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Helping kids kick junk food habit.

Stumped for a way to beat your youngster's "junk food junkie" habits? Parents can fight back, and one of the best ways to teach your child is via the school lunch, suggests Rachel Barkley, assistant professor of nutritional sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "Eating is not simple for anyone anymore. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of new products and new information, as well as a flood of information from various studies--all saying something new about nutrition. Parents who are trying to make changes or teach good eating habits can end up entering into a continual battle with their children over eating."

Several steps, using the old standby "sack lunch," can be helpful in educating your offspring and steering him or her toward the proper foods:

* Become familiar with the new Federally endorsed "five-a-day" nutrition guidelines, which consist of eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, plus small amounts of meat, dairy products and bread. These guidelines have been shown to be effective at reducing obesity, cancer, and heart disease risk.

* Talk about the foods in the school cafeteria that are good and those that aren't. Point out foods in the grocery store and explain where they fit into an over-all nutritional program.

* Let your child help choose the foods for his or her lunch. Kids are more likely to eat what they have helped to prepare. Encourage youngsters to try whole grain and multi-grain breads for sandwiches, or vary the sandwiches by using hot dog buns, English muffins, bagels, and pita bread made from whole grains.

* Let your offspring select vegetables, fruits, and side dishes from the grocery store salad bar and bag these items at home so they are ready to drop in the lunch box. Dried and canned fruits also are convenient and healthy choices.

* Cookies can be a good option if they contain wholesome ingredients. Choose fig bars, oatmeal cookies, and graham crackers. Encourage older kids to make their own cookies and cakes, using healthy ingredients, and freeze them in lunch-sized portions to save time.

* Use cheerful "props" to make lunches interesting. Add colorful napkins, a variety of containers, or a new type of straw. Avoid the same old lunch every day.

* Provide a variety of foods in small portions, rather than large servings of one or two items. This helps kids learn moderation and teaches them to consume a varied diet.

* Add new nutritious items to sandwich fillings your child already likes. For example, to peanut butter or tuna salad add raisins, shredded carrots, crushed pineapple, chopped pear or apple, banana slices, sunflower seeds, chopped dates, or celery. Also try adding chopped celery and/or diced low-fat ham to light cream cheese.

"Most children adapt readily to healthier foods if they are consistently offered," Barkley explains. "Fortunately, many school systems also are modifying their lunch programs to provide healthier choices."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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