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Detroit’s Children Can Eat Healthy This School Year with These Experts’ Tips

Mix of fresh fruits on wicker bascket

With the back-to-school season upon us, dietitians and other nutrition experts in the Detroit area are gearing up to help kids start the new academic year off healthy.

Laura Meagher, a registered dietitian at Beaumont Hospital in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, advised parents to quit saying “I don’t have time” and start making time to help themselves and their kids eat healthy. This is especially important, she said to CandG Newspapers, as parents make lunches for their children to take to school.

Making those healthy choices all starts with education, said Meagher. “Take them to the grocery store and walk around, and have them look at things they haven’t tried,” she suggested.

But how is that possible for area parents and guardians, many of whom live below the poverty line? Meagher explained that one place urban families can get healthy foods for less is at the farmers’ market.

An estimated 97% of the farms in the United States are run by families, including family partnerships and corporations, and many of these families make their money by selling fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets.

For families who live in the city of Detroit, this can be an excellent way to get access to healthy foods for children’s (and even adults’) lunches.

Meagher also recommends adding produce to kids’ lunches that is already prepared, such as fruit and vegetable slices. While some supermarkets do sell pre-packaged fruits and veggies, Meagher said, families should ideally choose farm-to-table and fresh produce if possible.

Of course, that choice may not apply to many Detroit children, who receive free or reduced price lunches in public schools.

The city’s public schools serve nearly 250,000 lunches per week, according to an op-ed in the Detroit News by Betti Wiggins. Wiggins is the executive director of Detroit Public Schools’ Office of school nutrition, and said that the program will provide a high return on investment in the city’s youth.

She also agrees that school lunches need to encourage healthy eating habits, especially for those who receive these meals for free.

“School nutrition programs should strengthen a child’s knowledge of healthy eating habits,” Wiggins wrote. “Food served at educational facilities should always aim at maximizing good health and proper nutrition. There is no room in an educational setting for anything less.”

September is also Fruit and Veggies — More Matters Month, which was launched in 2007 by the Produce for Better Health Foundation to help educate consumers about making healthy food choices. The foundation also lets parents know how many fruits and vegetables people should eat each day.

Halle Saperstein, a registered dietitian with Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, said that children between ages three and five should have between one and one-and-a-half cups of fruit and vegetables each per day. Children between six and 11 should try to eat between three and four servings of fruit and four to six servings of vegetables.

Older kids and adults, she said, should aim for five servings per day of fruits and vegetables each.

Saperstein adds that although fresh is best for fruits and veggies, frozen is the next best option because the freezing process can lock in the freshness.

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