Lunch is the most important meal of the day for students, say health care experts.

Citing from a study, Lubna Dhalani, dietitian at Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai, said: “The school lunch makes up one-third to one half of a child’s nutritional intake for an entire day and is essential to help them succeed in school as well as in their growth and development.”

She said children are usually not very hungry when they leave home for school. “In the rush of things, they may take just a glass of milk, a sandwich, some cereal or fruits or simply skip breakfast. But lack of food can lead to lack of nutrition and energy that is required to focus on school activities.”

Although most schools have two breaks during the school hours — first around 9 or 10am and another at midday, it is in the second break that the children get their heartiest meal, she added.

Nadeen Taha, clinical dietitian at Mediclinic Dubai Mall, said lack of nutrition is a common complaint among kids. “I see a lot of children with iron and calcium deficiencies, picky eating, allergies and food intolerance. If they happen to be eating in a school canteen, I help them make the right choices. The key is to avoid foods that are rich in sodium, fat and sugar.”

While canteens take care of temperature, special care must be taken with home-cooked meals, the experts said.

Dr Prabhakar Patil, specialist paediatrician at Medcare Women & Children Hospital, said food prepared unhygienically or stored and transported improperly can cause food poisoning when consumed. “If the foods are refrigerated soon after they are prepared, they can be consumed. Don’t let them sit for more than two hours at room temperature or more than one hour at above 32 degrees Celsius.

“Uncooked foods such as cold salads or sandwiches should be eaten immediately or refrigerated promptly. The goal is to reduce the time the food is in the danger zone: between 4 and 60 degrees Celsius when bacteria quickly multiply,” he added.