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Dietician offers tips for packing healthy school lunches

AT A GLANCE

2012-13 School Meal Prices

Elementary student lunch: $2

Middle and high school student lunch: $2.25

Reduced student lunch: $0.40

Adult lunch: $3

--

Student breakfast: $1.25

Reduced student breakfast: $0.30

Adult breakfast: $1.50

New menu items for 2012-13

-- Asian bowls with lo mein and veggies

-- Basked sweet potato waffle fries

-- Banana yogurt bars with fresh fruit toppings

-- Whole grain biscuit breakfast sandwiches

-- Cuban, Greek and Hawaiian specialty sandwiches

-- Whole grain flat bread pizzas

-- Spicy grilled chicken filet sandwiches

LAWRENCEVILLE -- If you've ever packed your child's school lunch at home, you already know one thing: it ain't easy being healthy.

That said, a local dietician recently dished out some tips for parents struggling to fill their kids' bellies with something nutritious during the school day. While it does take some work, Gwinnett Medical Center's Amy Tella said, it may not be as hard as you think.

• Get your kids involved. Set parameters by creating a few groups of healthy foods, and let the youngster pick which ones they would like.

"That way you're not just packing things that you think they will like and they don't," Tella said. "It teaches them the important parts of each meal, too."

• Spice up fruits or vegetables by including different "dips" -- pack apples with peanut butter, carrots with ranch, or pita bread with hummus. For young kids, cut things into smaller, more manageable pieces.

If you've got a picky eater, begin the exposure process at home. Don't just throw fruits and vegetables in with lunch and hope they eat it.

"If they're exposed to that they learn that they actually might like it," Tella said. "If you do that at home it's definitely easier to pack it in their lunch."

Strive for one fruit and one vegetable serving per lunch.

• The standard old sandwich doesn't have to be the end-all, be-all. Try wraps, cracker sandwiches and bread-free "sandwiches" (i.e. a piece of lunch meat wrapped around a cheese stick). Try to stick to whole grain breads.

You can also use cookie cutters to fashion sandwiches into cool shapes -- fun meals equal eaten meals.-- There's nothing wrong with throwing in a cookie or snack cake.

Tella advised packing with the "80-20" rule in mind: if 80 percent of your meal is healthy, it's OK if 20 percent is filled by a dessert of some kind.

For more tips, Tella suggested perusing the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' website at eathealthy.org.

"There are tons of snacks and healthy lunch ideas on there," she said. "And it's really easy to navigate."