something is the key and offering a breakfast bar as a meal replacement or partial meal replacement may be an option.

quarry: My son does not wake up early enough to eat breakfast. (He's in high school.) Do you have any suggestions for "grab 'n go" nutrition that I could have available? Waking up earlier for him is not an option.

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Having him eat something in the morning is better than nothing. Perhaps have him pack a cheese or peanut butter sandwich the night before and grab it on the way out. Make sure it is on whole wheat bread! Another option is to have hardboiled eggs ready to go in the fridge as well. If he is going to grab a cereal bar, make sure it has some protein in it – at least 5 grams – and some fiber in it as well. This will keep him fuller for a longer period of time.

turbotaco: What should I look for in a breakfast bar? How many grams of protein, etc.?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: A product containing 5 grams of fiber is recognized as a “good” source. It is recommended to purchase a bar with as much fiber as you can find. The more sugar that the bar contains, the less fiber it contains, so that is a beneficial trade-off.

Lunch Ideas

arlene: What types of things should I pack my child for lunch? We are just starting elementary school this year.

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Try to pack foods that fit into at least three food groups; for example, protein (sandwich/wrap with lean turkey/chicken), fruit and veggies.

Kate'sMom: I am convinced my daughter is either giving her lunch to someone else or throwing it away. I am not sure if she doesn't like what I send with her or what her problem is, but I am sure that she is not eating it. What can I do? With this being a new school year, I would like to start off on the right track.

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Encourage an open environment with the lunches:

  • Have the child bring home what she does not eat
  • Talk to your daughter about what she would like to eat
  • Get your child involved with meal planning, shopping and packing

I would start on a positive note. Go to the store together and set a plan of possible meal options. Get her involved in the whole process to get her excited about making her lunch. Let her know that there are many things that can be made with her leftovers, so have her bring the food home. Perhaps some of the new items that she makes she can bring to school to share with her friends. Eating should be a positive experience, so try to keep things light.

Franki32: Are school lunches really healthy? What about when kids get to high school and the cafeteria is more a la carte?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Yes, the government regulations require schools to meet criteria to ensure that the meals that are provided are healthy.

slamonday: For high school teens: is there an optimal calorie goal when looking at the lunch meal for a teen? I know protein is good, but what other items should the student look to eat?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Calorie needs vary with teens based on gender and activity level. I suggest making sure the teen has at least 500 calories at breakfast and lunch, and dinner may be higher. They should also incorporate healthy snacks to increase overall calorie intake. Fat intake should be at least 50 grams per day minimum, but consuming large amounts of fat per day leads to excessive energy intake. Fiber is another thing to promote; fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other options are a place to start. Avoid having them go long periods of time without eating.

Denny: What is the best way to pack a lunch when refrigeration is not an option? If I put an ice pack in with the lunch, it makes it heavier. I know that if an item has mayonnaise it should stay cool, but are there other foods with temperature warnings?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: All foods should be kept cool that you would keep in the refrigerator. The USDA has reported that since yogurt has healthy bacteria in it, it can usually stay OK without further hydration until lunch time. If there is a need for mayonnaise, I would suggest purchasing the single packets that can be thrown into the lunch box. Lunch meat must be kept cool, but peanut butter is OK. If you are sending a drink, you can freeze the drink the night before so that it can be used as an ice pack and is then very cold by lunch time. If there is a doubt, don't send it. It is too easy to get a food-borne illness from warm lunches.

Snack Sense

ldydolphin: Any suggestions for after school snacks?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Try to provide protein and carbohydrate such as 1/2 cheese sandwich, or use peanut butter or cream cheese instead of cheese. Other ideas are a cheese stick with some crackers or yogurt and pretzels. Whole fruit and cheese or peanut butter is another option. The entire snack should be <200 calories, especially if dinner is just a few hours away. If the child is involved in after school sports, they may require more calories. Don't forget that the sports drink they are consuming at practice is providing the calories from the carbohydrate (sugar) and also assisting with hydration.

concesca: Do kids really need an after school snack? What can I provide that will not 'spoil' their appetite?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Many students eat lunch fairly early in the day. If that is the case, they definitely need a snack. There is nothing wrong with eating a snack; if it is 200 calories or less and healthy – no problem. Please see above post for suggestions regarding snack options.

TJ: Our school has staggered lunch periods, and last year my son had the 10:30 a.m. time slot. He was not usually hungry at that point, but then starving at 2 p.m., and after school sports he was not fueled to perform. Suggestions? Ideas?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: He should eat a small breakfast and will be ready for some lunch at 10:30 a.m. I suggest packing him a snack. Perhaps there are many kids in a similar situation and the teacher would be willing to allow for a snack time during the day. Kids perform best when they are nourished; that is why we always say to eat breakfast. In order to get through the second half of the day, kids must eat lunch. If he has after school activities, I suggest packing another snack in order to give him nourishment until he gets home for dinner.

Nutrition in General

revathyprabu: My baby is 11 months old and, without knowing, I gave her honey. Does this create any problem? I am worried.

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: The recommendation is to avoid giving honey to babies until a bit later because it is not pasteurized. I suggest contacting her pediatrician to discuss this matter.

Harper: Can vegetables really be hidden in other food items such as cakes etc.?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: The newest literature is showing us that hiding vegetables is not preferred because if kids do not know they are getting vegetables, they won't know why they should eat them. Kids should learn at a young age that vegetables are a great source of nutrition and taste great, too!

stardust: My kids are convinced that all healthy foods are bad. What can I do to change their minds?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Education around this topic must be increased. Having to eat healthy is NOT a bad thing, but kids just need to understand why and that it is a good thing.

Healthy foods are often viewed as bad. It may help if you eat veggies in front of them and offer them different types to try. Have them at least take a few bites, perhaps cook them a variety of ways and offer them raw with some low fat dip/salad dressing. Have them get involved with this activity to get them excited about trying new things. Over time, it may help to change their minds.

Harper: A neighbor gets her kids to drink a shake before school that she stuffs with all sorts of vegetables. Can this really taste good? Drinking something green just seems odd.

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Yes, this is a great way to incorporate fruits and vegetables and get a jumpstart to the day! I suggest adding some plain Greek yogurt or protein powder to ensure that there is some protein in the shake. Kale or spinach is a great leaf lettuce to add, and then adding berries or a banana is great! Add a splash of orange juice to add a bit of sweet, but try to get used to it not being sweet. Soon enough, you can train yourself to not need the sweet taste.

slamonday: A number of schools are beginning to incorporate gardens and growing fruits/vegetable during the school day. Can this really help get kids interested in healthy foods?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: This is a great way to get kids excited about healthy foods. They learn how to grow their own, which is helpful as they get older, and they also are able to try different varieties. For example, there are many varieties of carrots that are all different colors. By growing these foods, kids can taste the different types. It is also a good idea to teach children how to prepare these foods or how they would eat them so they can incorporate these concepts in the future.

LilBit: I have noticed that schools that have vending machines with soda pop are replacing the regular soda with diet soda. Is this really a good idea? What about the artificial sweeteners in the diet drinks?

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Yes, great idea. The problem is that even if there are artificial sweeteners in there, the kids still get used to having a very sweet taste. The goals should be to increase the water intake and limit the amount of diet options for this reason. Cut up lemons, limes, cucumber or oranges and add them to water. This is a great way to get a splash of flavor while teaching your palate to not need to have very sweet flavors.


Moderator: I am sorry to say that our time with Laura Jeffers is now over. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your expertise and time to answer questions today.

Laura_Jeffers,_MEd,_RD,_LD: Thank you very much for your time. Feeding kids during the school year gets tricky, but keep in mind that they learn from your suggestions and positive outlook regarding healthy food choices. Make sure to get them involved with their nutrition and overall health. Try to remind them that if they want to perform well in their activities in and outside of school – nutrition must come first.

For Appointments

To make an appointment with Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, or any of the other specialists in our Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute, Center for Human Nutrition at Cleveland Clinic, please call 216.444.3046 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 43046, or visit us online at If you are interested in learning more and/or applying for the Eat Right at School Program, please contact Laura Jeffers at 216.444.3046.

For More Information

On School Nutrition

There are a number of health articles about nutrition that may help to clarify some common questions. You may also visit

On Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute (DDSI) offers patients the most advanced, safest and proven medical and surgical treatments primarily focused on disorders related to the gastrointestinal tract.

Part of the DDSI, the Center for Human Nutrition provides evaluation, education and treatment to people who have disease-related nutrition problems. Additionally, the Center is involved with a multitude of programs to promote health and wellness. Both of these efforts are driven by a dedicated team of registered dietitians, dietetic technicians, nurses, pharmacists, physicians and surgeons who work together to provide comprehensive support for patients with specialized nutrition needs.

The Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute has been ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals Survey since 2003 and first in Ohio since 1990.

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