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Back To School Means Healthier Eating

Armen Hareyan's picture

(ARA) - The end of summer is a time for back-to-school clothing sales. It is a time for stocking up on school supplies, buying notebooks, binders, pencils and a ream or two of paper. It is also an opportunity to consider lunch options for the new school year.

Eating "right" is something we, as adults, know we are supposed to do. But children need guidance from parents to learn to make healthy eating choices. Parents face three main alternatives when thinking about lunch for their school-age youngsters:

  • Ignore the issue and let the child decide
  • Pack a lunch
  • School lunch

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Children left to their own devices may bring food from home for lunch, might leave campus during lunch in pursuit of a snack or may frequent vending machines and snack bars on campus. If sound food decisions are modeled and encouraged at home: a child's choices during the school day could result in a well-balanced meal. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, reveal that some 15 percent of children and teens are overweight, suggesting that too often children are choosing cookies over carrots when deciding their own meals and snacks.

Sack lunches packed for a child, or ideally with the child, provide more parent control over food choices. But this alternative does not necessarily translate into a healthy lunch. Research published in 2001 by Dr. Alice Jo Rainville, associate professor in the Human, Environmental and Consumer Resources Department at Eastern Michigan University, compared the nutritional value of sack lunches brought from home with lunches offered in the school cafeteria. Reimbursable school lunches provided through the National School Lunch Program provided on average three times as many dairy products, twice as much fruit, and seven times the vegetable amounts as lunches brought from home, which provided three times as many snack items. Dr. Rainville concluded that reimbursable school lunches were lower in fat, provided more nutrients overall and provided more food variety than sack lunches from home.

If a sack lunch option is still preferred over the cafeteria, parents and students should consider the following tips to avoid common pitfalls:

  • Involve the child by asking what he or she wants to eat and discussing the choices.

  • Plan ahead - don