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Keeping your kids on healthy diets while at school

Back to school back to carbs

School days are just around the corner. And with math and science class comes school lunches and vending machine snacks loaded with sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates. Just when you had your kids eating and enjoying a healthy diet, they'll be back to the temptations of sodas, sharing sweets with friends and overloading on refined carbs. Can kids eat a healthy diet at school when they are surrounded by so much sugar? Here are a few tips to keep them healthy and keep their diets on track.

Speak up

Lunchtime selections at The Calhoun School in New York City once included "gray mystery matter" or a cheese bagel. But parents demanded a change and the school's industrial caterer was replaced with French Chef Robert Surles, aka Chef Bobo. Chef Bobo's goals were ambitious: to serve fresh, healthy and delicious foods that the kids would actually eat.

His menu includes fresh homemade soups, a salad bar stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy entrees like salmon with orange soy glaze or the vegetarian summer roll-up. Chef Bobo abolished corn syrup from his pantry, encourages water as the lunchtime beverage, and goes into the classrooms to teach kids about the foods he's preparing.

Initially, the kids resisted this fare, but it wasn't long before he had won them over and their parents were begging for his cauliflower soup recipe! Chef Bobo's all natural, healthy menu still has not exceeded the costs of the industrial caterer he replaced. His advice to parents on improving their school's lunch program, "Get together and insist on healthier food. If they still don't get it, use the power of the ballot box."

Pack it up

Packing your kid's lunch might be the easiest option for ensuring your child has access to healthy foods, but it won't guarantee that she'll eat it, and it doesn't mean her friends won't share their snacks with her.

Beth Bentley of Fruithurst, Alabama, knows this problem firsthand. Her nine-year-old daughter Jerica gained nearly 10 pounds one school year because of the food she was sharing with friends at lunchtime. Bentley talked to Jerica about eating healthy foods and she spoke with Jerica's teachers about keeping classroom sweets to a minimum.

Another solution could be to take your kids shopping with you and let them pick out some healthy meals and snacks to take to school. Marie Buckner of Tracyton, Washington takes her kids to the farmer's market where they can meet the growers and ask them questions. She feels it's easier to convince kids to eat foods that they have picked out for themselves.

Cut the cash

Until vending machines in schools are abolished (or at least filled with healthier fare) it might be wise to limit the amount of money your child takes to school each day. It's all well and good to pack a healthy lunch for your kids, but if they have money in their pockets, it may be hard for them to resist an extra snack or a soda. Keep an eye on their spending and make sure their lunch is packed with enough good stuff to reduce temptation.

Let go

Cathy Wagner of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, tries not to worry too much about what her kids eat when they're at school. "They may eat stuff that's not the best, but I think good health is the result of what you do MOST of the time."

Joan Carter, registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, says this is sage advice. "Don't make food a power struggle," she says. Instead, she encourages parents to teach their kids about nutrition and to be good role models. Then you just need to step back and know that what you do at home will spill over to your kids when they are at school.

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