GRAND FORKS, N.D.-As students in the Grand Forks Public School District head back to school this fall, many parents will wonder what their kid will eat for lunch.

While many will eat the school-provided lunches, some will opt to bring a sack lunch with them to class.

Those sack lunches easily can be tailored to a child's favorite foods while still being fun, easy and healthy for kids of all ages, said Mandy Burbank, a public health dietitian with the Grand Forks Public Health Department.

When packing a sack lunch, students and parents alike should stick to a balanced lunch that incorporates a variety of food groups, including whole grain, fruit, vegetables, dairy and a protein source.

But those foods don't always have to come from the same sources every time, Burbank said. Instead, mix it up.

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For instance, most think of whole wheat bread when thinking of grains, but they also can come from other sources, such as pitas, tortillas, bagels and English muffins, she said, and instead of a butter spread, try avocado, cream cheese, low-fat mayo or hummus.

"I try to be mindful to have all of those food groups covered in one meal," Burbank said.

Make it fast

Packing a kid's sack lunch doesn't have to suck up much time either, Burbank added. If some preparation is done during the weekend or early in the week, the whole process will go more smoothly.

Burbank said she encourages parents to ask their kids ahead of time what they might want for lunch and involve them in the process early. Then, go ahead and prepare some of the fruits and vegetables for that week's lunch by cutting them up and putting them in bags.

"It makes things a little bit faster and a little bit easier," she said. "Then you're not in that time crunch at the end of the week and throwing (in) whatever is in the fridge. So, if you have the fruits and vegetables already gone, it really cuts down on time."

Burbank encourages parents to make it fun, too, by cutting sandwiches in the shape of a star or a heart or by including a note in the lunch.

Sack lunches are not necessarily more healthy than the food a student could get at the cafeteria if it's not done well. But simple things will encourage students to eat healthy, and cut down on the number of times they bring home a half-eaten lunch.

"We want to set people up for success, and nutrition is a huge player in that," she said.