School lunch should be a healthy, energizing meal. But it also needs to be tasty enough that your child will eat it. Unfamiliar health foods might end up in the waste basket, but there are creative ways to combine nutrition with tastes kids will like. Start by taking some of your child’s favorite foods and giving them a healthy twist.

Main Dishes

Mexican meal: If your child loves going out for Mexican food, try a combination of baked corn chips, salsa, shredded low-fat cheese, and bean dip. Add some applesauce spiked with cinnamon for dessert.

Dippers: Kids love to dip! Give your child several finger foods and two different sauces. For dippers, try baby carrots, rolled-up cold cuts, cubes of cheese, small meatballs, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and large black olives. For the sauces, include low-fat honey mustard and ranch dressings. You might want to include a fancy toothpick for older children.

Pizza: Order an extra-large vegetable pizza with whole-wheat crust for dinner and save the leftovers. The next morning, wrap up a slice for each child’s lunch box.

Mediterranean feast: Take a cue from one of the healthiest cuisines. Try an assortment of whole-wheat pita bread, hummus, olives, avocado, low-fat feta cheese, sliced cucumbers, and sliced peppers in assorted colors.

Roll-ups: Instead of a traditional sandwich, try rolling your child’s favorite filling in a whole-grain tortilla. Here’s a quick idea: Spread a tortilla with peanut butter (or sunflower butter if your child’s school is peanut-free). In the middle, place a banana sliced lengthwise and roll. Include low-fat yogurt for dipping.

Leftovers: Grownups eat leftovers for lunch, so why shouldn’t the kids? The spaghetti you had for dinner last night will taste great at room temperature. Turn chicken breasts into chicken sandwiches using whole-wheat hamburger buns.

Side Dishes

Apple fries: Instead of sending your child to school with a whole pear or apple, cut the fruit into strips about the size of french fries. To prevent browning, mix lemon juice and water in a spray bottle and spritz lightly.

Homemade trail mix: In place of chips, make a small bag of trail mix tailored to your child’s tastes. Start with whole-grain cereal, and then add her favorite dried fruit and nuts. Turn the trail mix into dessert by throwing in a handful of chocolate chips or M&M’s.

Popcorn with punch: Try air-popped popcorn tossed with parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, chili powder, curry powder, cumin, or all-purpose seasoning. For a junk food-type treat, toss popcorn with the powder from an old-fashioned box of macaroni and cheese. To get your seasoning to stick, mist popcorn with olive oil first.

Desserts

Muffin madness: Instead of a cupcake, try a muffin. You can find store-bought muffins that are high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients. Or you can make a big batch at home and freeze them. Make homemade muffins healthier by using half whole-wheat flour and adding fruit, such as berries or chopped apple. You can even sneak in shredded carrots and zucchini. Put a frozen muffin in your child’s lunch box, and it will be thawed and ready to eat by lunchtime.

Yogurt slush: Take lowfat yogurt and stir in frozen fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, and mango, which can be found in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. By the time your child eats lunch, the fruit will be partially defrosted, creating a cool, yummy treat.

Fruit and cake: Angel food cake is a nonfat dessert choice. Cut a store-bought cake and some fresh fruit into bite-size pieces and let your child drizzle a little chocolate sauce on top.

Chocolate-covered strawberries: They’re easier to make than you think. Just melt chocolate chips in the microwave and pour over plump, washed strawberries. Chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, they’ll be ready for the lunch box.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.