Mix it up: How to keep kids' lunches fun and healthy

Packing your child's lunch can get repetitive - fast. And it's especially tricky for parents of picky eaters. Here are some tasty alternatives 

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    Kids love to eat with their hands, so let them! Pistachios are fun for kids to crack open and are loaded with nutrition. One of the lowest fat, highest fiber nuts, pistachios pack protein, potassium and vitamin B6. If nut allergies are a problem in school, pistachios can be a great after-school snack, just in time to energize them for their homework and keep their appetite fulfilled until dinnertime. 
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    Looking for a substitute to granola bars?  You may want to.  Granola bars are often made with artificial ingredients and hidden sugars.  Look for bars with simple, healthy and whole food ingredients.  Bars made with whole soybeans fit the bill, as soy is the only plant-based source of a complete protein.  Bars are super convenient to keep on hand for kid’s lunch boxes. 
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    A great alternative to salads and sandwiches, kids love pastas in different shapes and colors.  Mix and match different shapes of whole-wheat pasta.  They come in spirals, wagon wheels, macaroni shapes, just to name a few.  Add in lots of veggies for fiber and nutrition (think tomatoes, squash and peas) and toss with olive oil and a little parmesan cheese.  Store warm in a thermos or make the night before and serve cold.
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    Yes, kids adore their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  But with more fiber and minerals and less carbohydrates, almond butter can be a tasty and healthier alternative to most regular (and sugar-laden) peanut butters.  Choose an all-natural variety with just a few ingredients you can pronounce and spread on whole-wheat bread.  Top with fresh halved strawberries or sliced bananas and a drizzle of honey.  Shape the sandwich using cookie cutters for a fun finger food.
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    Lunches that include foods traditionally served with dinner, such as backed potatoes, beans, rice, and salads can combine for a balanced and tasty lunch.  Try an easy stuffed potato recipe: cut a baked potato in half and scoop out the contents of the potato into a bowl.  Mash and combine with a little low fat mozzarella, green onion, diced tomato, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Scoop back into the potato shell (the most nutritious part of the potato!), and pack in a baggie or tupperware.  Include a small container of chopped chicken breast and fruit or veggie salad.  Lastly, pack a whole-wheat roll for an easy bento-box inspired meal.
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    A hummus wrap pinwheel is the perfect way to turn an ordinary sandwich into a fun and easy-to-eat lunch. Simply spread a flavored hummus on a whole-wheat tortilla. Be sure to choose an all-natural variety. Add turkey and veggies such as tomato, lettuce and carrots. Roll into a wrap, cut into discs, and secure with a toothpick - or even a pretzel stick. 
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