School Lunches - Fun and Nutritious

(ARA) - As the beginning of the school year nears, parents once again face the challenge of preparing healthy lunches and snacks that their kids will actually eat. After all, you can send your child to school with a well-balanced lunch a home-ec teacher would be proud of, but if he trades his carrot sticks for a cupcake, all your efforts go down the drain.

What parents need are ways to make healthy food fun for kids to eat. And since September is not only back-to-school month, but also "5 a Day" month (in honor of the FDA recommendation that everyone eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day), what better time to incorporate these foods into your family's diet.

Every parent knows that some foods are more popular with kids than others. For example, most kids like bananas, but may not be so sure about papaya. While you want your child to try new tastes, their lunch box probably isn't the place for that. Keeping kids' taste buds in mind, here are some tips from the Produce Marketing Association for fun, healthy ways to help your kids get their 5 a Day.

For the lunch box:

* Instead of PB&J for lunch, how about PB&B -- peanut butter and banana. This delicious combination is sure to be a hit with kids.

* Peanut butter can also be used to stuff celery, or try celery stuffed with low fat cheese.

* Apples are easy to pack and eat -- simply toss one in the lunch box. Alternatively, pack a container of applesauce.

* Capture your kids' imagination (and their appetites) with unique and interesting fruits. For example, star fruit, with its astral shape, is fascinating to kids.

* Kids might turn up their noses at raw carrot sticks served on their own, but a little ranch-flavored dip can make all the difference. The dip is available in easy-to-pack single serving containers. Encourage your child to try dipping other vegetables such as celery, broccoli and cauliflower for variety.

Any of the ideas above can also work as a healthy after school snack, but you have a lot of other options as well. Kids love smoothies, especially when they get to pick the ingredients. All you need is some yogurt, your favorite fruit, some ice and a blender for a tasty snack that packs a nutritional punch.

Here's another recipe the kids will go for: Fruition Pizza. They'll get a kick out of the unconventional ingredients. It's so easy, the kids can practically put it together themselves.

Fruiteroni Pizza

1 12-inch pre-baked thin pizza crust or 12-inch regular pizza crust

1/2 cup pasta sauce or pizza sauce

1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella or jack cheese

1 large (or 2 small) fresh California peaches, thinly sliced

2 ounces sliced pepperoni

diced green peppers (options)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread pizza base with sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Top with fruit slices and pepperoni, then sprinkle with green pepper. Bake on cookie sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and crust is browned. Cut into wedges.

And remember, it's not just kids who need their 5 a Day. Mom and Dad should be setting a good example by eating their fruits and vegetables. A survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association found that parents have more potential to influence their children's eating habits than anyone else. These findings underscore the importance of a parent's involvement in helping their children make good dietary choices, because children's eating behaviors are influenced by family-related factors such as the number of meals eaten together.

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