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Byline: Lori Higgins
DETROIT _ Penny Slabaugh has a fussy eater for a son, so making his lunch every day is an exercise in trying to balance good nutrition with giving the 11-year-old something he'll want to eat.
Eating lunch provided by his school just isn't an option.
"Nine out of 10 times he won't like what they have," said Slabaugh of Livonia. "He'd rather just have me do it."
So she wakes up at 4:30 every school morning to make lunch for her son, Jeremy Hamilton, herself and her husband, James Slabaugh.
"I try to pick the few things that are good for him that he likes," Slabaugh said.
And, for the most part, she's getting it right, giving him celery sticks or carrot sticks on alternate days and compromising on Jeremy's desire for pop by giving him juice.
Too often, though, parents who pack their kids' lunches struggle to make the best choices for their children, opting more for convenience.
And with the number of obese children on the rise in the United States, nutrition experts say parents must play a key role in helping their children eat healthy.
"The biggest mistake both parents and students make is sticking to high-fat, high-sodium, low-fiber, highly processed, quick items that just get stuffed in the lunch bag," said Nick Drzal, nutrition consultant for the Michigan Department of Education.
A study published in 2001 found that _ after looking at the lunch habits of 500 children in southeast Michigan _ the lunches kids got at school were more healthy than the lunches kids brought from home. School lunches must adhere to federal nutrition guidelines.
Dr. Alice Jo Rainville, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Eastern Michigan University and spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, conducted the study, looking at children in 10 schools in Michigan's Ann Arbor and Van Buren public school systems.
The school lunches offered more fruits and vegetables, were lower in fat, higher in vitamins, lower in sugar and had more variety. The homemade lunches tended to be low on fruits and vegetables and high on snack foods like sweets and chips.
"They're easy to pack, but low in nutrition," Rainville said.
Lottie Parker's four children usually eat school lunches, but her oldest, Illa, a sixth-grader, …