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Over the past ten years or so school systems have made an effort to improve the health and quality of their lunch offerings. This is due in part to pressure placed on schools by parents, health professionals and by the alarming trend toward childhood obesity in developed countries. It stands to reason that when we give children free rein in food choices, many will make poor ones without some encouragement in the right direction.

You may want to begin guiding your children toward eating prepared school lunches only part of the time, and even then, encouraging them to select more items from the salad and fruit bar and fewer from the chicken nugget, French fry and hot dog line. When children are younger it is reasonable to go over the school menus together and talk through the choices for the week or month. Perhaps chocolate milk can be selected once a week rather than daily and hot dog lunches may be chosen once a month.

An even better choice will be to prepare a lunch at home and provide fun containers to keep the food palatable and safe until lunch time. Another benefit of this lunch method is that you can track more carefully the food actually eaten. There are a number of earth-friendly lunch box choices today. Many are of the traditional plastic such as Tupperware and Easy lunchboxes, but others are made of lightweight stainless steel. For some of the best, search for Lunchbots, Eco Lunch or Planetboxes. Other choices are bento-like boxes such as the Go Green boxes. Most are dishwasher safe. Some offer a “better than a lunchsack” model such as Re-usies—a product that can be washed and reused several times before disposal.

Another way to be proactive in your children’s health at school is to quiz the school on availability of unhealthy food items such as soda, chips and candy. These should not be available to children on school premises. Better choices for vending machines may include juices, fruit, veggie packs and energy bars.

As children grow up they will, of course, need to make their own healthy eating choices. But getting them headed in the right direction is our responsibility. It’s early in the school year so it’s a great time to make changes. Healthy food for healthy bodies can be your new family motto.

Here are some websites to inform you and give you some direction for future lunch options: