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The Lunch Dilemma

It's back-to-school time and for many, that means back-to-packing-lunch time. Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical Center who is also a Health magazine contributor, offers some inspiration on The Early Show.

Many lunchboxes are overloaded with fat, sugar and salt and are missing fruit, vegetables and whole grains. But since a handful of foods do most of the damage to children's diets and health, a handful of changes can go a long way toward improving them.

It helps when children are involved in the planning of the meals. Using a cookie cutter, you can cut shapes out of sandwiches, healthy cheeses and fruits. Have a variety of foods at home that kids like and have them choose what they want for lunch.

Sandwiches are popular and easy. You can use whole-grain bread or some mini-pita, stuffed with things like low-fat meat, tuna and veggies. Luncheon meats are not the best choices for children, but the good news is that there are many healthier choices on the market now.

Of course, yogurt is always a good choice.

Leftovers are great to stick in the kids lunch, like chicken or pot roast from the night before. Even whole-grain pancakes or waffles are good choices. Hopefully, they'll be less likely to go for the fast food offered by some schools.

If you're a parent who can take the time, you can make muffins with whole grains and healthier cookies together with your child.

But if both parents are working and no one cooks, you can even send leftover pizza with vegetables from last night's dinner.

Fat-free pudding, gelatino, graham crackers, trail mix, pretzels, raisins, rice cakes, popcorn, baked potato chips, chocolate soy milk, and dry cereal are good snacks.

Lowfat cottage cheeses with fruit is healthy.

As for beverages, good choices include nonfat chocolate milk, water, and juice mixed with seltzer to dilute the sugar content. Steer clear of soda and juice, which just carry empty calories.

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