Back To Basics: Bento Lunches

bento-lunch

If you've been in this space before, this post is not surprising. 

What is surprising, is that I waited a whole week before bringing up the word that sends waves of despair through our standing-in-the-kitchen-gulping-caffeine selves: 

LUNCH.

Throw this word into conversation during the months of September-October-November-December-January-February-March-April-May-June and hair-pulling, dramatic sighing, and foot stomping is the norm (and I'm talking about the adults, not the kids). 

I GET IT, YOU GUYS

I've been making lunches for a full decade now. I have kids that are temperature-sensitive. I have kids that are texture-sensitive. I have kids that are mixing-of-foods-sensitive. I have kids who can't stop looking around the room and talking-sensitive. I've faced all of it.

And OH BOY, have I ever become an expert in predicting hangry levels by the weight of a lunch box at the end of a school day. 

It wasn't until I switched to the bento style lunch box that I started to make progress in solving all of the above problems for all of my kids. With the flip-open-top and individual containers, all the food is on display, it's easily accessible, it's separate (!).

This lunch box is often accused of being a display case for showing off. But that's not how I see it at all. For me, it's like packing a mini-buffet or picnic of sorts. And most kids in their early years, prefer to eat this way anyway — nibbling and snacking throughout the day.

Just think about how much attention they need to invest in getting through a school day. Having to pick up individual containers, peel open lids, decide whether they feel like eating what's inside at that particular moment, only adds more "thinking" to a time of day that's meant for recharging and re-fuelling and, yes, socializing.

In short, this lunch box was a game-changer for us. And since I've started blogging and instragramming about it, it's become a game-changer for other families, too. 

Here's a recent post I wrote offering some of the tips I've picked up over my five years of using this system. I promise, there's nothing I'm putting into those lunch boxes that's worthy of a museum. It's just food. I do my best to keep it healthy and the four containers help me (and my older kids, who like to help) remember to follow a system of: veggie, fruit, protein, snack when packing it. 

How To Bento Like A Boss

To see older posts, I've written about bentos, click here and here.

I share photos on Instagram and other helpful pages on Pinterest. I also love the book The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

If you've ever thought of making a change, let me help you get started. I've once again partnered with my favourite online store Fenigo to give one lucky reader an amazing bento start up prize. 

bento-lunch

Leave me a comment below letting me know how the lunch-making is going at your house, and you'll be entered to win. Canadian residents only. Contest will be open until Friday, September, 17th. 

A Week of Bento School Lunches

bento-box-lunch

Every Sunday afternoon, I drop my tiny dancer off at class and head to the grocery store nearby to stock up for the school week ahead. It's a newer ritual I've started in the past few months, to help me stay organized when it comes to my bento school lunches — something I'm still learning and perfecting after 10 years of lunch-making (somebody pin a medal on me).

Now I realize some of you may find it ridiculous that I make a dedicated trip to the grocery store for school lunches, but I find it keeps me on track for planning and only buying what we need. I also end up with less impulse purchases this way. It helps that I only have 45 minutes before I need to go back for my daughter, leaving me no time for distracted browsing.

I couldn't do it without my list. And, yes, I use one for my weekly grocery trips, too. I created a specific lunch box list on my favourite app, and it's been so helpful (it's easy to add and delete items when changing things up week-to-week. Or you can just ignore an item, but leave it on the list so it's there for a future trip). 

So how do I come up with my list? I map out a week of lunches — taking into account glorious pizza and hot lunch days — and then take a peek in my refrigerator and cupboards to see what needs to get topped up. Sometimes, I do a Pinterest search (I've been slowly building a board) for new ideas and add a new food/recipe to the weekly rotation (best not to try too many new things in a week). The kids are allowed (and encouraged) to throw their ideas in the ring, too. I also love this cookbook: The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

bento-box-lunch

I recently wrote a piece for Savvymoms about how I put my bento boxes together, but here is my simple formula for planning out the week: bite-sized + easy + colourful + familiar + healthy. 

I always include one or two foods I know my child will willingly eat, and then I might try something different or not as favoured (but healthy, nonetheless) in the other containers. By not overfilling the bento with too many options, I have also found they are more likely to eat what's there. 

bento-box-lunch

Last week, I saved my list so I could share it with all of you for some inspiration/ideas (note: photos don't necessarily correspond with menu...I'm not THAT organized)

Day One:

Day Two:

  • bagel and cream cheese (I toast it in the morning, put together, and wrap in foil)
  • berry and pineapple fruit salad (left overs from a weekend fruit platter)
  • carrot sticks
  • muffin (again, from my freezer stock)
  • veggie straws

Day Three:

  • leftover beef stew (in a thermos)
  • watermelon slices
  • edamame beans
  • air popped popcorn (sprinkle some nutritional yeast on for cheesy, vitamin-packed flavour)
bento-box-lunch

Day Four:

  • mini quiches
  • orange slices
  • red pepper strips
  • mini muffin
  • cheddar rice crackers

Day Five: 

  • mini naan bread pizzas (naan + pizza/tomato sauce + shredded mozarella for 8 mins at 375)
  • grapes
  • cauliflower and broccoli florets (and ranch dip in a dippers container)
  • tortilla chips and guacamole
bento-box-lunch

I'm always happy to share more ideas or talk shop with my readers. Feel free to find me on Instagram, where I do the most sharing of the insides of my kids' lunch boxes. 

Lunchbox Revolution

It's true, I was defeated.

Six years, three kids, five days a week, 10 months in a school year (minus glorious, glorious pizza days), and the filling of lunch boxes had me crazed.

Lunchboxes
But that's behind me now. 

Let's go back a little while.

When my firstborn entered school six years ago, I happily complied with our school's litterless lunch campaign. We bought little pots with matching lids, and slapped our teeny tiny labels all over them. I filled those pots with delicious bites, and sent my girl on her way. But as the years ticked by, and little brother and sister began boarding the school bus, my enthusiasm started to wane. She liked this, he liked that and the other wanted her snacks just so. 

Every morning, three yawning children, three yawning lunch boxes, and one yawning mom. 

I was bored, bored, bored. And I wasn't alone; those little pots were coming home with food in them more often than not. 

And then a happenstance glimpse of another child's lunch box changed everything.

"What is that?" I asked my son's classmate.

"An oatmeal flax muffin," she responded.

"And who made it?" I prodded.

"My mom did. She makes everything in my lunch." 

And it wasn't just the muffin (though it was outfitted in a delightful pink cupcake liner). Everything in that child's lunch box was simply adorable. I was smitten. I wanted to take her lunch and have it for my own. I wanted to make a lunch just like it.

Allow me to dazzle you now with some pretty flowers:

Flowerlunch
And scary monsters:

Monsterlunch
And top secret messages:

Loveyoulunch
I found the answer to my lunchbox despair:

MAKE LUNCH LOOK GOOD AND THEY WILL EAT IT!!!

Well in theory, it sounded good, anyway. 

And when I put it into practise, it was (gasp) fun!

While there will never be a lunch like this staring up at my child's face (much to my son's dismay),

Angrybirdlunch
but I've now switched to a lunch box system that holds me accountable. When my kids flip that lid open, my handiwork is on display for all the world to see. I'm obliged to throw in bright colours and interesting shapes, and though I haven't yet mastered the art of rice krispie balls....my kids are biting.

The lunch boxes are coming home empty!

I have a long way to go (though please note the homemade oatmeal flax muffin),

Lunchbox
but I've always loved a challenge. 

I get swept up in the thrill of finding ideas to fill those brightly-coloured containers, and let me tell you there is inspiration to be found

So stop sneering at those lunch boxes. Instead join me in giving them a knowing wink.

Trust me, your kids will thank you.

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I was not asked to endorse Mabel's Labels, Laptop Lunches or the wonderful Bent On Better Lunches blog. They're just products and places that make me clap. 

 

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