Memo to Parents: Your Kids Hate Their School Lunch

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Here's a term you've likely never heard before: "Lunchbox preparation fatigue."

Sure, Americans — and their media — love to place scary-sounding labels on otherwise benign subjects. And certainly lunchboxes are as benign as it gets as parents and students get ready for back-to-school season.

Aren't they?

U.S. kids don't think so. In a recent survey from Harris Interactive of more than 1,000 children from grades 3-12, the lunches parents make for kids to bring to school rate a grade of "C" or lower from 54% of U.S. kids.

A separate, recent study from SurveyMonkey.com says that 53% of kids bring their lunches to school, and 54% of kids say their school lunches "lack variety."

Another 43% of school kids trade food from their lunches two or three times per week.

What can parents do to pop some creativity and energy into their kids' school lunches without going crazy in the process?

Here's a few ideas that won't break the bank, are nutritious, and won't test your sanity:

Add color. Mom (or dad) can spice up the lunchbox with brightly colored foods such as carrots, blueberries, strawberries and oranges to augment that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Colored fruits and veggies are visually appealing and highly nutritious, a nice two-fer for parents.

Shape it. Try using a cookie cutter to cut sandwiches and fruit into interesting shapes. Circles and triangles give such foods a different look and can relive some of the boredom associated with the traditional school lunch.

Let your kid "pre-order." Kids who buy at the school cafeteria are 48% less likely to order a healthy lunch when they choose their meals in line, according to a study from Cornell University. By allowing kids to "pre-order" their lunch before school or the night before, the study says, kids tend to make healthier lunch decisions.

Keep it nutritious. According to a study from The Children's Nutrition Center, parents often don't pack fruits, vegetables and other nutritious meal choices in their kids' school lunches. "Parents are concerned that if they provide a fruit and vegetable, their kids won't eat it," says Craig Johnston, assistant professor at the center at Baylor College of Medicine. "But they might be surprised, because their kids are probably hungry and are likely to eat what's there."

Mix it up. Parents can spice up their kid's school lunches by providing a good variety of food. Tanya Steel, author of Real Food for Healthy Kids, advises aiming for at least three different food choices in a child's lunchbox. "Think of the lunchbox as a meal on a plate, with protein, complex carbs, fresh produce and a wholesome treat on the side," she says. That could mean a tuna fish wrap with tortilla chips and an energy bar, along with a carton of milk or a bottle of 100% juice.

It may seem like a no-win situation with kids' school lunches, but it doesn't have to be that way. Get creative with your child's lunch and give your son or daughter a much-needed boost for the rest of the school day.

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