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Ideas to perk up those school lunches

If you're beginning to struggle for fresh ideas on what to tuck into school lunch boxes, the authors of Brown Bag Success (Chronimed, $9.95) have suggestions.

Dietitians Sandra K. Nissenberg and Barbara N. Pearl have filled their paperback book, subtitled Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade, with easy recipes. Here are some of their tips to get you packing in the right direction:

Add color, texture and flavors to lunches, and they will be more appetizing. Try red, green, yellow, orange and purple foods. Contrast crunchy with smooth.

Include several different flavors in your child's bag but watch out for strong-smelling foods.

Check with your child each day to ask what he or she liked or didn't like so you can make him or her happier the next day.

Plan lunches ahead by preparing foods such as muffins, cookies and trail mix on weekends. Use your freezer to stay stocked on food such as sliced meats.

Keep a plentiful supply of lunch basics, such as peanut butter, bread, jam, fresh fruit, pretzels, applesauce, pudding, cheese, fruit juice. Don't forget sandwich bags, plastic wrap and plastic utensils.

Pack lunch the night before.

Entice your child with a creative lunch.

Use cookie cutters to cut sandwich bread into different shapes. Make fruit, vegetable and cheese kebabs instead of sandwiches. Add color and crunch with raw fruit and vegetables. Instead of chips, send popcorn.

Get kids involved in making their lunches, from taking them along when you shop to letting them occasionally pick and try a new food.

Personalize your child's lunch so it holds his or her interest. Include a poem, a joke, a special note or an invitation for a family event.

Send a special treat labeled "share with a friend." Send a "word-of-the-day" for your child's vocabulary building. Pack a character napkin to add pizazz.

Remember that lunch is only one meal of the day, Nissenberg and Pearl write.

"It is still up to you to offer other nutritious meals and snacks. . . that complement lunch," they write. "The habits and food choices children develop now will last a lifetime. You can make the difference."

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