Woman making lunch
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I remember being delighted once summer started and I no longer had to pack the dreaded school lunch for my son. While other kids were having Lunchables, I tried to come up with something similar, but a little more healthy that wouldn't illicit the cry, "But Mom, all the other kids...."
These suggestions for school lunches take into account the age of the child—small kids need small, fun lunches, while older kids need more sustenance without a lot of frills. Some of the lunches here have suggestions on what else to add to the lunchbox; other all around good choices include whole grain crackers and pretzels, crisp vegetables, an occasional bag of chips, fruit, homemade trail mix and a cool drink.

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Elementary School Lunches

Mini Sliders: Buy mini burger buns and top with sliced meatballs and a little barbecue sauce or ketchup. Pack additional barbecue sauce or ketchup for dipping. Add a bag of baked whole grain chips and pack carrot sticks and a frozen, 100% juice juice box.

Cheese and Tomato Rice Crackers: Spread mini rice crackers with soft (fresh) goat cheese and horizontally halved grape tomatoes. If you can find baby bananas, add them to the lunchbox, or, instead, a couple of mandarin oranges.

Pasta Salad: Cook short tubular pasta the night before and toss with olive oil to coat. Add chunks of cheese, snap peas and a little sweet red bell pepper (or other vegetable your child likes).

Mini Bagels with Hummus: Cut mini bagels in half and spread with a couple of different types of hummus. Send along some string cheese, and whole grain mini pretzels.

Ants on a Log: Fill celery sticks with sunflower seed butter (or peanut butter if allowed) and top with raisins. Serve with a healthy brand of cheese crackers, and a small container of flavored yogurt.

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Middle School Lunches

Picnic Lunch: Leftover fried (or healthier oven-fried) chicken makes a great lunch, and if you've got coleslaw too, even better. Wrap the chicken in foil or pack it in a reusable container; put the coleslaw in another small container. Add some cornbread and a chilled tea and you're all set.

Turkey-Cheddar "Wraps": Wrap thinly sliced roast turkey around Cheddar cheese sticks. Serve with a mixture of mustard and finely chopped store-bought mango chutney or apricot jam. Pack whole grain pretzels instead of bread.

Chicken Satay: Thread chunks of cooked chicken onto skewers along with cucumber chunks. Make a dipping sauce of sunflower seed butter (unless peanut butter is allowed), a little honey, cilantro, lime juice and a touch of hot sauce.

Maple BBQ Pork on a Bun: Cook pork tenderloin, brushing it while it cooks with your favorite barbecue sauce doctored with some maple syrup (you can make this for dinner and use the leftovers for lunch). Cool and thinly slice. Place on a bun spread with barbecue sauce, maple syrup and shredded carrots. Pack a bag of sweet potato chips.

Submarine: Make a hoagie with cooked chicken sausage, sauteed peppers and onions. Send along a small container with a little oil and vinegar for drizzling.

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Junior High School Lunches

Soft Turkey Tacos: Spread flour tortillas with black beans mashed with hot pepper sauce. Top with corn kernels, diced tomato, thinly sliced turkey and shredded Jack cheese. Roll up.

Veggie Burgers: Cook veggie burgers and top with a spread made of a combo of mayo and chipotle or ancho chile powder; and sliced tomatoes, if desired.

Lentil and Spinach Salad: Cook lentils and toss with chickpeas, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, thinly sliced scallions and fresh spinach.

Chicken Nuggets: Take chicken tenders, dredge them in flour and saute until crisp, golden brown and cooked through. Pack with a few small containers of dipping sauce, such as marinara, barbecue and honey-mustard.

Ham and Cheese Redux: Spread a split baguette with butter and fig or apricot jam. Top with thin slices of ham, a creamy cheese like Brie and thinly sliced apple or pear.

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Senior High School Lunches
Sushi Rice Salad: Cook sushi rice or regular rice according to package instructions. While still warm, add a little sugar dissolved in rice or cider vinegar and toss with a fork. Fold in diced red bell pepper, shredded carrots, cooked and shelled edamame and salt; toss to combine.

Spaghetti Frittata: Fold leftover spaghetti into beaten eggs combined with some grated Parmesan cheese. Pour into a square baking pan and bake at 350 until just set. Cut into rectangles and serve on slices of foccacia or other bread.

Fontina, Onion, and Mushroom English Muffins: Toast English muffins and brush with a cut garlic clove and a little olive oil. Top with sliced fontina cheese, sauteed onions and sauteed sliced mushrooms.

Pork Parmesan Sandwich: Dip pork cutlets first in flour, then eggs, then in a mix of breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Saute until golden brown and cooked through. Pack on crusty rolls with greens and a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil.

Roasted Vegetable and Cheese Salad: Roast (or grill) an assortment of seasonal vegetables and dress with oil and vinegar. In a separate container pack slices of Manchego or Cheddar cheese and a crisp green to be tossed together at lunch time. Send along toasted pumpkin seeds.

Sandy Gluck hosts Martha Stewart Radio's Everyday Food weekdays at 11 a.m. EST on on Sirius XM.

For more recipes, cooking and healthy eating advice, visit AOL's KitchenDaily.

How do you mix it up for your kids' lunches? Share your ideas below!


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