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Give brown-bag school lunches a boost with these easy recipes

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The trouble with heading back to school is that it invariably happens when it still feels like summer. And sitting inside a hot classroom on a sunny summery day can be a total downer.

While you can’t do much about the weather or school calendar, you can offer your little ones a few cool and refreshing after-school treats to help them beat the back-to-school blues.

Start them off with a frosty glass of watermelon lemonade, a sweet and refreshing drink you can feel good about serving. It’s nothing more than watermelon, ice, lemon juice and a splash of honey blended until thick. And feel free to add frozen strawberries, raspberries or other fruit for an even thicker slushy-like drink.

Then move on to some ice cream so healthy I sometimes serve it to my son for breakfast.

You do need a food processor to make this frozen fruit-based treat, but the result is similar to soft-serve. And since it has no added sugar, I don’t feel guilty about letting my son add candy sprinkles to complete the ice-cream effect.

When I make this recipe, I usually use organic mango, which typically is sold in 10-ounce bags. Conventional mango often is sold in 12-ounce or larger bags. Don’t worry about the extra; this recipe is particularly forgiving. If you find it too thick, simply add water, orange juice or lemon juice until you get the consistency you want.

Frozen grapes are a great treat on their own, too.

To freeze, wash fresh grapes, then arrange in an even layer on a baking sheet or pan. Freeze until firm, then transfer to a bag or container for longer storage.

Both recipes also include a pinch of salt. While not essential, the salt goes a long way to heightening the natural sweetness of the fruits.

Fruit dippers kick up the fun

Maybe you need another idea for packing fiber and vitamins into your child’s lunch. Or maybe you’re trying to persuade yourself to eat more fruit. Either way, making a dip (or three) to dunk your fruit in can make it a little more enticing and a lot more fun.

In constructing a healthful dip for fruit, the main problem lies in the base of the dip.

You want something that doesn’t pile on the fat or sugar but still is interesting enough that you want to dunk your apple wedges and strawberries in it.

We wanted to create a creamy base that could be easily flavored. For obvious reasons, the full-fat versions of cream cheese and sour cream were out. Greek-style yogurt has a great mouth feel and creaminess, but some people find it overwhelmingly tart. So we opted to use low-fat cream cheese blended with nonfat Greek yogurt. The result is creamy and luscious and is a perfect base for flavorings. As a bonus, it’s also a great way to get calcium.

Sandwiches ditch the bread

Lunchbox sandwiches don’t have to default to ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly.

There are plenty of options to mix things up and keep them interesting. Ditching the sliced bread is a good place to start. Consider making sandwiches on a piece of baguette (or multiple smaller sandwiches on thin baguette slices). Or if crusty bread isn’t your kid’s thing, try folding or rolling the fillings in a piece of lavash or naan flatbread.

Also get creative with fillings. Sliced meats can be combined with yogurt or cream-cheese spreads, and cucumber sandwiches can be made more nutritious and filling by adding hummus.

-J.M. Hirsch, Alison Ladman

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Mango-Grape-Banana Ice Cream

If you have frozen pop molds, pour any leftovers into those and freeze for a great treat for later. Start to finish: 10 minutes. Servings: 3.

Ingredients
10-ounce bag frozen mango chunks
1 cup frozen red grapes
1 banana
Pinch salt
1/4 cup orange juice
Candy sprinkles (optional)

Directions
In a food processor, combine all ingredients. Process until very smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. You may need to stop and scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice to ensure all of the fruit is processed. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 140 calories; 0 calories from fat (0 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 4 g fiber; 80 mg sodium.

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Fruit Dippers

Start to finish: 25 minutes. Servings: 10 (each serving represents 2 tablespoons of each dip for a total of 6 tablespoons)

Ingredients

For the base:

2 cups nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese

For the chocolate:

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons honey

Pinch cinnamon

2 tablespoons fat-free milk

For the citrus:

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Zest of 1/2 orange

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons orange juice

For the orchard spice:

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon butter rum extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon dry ginger

Pinch ground nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

2 tablespoons honey

Directions
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt and cream cheese. Process until completely smooth. Divide the mixture into 3 bowls.

To make the chocolate dipper, in a small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, honey, cinnamon and milk until completely smooth. Add to one of the bowls of the yogurt mixture and stir until smooth.

To make the citrus dipper, stir both zests, the honey and orange juice into one of the remaining bowls of yogurt mixture.

To make the orchard spice dipper, stir the vanilla, butter rum extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and honey into the last bowl of yogurt and cream cheese.

Serve the dips with cut up wedges of apples, pears, peaches and berries.

Per serving : 130 calories; 40 calories from fat (29 percent of total calories); 5 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 18 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 1 g fiber; 105 mg sodium.

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Cucumber Hummus Sandwich

Ingredients
3 tablespoons hummus
1 piece naan flatbread
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 small cucumber, sliced
Salt and ground black pepper

Directions
Spread the hummus over half of the naan. Drizzle the honey over the other half of the naan. Arrange the cucumber slices over the hummus, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold the naan in half to form a sandwich.

Per serving: 360 calories; 80 calories from fat (21 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 60 g carbohydrate; 11 g protein; 7 g fiber; 510 mg sodium.

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Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo Sliders

Start to finish: 10 minutes. Servings: 1.

Ingredients
1/2 cup cooked broccoli, chopped
1/4 cup jarred Alfredo sauce
6 small baguette slices
1/2 cup cooked chicken meat (such as from a rotisserie chicken)
3 slices mozzarella cheese

Directions
In a small bowl, mix together the broccoli and Alfredo sauce.

Arrange the chicken over 3 of the baguette slices. Top with the broccoli Alfredo mixture. Top with a piece of cheese, cut to fit, and the remaining bread.

Per serving: 550 calories; 120 calories from fat (22 percent of total calories); 13 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 50 mg cholesterol; 73 g carbohydrate; 34 g protein; 6 g fiber; 1,710 mg sodium.

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Ham Pinwheels

Start to finish: 10 minutes. Servings: 1.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons vegetable cream cheese spread
1 rectangular lavash flatbread
3 slices deli ham
1/4 cup sliced roasted red peppers

Directions
Spread the cream cheese over the lavash. Arrange the ham over the cream cheese, leaving 1 inch of cream cheese exposed on each end.

Arrange the roasted red peppers across one end. Starting with the end that has the red peppers, roll up the lavash. Use the cream cheese at the other end to hold the roll up together. Trim the ends and slice the roll up into 1-inch-thick slices to form pinwheels.

Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 470 calories; 190 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (11 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 85 mg cholesterol; 48 g carbohydrate; 23 g protein; 3 g fiber; 1,420 mg sodium.

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Watermelon Lemonade

Start to finish: 5 minutes. Servings: 4.

Ingredients
4 cups ice
4 cups watermelon chunks
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey (sugar can be substituted)
Pinch salt

Directions
In a blender, combine all ingredients. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. You may need to stop the blender and stir the ingredients once to ensure everything blends evenly. Serve immediately. The drink will separate some as it sits. Either blend again or simply stir to combine.

Other frozen or fresh soft fruits — such as raspberries, strawberries, bananas, peaches or grapes (especially frozen grapes) — also can be added when blending. If so, you may need to increase the amount of lemon juice to balance the other flavors.

Per serving: 80 calories; 0 calories from fat (0 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 24 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 65 mg sodium.

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