It's easy to make a healthy lunch — a lot of kale, a little yogurt and a bottle of water.

But it's tough to make a healthy lunch your kids actually want to eat.

With school in session across south Louisiana, health-conscious parents may struggle sending their students off with a lunchbox full of nutritious food that won't get thrown away. 

Dietitians from Baton Rouge's Pennington Biomedical Research Center understand the struggle. They've been leading classes to help parents understand how to pack a lunch that's healthy and tasty. 

Taylor Ayers, a dietitian with Pennington, provides a few tips:

Encourage your kids to help. Offer your children two or three choices when preparing their food, especially when picking out fruits and vegetables. “Giving them choices makes them more invested in their lunches,” says Ayers. At the grocery store, ask them to pick two fruits and two vegetables for the week, and when cooking or assembling meals, have them lend a hand. This strategy especially helps with picky eaters. “A lot of times, if you get them involved in the prep, they are more likely to like it,” says Renee Puyau, a dietitian at Pennington.

Create fun themes. Make lunch fun by building meals around themes. For Valentine’s Day, arrange food into heart shapes, or make snowflake and snowman-shapes around the holidays. Ayers recommends picking several foods of the same hue for color-coded lunches. Serve red pepper hummus and pita bread with a side of cherry tomatoes, apple slices and strawberry yogurt. “They’ll have fun finding all the different shades of red,” she says.

Prepare nutritious versions of favorite foods. Kids love tacos from the cafeteria, but it’s not the healthiest meal. “The problem with 'Taco Tuesday' is they have that fried shell,” Ayers says. Instead, substitute ground turkey for greasy taco meat and replace the fried shell with lettuce wraps or a wheat tortilla. You can also replicate the ready-made Lunchable meals many children love — and at a lower price and with less sodium. “If you make it at home, you don’t have to pay for the packaging, and you can control the ingredients,” Ayers says.

Related

Developed by Pennington Biomedical Research Center dietitians, these pizza pinwheels are hea…

Slowly expose them to healthful foods. Studies show children may need to try a food 15 times before embracing it, Ayers says. The nutty taste and grainy texture of whole grains like wheat bread may turn kids off initially, but it may help to pair the whole grains with foods they definitely enjoy. “Kids always like to eat something new with something familiar,” Ayers said. In some cases, you can mix whole grain products with regular refined foods until children develop a taste for it.

Build a complete meal. Each meal should include the nutrients that kids need. Follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's My Plate guidelines to include foods from the five food groups — grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy. Half of all the grains should be whole grains, such as wheat bread. Many kids don't eat enough dairy, Ayers says, so be sure to include a cheese stick or low-fat yogurt. Lean proteins may include turkey and cheese, tuna or hummus with pita bread, foods with a lower fat content that are lower in calories. More information is available at ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Follow Kyle Peveto on Twitter, @kylepeveto.