The following are some comments and tips gleaned from interviews with more than a dozen parents and a handful of children and school administrators:
* Find out what your children like. Invite them to help you make the lunch. Shop together - wisely - for lunch food.
* Presentation can make all the difference. A mushed sandwich or bruised fruit will probably get ``dumped.'' Make sure you pack it well.
* Make lunch user-friendly, especially for younger children. Can they work the thermos? Can they open the containers? Since they may only have a short time to eat, cutting up the portions ahead of time can help. Pack orange slices, rather than whole orange; or easy-to-eat things like grapes, for example.
* Troubleshoot. ``If the thermos stinks, the kid is not going to drink anything,'' says one mom. If you pack applesauce, pudding, or jello, include a spoon. Encourage a child to bring home what he or she doesn't eat so you know what's working and what isn't.
* Juice boxes, although criticized for not being ecological, can take the place of freezer packs. Freezing them keeps the rest of the lunch cool and some kids like them as ``slushies'' by the time lunch rolls around.
* Be creative. Use a cookie cutter to make a sandwich in the shape of a heart, star, or an initial. Vary the bread. Introduce something new once and a while, such as an exotic fruit.
* Include a note or scribble something on the napkin, even if it's just a funny face. Says one child: ``Kids look forward to that. It cheers them up.''