When my four-year old son started preschool, I couldn’t wait to pack his lunch. I envisioned myself leaving little notes, occasionally surprising him with a piece of chocolate, and wowing his teachers with the contents of his little monkey lunch box.
After about two months I found myself in a pathetic rut, cycling through the same lunches each week. It really hit home one morning when my son said, “You packed that for me again?” At that moment I decided to get it together and become more inventive. If I couldn’t keep up the good work for two months, how was I going to pack his lunch and his little brother’s for the next thirteen plus years?
After talking to other moms, Googling “school lunches”, and perusing Pinterest, I found my answer: bento boxes, or bento-style lunches.
What is a bento box, you may ask? They originated in Japan as a way to incorporate all food groups into a partitioned container for a quick, healthy lunch or dinner. A Japanese bento lunch typically includes rice, fish or meat, and pickled vegetables and is meant to not only be nutritious for the body, but pleasing to the eye as well.
Bento boxes have become popular here in the U.S., and creative parents everywhere are using the style to pack healthy, colorful lunches for their growing guys and gals. Many artsy parents even cut food into shapes and add edible flowers and such to truly make it a work of art.
Using the bento style to pack my son’s lunch allows me to portion food into sizes appropriate for a four-year old and to know, at a glance, if it’s a nutrient-dense lunch or not. If his lunch doesn’t look like a rainbow of colors, then it’s just not going to do. In fact, it’s quite fun to figure out how I will include more colorful foods. Further, bento boxes or even sectional plastic containers make it virtually impossible to rely on prepackaged, convenient snacks or “meals”.
I’m not saying bento lunches are the end-all, be-all when it comes to school lunches. There are times when you need a thermos, are using organic squeezables, or just want to spoil him a little with a homemade cookie, but it’s always nice to have a number of options when trying to please those precocious preschoolers and school-aged scholars.
Here are links to some great Bento-Style lunch ideas:
- The “I Love You” Bento from Following in My Shoes
- Stuffed biscuits from Following in My Shoes
- Diet and Bento Friendly Lunches for Grown-ups from Following in My Shoes
- VeggieTales from Bent On Better Lunches
- Bento Bunny from SheKnows
- DIY Pizza Kit Bento from Following in My Shoes
What are some of your favorite go-to school lunch ideas?