Bento boxes remain all the rage in Japan, and that love of all things cute has translated over to many American lunchrooms. But don't stress yourself creating a replica of the Mona Lisa out of nori before the school bus arrives. By combining brightly colored dishes, whimsical food picks, and nifty bento-style lunchboxes, you're already serving up an adorable lunch that any kid would be happy to eat.
The key to bento boxes is their many compartments. This allows you to fill them with a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein sources for your children to choose from. If your bento doesn't have many compartments, you can easily create your own by placing a silicone cupcake liner as a simple food divider.
Interested in the idea of bento boxes, but don't know where to begin? Below are four simple meal ideas to get you started:
Zucchini pizzas beat out anything served in the cafeteria. Slice zucchini into 3/4-inch rounds. Stop with marinara sauce and a sprinkle of cheese. Broil in a hot oven until the cheese melts. Serve with steamed green beans, cubed melon, and shelled pistachios. Be sure to avoid sending nuts to your child's school if they have a policy against certain allergens.
Quesadillas cook up so quickly that you can easily make this lunch right before heading out the door. If quesadilla is a winning food, then try sneaking in a variety of fillings. These Mexican favorites are also endlessly versatile. Think sautéed spinach and vegetables or black beans and chicken. Serve with a spoonful of pico de gallo and fresh fruit.
The versatility of quinoa salad makes it easy to customize for a child's particular tastes. Here, it's a Southwestern version with black beans, red onion, bell pepper, and lime juice. Make the fresh veggies on the side extra enticing by serving them with tiny animal food picks that double as miniature characters for a lunch table storytime.
If your child would prefer snacking over sitting down to a meal, pack up a bento (like this Gourmet Deluxe 10 Piece Set) full of finger food choices. A hard-boiled egg, low-fat mozzarella cheese stick, strawberries, and cucumber slices are all great choices. These foods are easily munched on during the social butterfly's busy lunch hour. They also (bonus) don't make a huge mess if your child is prone to that sort of thing.
Make sure your child's lunch box is properly cooled with iced packs. Many schools do not have storage for lunch boxes inside a refrigerators, so keep ice packs in rotation so lunchtime is still at the proper temperature when it's time to chow down.