These pasta salads are perfect to pack for (Credit: Doug Young)

These pasta salads are perfect to pack for your child's school lunch.

Fun ways to pack pasta for lunch

What kid doesn't like pasta?

So instead of knocking your brains out trying to come up with new items to pack, a container of pasta tucked inside a lunchbox is a sure pleaser.

Pasta is easy, convenient, and can be healthy, too, especially when mixed with colorful vegetables. At the beginning of the week, boil a pound of penne or fusilli, toss with a little olive or vegetable oil so it doesn't stick together and refrigerate it in an airtight container. Every morning, use what you have in the refrigerator to make a different pasta salad for each day of the week (or make the same one day after day, if your kid prefers). Add a piece of fruit and a cookie and lunch is ready.

To make pasta magic, keep the following in mind:

1. Have a couple of different types of salad dressing on hand for instant variety: Italian, Asian, blue cheese, ranch. Add just enough dressing to pasta for flavor, to keep the fat content of your child's lunch under control.

2. Mix and match pasta and dressings with leftover cooked chicken, deli meats, beans, cheese, vegetables, chopped nuts and seeds.

3. Different pasta shapes keep things interesting. Penne, farfalle, fusilli and wagon wheels are all easy for younger children to spear on a fork. Spaghetti is messy but fun. Tortellini will satisfy big appetites. And couscous is a quick-cooking option if you want to make pasta at the last minute. Don't limit yourself to white wheat pasta. Try pasta made from whole wheat, rice, or buckwheat for a change. Gluten-free varieties are now staples at most markets.

4. Pile on the veggies. Packing them with pasta is a great way to get your kids to eat healthy.

Cold pasta is best, since many lunchrooms and classrooms don't have microwave ovens for reheating. Pack the salad in an airtight container with an ice pack to keep it fresh and safe.

Here are a few combinations to get you started:

Greek

Ingredients: olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, salami
(Credit: Doug Young)


Ingredients: olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, salami

Mexican

Ingredients: avocado, corn, black beans, chicken, chili
(Credit: Doug Young)


Ingredients: avocado, corn, black beans, chicken, chili powder, lime juice, olive oil

Middle Eastern

Ingredients: broccoli, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil,
(Credit: Doug Young)


Ingredients: broccoli, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic powder

Tuna Nicoise

Ingredients: canned tuna, hard-boiled egg, green beans,
(Credit: Doug Young)


Ingredients: canned tuna, hard-boiled egg, green beans, cherry tomatoes, olives, oil, vinegar

Steak

Ingredients: leftover steak (or deli roast beef),
(Credit: Doug Young)


Ingredients: leftover steak (or deli roast beef), tomatoes, baby spinach, mustard vinaigrette

More to try:

Classic Italian: mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, oil, vinegar
Tuscan: white beans, baby spinach, Parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic powder
Chinese: chicken, coleslaw mix, sesame seeds or peanuts, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce
Japanese: edamame, radishes, soy-sesame dressing
Buffalo Chicken: leftover barbecued chicken, celery, blue cheese dressing
Cobb: turkey, bacon, tomato, avocado, hard-boiled egg, olive oil, vinegar
Creamy: ricotta, olive oil, lemon juice, peas, ham

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