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Health & Parenting

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School Lunches, Healthy Choices

Packing up a healthy school lunch is easy with these tasty tips.

Healthy School Lunches: Getting the Kids Involved

A great way to be sure kids want to eat right is to make them part of the process. Some good ways to do that include:

  • Have Everyone Jump In. Muster enthusiasm for the midday meal by having kids participate in planning and assembling their own lunches. When children help, making healthy school lunches becomes second nature, and they'll soon be doing it on their own.
  • Get Kids Excited. Let kids choose a lunch box or insulated bag; a thermos; and small reusable hard plastic containers for taking lunch to school. A small freezer pack keeps food cold. Have them decorate them with stickers, markers, or paint. Children who brown-bag it can decorate a different bag every day.
  • Shop Together for Healthy Choices. Take your child to the grocery store to pick out healthy ingredients. "At the very least, lunch should include a source of protein, such as turkey, chicken, beans, eggs, nut butters, or sunflower seed butter; grains; fruits or vegetables; and a nutritious beverage, such as low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice," Nissenberg says.
  • Make Compromising Cool. When kids clamor for fatty luncheon meats, chips, sugary drinks, and desserts -- compromise. Have them concoct their own healthier versions. Purchase reduced-sodium deli meat; reduced-fat cheese; whole-grain bread or crackers; small fruit, such as clementines and tangerines; cartons of 1% low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice; and mini candy bars.
  • Check Up on Lunch.If you're curious what your child is actually eating what he packs for lunch, ask him to bring home any uneaten food.

So, Are School Lunches Unhealthy?

Millions of American school children line up for school lunch every day. Even so, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) catches a lot of flak.

"Could school lunches be better? Sure. But the perception that school lunch is bad is largely unfair," says Andrea Giancoli, MS, RD, nutrition policy coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Children who participate in the NSLP are twice as likely to eat vegetables, consume more fruit, and take in less sugar at lunch as kids who don't eat NSLP meals, according to a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research.

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