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Is Your Child's School Lunch Nutritious Enough?

On average, American school children will eat more than 2,300 lunches over the course of their primary and secondary educations. If they are opting into school lunch programs, much of their long-term nutrition is dictated by the choices the school district provides.

Pocantico Hills nutritionist Alyssa Jacobs, whose husband owns Good Food organic restaurant in Briarcliff, said she would like to see schools add more fresh vegetables and fruit to their menus, and be less reliant on processed foods.

"Cafeterias are in a difficult position. When you have limited funds, you don't necessarily have resources to go out and get what's fresh. That said, I think there's room for improvement," Jacobs said. "I'd like to see more variety. There are tons of different kinds of fruits and vegetables, but in school if you don't like apples and pineapples, you might be out of luck."

Nationwide, approximately 17 percent - or 12.5 million - children and adolescents aged two to 19  are obese, according to data from the National Health and Examination Survey. The Centers for Disease Control defines childhood obesity as having a Body Mass Index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. The CDC regards a child as overweight if his or her BMI falls between the 85th and 95th percentiles.

The National Conference of State Legislatures found that in 2007 found that 25.7 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 in the State of Connecticut qualified as overweight or obese. While this ranking is lower than many states, it still shakes out to more than one quarter of the state's children in fifth through 12th grades have a medically diagnosable weight problem.

According to the CDC, overweight and obese kids are at increased risk of multiple health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease. And this is to say nothing of the potential psychological effects of being an overweight child. Additionally, the CDC finds that children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight or obese adults.

"Mrs. Q.", an employee of an urban school in the Midwest, offers more food for thought. She blogged through a year's worth of school lunches she ate on her blog, Fed Up with Lunch . CNN covered her at the beginning of 2011.

Nutritionist Andy Steigmeier, who lives in Yorktown and runs a practice in Mt. Kisco, said the most important thing is to set a good example for eating habits at home.

"As the parent of a young child, I've found that if we're eating healthy at home and everyone is enjoying eating, then it's really easy when he's in school to put that in his lunch box," Steigmeier said.

Steigmeier recommended putting dips such as hummus or salad dressing in lunch boxes, along with vegetables, because kids tend to like dipping.

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