Packing school lunches can be a huge hassle. Even if your kids are old enough to pack their own lunch, having nutritious, filling foods on-hand that travel well and fuel their bodies each day can be challenging. Not to mention, you’re cycling through thousands of plastic bags or washing a ton of plastic containers each school year.
Enter: the Bento Box, the simple answer to every mom’s goal of providing nourishment for their kids in an easy and delicious way.
Bento boxes are a colorful, fun way to efficiently crank out school lunches that taste good and give your kids the nutrients they need. The box allows for variety and balance for each lunch, and the compartments make it easy for kids to fill them up on their own. Bento boxes also keep foods separated without the need for multiple containers or plastic bags. I recommend purchasing a nice, stainless steel box like this one by LunchBots, found on Amazon. A one-time investment will provide all you need, day in and day out, and will last for years.
Once you’ve got your box, here is a simple guideline for creating balanced, tasty Bento box combinations.
Grains, beans, nuts & seeds
This category of foods will help kids feel full after eating their Bento box lunch. Get creative here! Sandwiches, tortilla roll-ups, pita bread, and quesadillas are some great options for grains. Try out a granola that contains grains, nuts, and seeds. Use different nut butters on sandwiches (almond butter, cashew butter), or replace with sunflower seed butter or tahini if your child’s school doesn’t allow nuts. One of our favorites is pepitas (pumpkin seeds), raw or roasted.
Keep some raw vegetables that are easy to cut or slice on-hand. An easy way to have vegetables at-the-ready for lunches is to keep a stock of pickled veggies: cucumbers, carrots, green beans, etc. Another trick I love? Sneak greens like spinach and kale into quesadillas, sandwiches, pastas and more.
Have a variety of fruit available for kids to grab and pack so they aren’t getting tired of the same thing each day, and so that they’re getting a wealth of vitamins and nutrients from the diversity of fruit. Berries, apples, bananas, cut watermelon or pineapple, grapes – all of these are great Bento box stuffers. Dried fruit like raisins and dates are great too!
Meats, cheeses, boiled eggs, yogurt, etc. These foods will give your child protein and healthy fats. You can cut back on using deli meats by subbing leftover meat from meals (roasted chicken, grilled pork, etc.).
Mix & match
Remember that many of these categories can be paired up, for example, a pasta salad loaded with vegetables and topped with goat cheese or a flour tortilla (grains) with cheese (animal product), spinach (vegetable) and beans. The goal is to achieve balance AND great taste.
Moms: let the Bento box work for you. Make your life easier by creating some category requirements for older children (like the list above) of what needs to go into their box. Keep some easy-to-grab items on hand that fall within each category, and have kids pack their own lunches. Kids get to be creative, learn responsibility, and pick items they like, but must meet mom’s basic rules.
And always utilize those dinner leftovers, but don’t just give your kid a box full of leftovers. Add some fresh, new items to the box along with the leftovers to give a little variety.
Here are some sample Bento box lunches to get your creative juices flowing: