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Balanced and Nutritious continued...

And all this nutrition comes at a bargain price. Depending on what part of the country you live in, lunches run anywhere from $1 a day in most elementary school to $2 a day in most high schools.

OK, so this healthy meal is placed before your child in the cafeteria at school. Whether your child will actually eat this balanced, nutritious meal without parental supervision is another matter, and one that many school food-service managers are deeply concerned about.

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

"What kids see modeled at home, they pick up themselves," says McDonald. "If parents make time for balanced, healthy meals, the children naturally follow suit."

That's one reason parental involvement -- both at home and at school -- is so important.

"Not every parent can come to school for a lunch, but that's one great way a parent can get involved," McDonald says. "As a food service manager, I'm always happy to make arrangements for a parent to visit at lunch. They see what the students are eating. They get to see what has changed. The student sees that eating healthy food is important to the parent. That's a powerful lesson."

Parental pressure is even forcing some changes in the widely criticized practice of having vending machines in schools, most of which sell sodas and junk food. Many schools use vending-machine proceeds to supplement after-school programs.

"More than 90% of high schools have vending machines, and that is a real problem," says Stanton. "These high-fat, salty, or sugary snacks are everything we don't want students to substitute for real food. But they make money for the schools."

While the machines are staying, parents are pushing to make changes in what the machines offer. Instead of only offering soda, some machines will have fruit juice, too. Similarly, alongside the Ding Dongs and Kit Kats, some schools are including healthier choices such as whole-grain granola bars.

"It's a start," says McDonald. "And it's parents that have the clout to keep the trend moving toward healthier foods, even if it comes one step at a time."

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