WHAT TO PACK IN THAT NINJA TURTLE LUNCHBOX

For many children, lunchtime food is a matter of social acceptability with their peers. Many parents wonder what they can pack that will actually be consumed. A piece of fruit is a good choice: ``An apple or orange or banana gets eaten,'' says Victoria Leonard, director of the Children's Nutrition Project with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In a nationwide survey of 400 children by the Gallup Organization, 75 percent of the elementary and junior high school students asked said they regularly eat the fruit in their lunches.

Ms. Leonard also suggests carrot, celery, cucumber, or broccoli sticks. Sometimes you can cut them in different shapes for variety. Busy parents might cut them up on Sunday night, throw them into a plastic bag, and dole them out during the week.

``A lot of kids like a whole meal of finger food. Try cooking up pieces of chicken in finger-size slices,'' she adds.

Children all know what their friends get in their lunches, says Leonard. ``Unfortunately, a lot of the highly advertised foods are popular.''

Acceptability differs from school to school. In some places, for example, it's not cool to take a thermos, she says. Don't buy a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunch box if everyone else is carrying a Simpsons' one. Let your child choose.

Sit down with your children and listen to what they have to say, says Leonard; ``Kids love to talk about food.'' It also helps to get your children involved in making the lunch.

And don't be upset if you find out the apple you packed was traded for candy. Kids are going to switch and often it's just a phase, she says.

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