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Good School Lunches

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-Hi. I'm Kim Benson and you're watching Parents TV. Making sure your children eat healthy is easier when you make the meals for them. It gets a little more challenging when it comes time for them to pick from this little cafeteria. Joining us today is Susan Levin, an advocate with the National School Lunch Program which provides free or nutritionally-balanced lunches each school day to more than 30 million children. Thanks for being here today, Susan. -You're welcome. Thanks for having me. -Great. -You say that helping children pick healthy lunches, it's really important to work with the school boards and the town officials and it starts well before the children even get to the school cafeteria. Why is this so important? -Well, it's important because the whole school lunch program is a huge system. It has its roots in the Federal government. So if you wanna make changes in your school cafeteria, you kinda have to start at the bottom, and hopefully, it works its way up into bigger changes. So I-- It's really important to have kids in there, advocating for healthier school lunches, and then the parents as well. If you can get teachers involved and principals, that's great too. -So the kids even have a voice in there. -Oh, absolutely. They've-- Some kids have actually contacted my non-profit and said we want healthier foods, can you help us? And that's great. That's a great foot in the door for us. -So how should parents go about contacting the people that are involved in making these changes? -Well, I think the first step is to go maybe to a PTA meeting and get other parents involved, other students, teachers, school nurses, principals. If you can get kind of a rally of people to go and ask the superintendents, the food service directors to make these changes, they usually listen. -So when people speak, other people listen. -Exactly. -So speaking up is really important. Now, at the National School Lunch Program, you're really involved with the Child Nutrition Act, and making some changes there. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is and why it's so important? -Sure. The Child Nutrition Act of 2009 is coming up for a vote in Congress, so this is a really great opportunity for parents. Like I was saying, it's a bigger problem on the Federal level so this is a chance for them to actually contact their representatives, their senators, and say, "I want you to vote for healthier school lunches," to make the changes necessary at the top so that we can see that difference in our own cafeterias. -So providing nutritious meals and parents policing them are two completely different things. Can you give us any tips on how we can help our children to make better choices when they're in the school cafeteria? -Sure. I mean, this is a huge issue. I mean, who can help? Who's to blame? Is it the marketing to kids? Is it the parents? -I have to say I have a seven and nine-year-old-- -Okay. -and I shudder when I think of them going into the school cafeteria and picking by themselves. -I know. -This is a real big issue for me and a lot of other parents. -Exactly. Going in unharmed. -Right. -And a lot of the kids-- you mentioned 30 million kids get the National School Lunch Program and breakfast program, and for some of them, it's the only meal or two meals they get in a day so it's really important that what is being offered is helpful. And so starting young-- you can't start young enough. And if you do have the support of parents, that's great. But what we suggest is there by encouragement within the school so there has to be education about why to choose healthier foods, some incentives. We found that with younger kids doing things like games or providing stickers if you choose the healthful option, has actually benefited. And then the school is able to sell more of this healthful options which motivates them to continue to serve them. -So the bottom line is that moms and kids and dads all need to get involved to make these choices and these changes. -That is ideal. That is certainly ideal. -Thanks so much, Susan. Thanks for this great advice. That's the [unk] on the school cafeteria but what about brown bagging it? Coming up next, I'll show you how minor substitutions can make the difference between a good lunch and a not-so-good lunch. -Don't go away. Another Parents TV on Demand video is coming up next. -Welcome back. Packing a lunch for your child to take to school may take a bit longer in the morning than handing out the lunch money, but it can be a great way to help them establish healthy eating habits for life, at least, if it's done right. I've got two lunches before me, Lunch A, and Lunch B. They look similar but the differences may surprise you. Let's start with the sandwiches. Sandwich A is a turkey and cheese on whole wheat bread with mayo and lettuce, but what we've done with Sandwich B is we've lightened it up using light bread, light mayonnaise, and we've taken the cheese at the deli counter and asked them for a low-fat cheese. My kids don't even notice the difference. Here, we saved 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. While fruit snacks and a piece of fruit may be similar in calories, the difference is the fruit is good for you. Fruit is full of nutrients and vitamins. It tastes great. It packs easy and fruit [unk] all important five fruits and vegetables a day. The fruit snacks don't. The difference between the Lay's chips, the regular once and the baked Lay's chips is another 100 calories. And don't forget the drinks. You can save between 60 and 250 calories depending on whether you're using juice or soda if you substitute out some water. Lastly, if you're going to send a treat to school, you might wanna turn the package over and read the back. It's amazing what you'll discover. My two boys are just like me. They love chocolate cake, but what I found was that the regular Hostess one large cupcake, chocolate cupcake, is 80 calories more than the little package of three minis. And my kids think that they're getting more with the three minis. The truth is school-aged children don't need more fat in their diet than adults do so I tried to substitute lower-fat options whenever possible. Try different products until you find healthier options that everyone likes. Chances are, if you don't mention they're light, they won't even know the difference. How much have we saved today with our simple substitutions? A whopping 485 calories, from Lunch A to Lunch B. That's a lot. Give it a try in your lunch bags. Your kids will thank you for it, maybe not right away, maybe not for a long time but eventually, they will thank you for it. For more information about keeping your kids healthy, or for a guilt-free grocery list to give you a head start at the grocery store, you can check out my website, kimbenson.com. Thanks for watching. See you next time.