I have a son who’s starting first grade this year, and I really want to make an effort of packing him better lunches that contain more fruits and vegetables and less pre-packaged items. Not only is this healthier for him, it’s better for the environment too as making my own creations will cut down on lunchbox waste.
So here’s the scoop about my son:
- He’s picky. Like most kids, he knows what he likes, and he knows what he doesn’t. While he can be coerced into eating just about anything, lunchtime is a particular challenge because I’m not there to hawk over him and ensure he’s eating every bite.
- He’s got a sweet tooth. The kid would chow down on fruits over veggies any day and loves “treats.”
- He wants quick foods. Recess comes right after lunch at my kid’s school, so often there’s this race through lunch to go out to play. If food can be prepped in smaller portions, it’s more likely to get eaten.
For months now I’ve been oohing and ahhing those adorable bento lunches on Pinterest. You know the ones that are so artfully put together that they both inspire and intimidate you at the same time? I decided if I could give it a good try now – before school starts next week – I could see if it’s 1) something I can do and 2) something my son would actually eat.
The first stop I made was Daiso, at the Federal Way mall. I have heard they had all sorts of bento tools for cheap – you know the cute food cutters, the spears, containers, and such. Most everything in the entire store is priced at just $1.50. I walked away having spent only $18 on everything pictured below! I think you could even just start out spending $5 or $10 on a couple fun things to get started, too.
Next, I stopped at Target and to my delight, lunchboxes were priced 30% off clearance! I found this Spiderman lunch container (with a freezer pack!) for $2.98 today. I ended up buying a couple for those hectic mornings when I realize one is being washed.
I then went to WinCo where I bought a number of items in produce and bulk, along with some cheese and ham. My goal was to create one week’s worth of school lunches (Monday – Friday) with minimal time prep or cost. Ready to see what I did?
Monday’s Lunch: mini cinnamon bagel with strawberry cream cheese, carrot sticks, grapes on skewers, cheese stars and almond cookie balls*. Time spent prepping: about 5 minutes, minus the almond cookie balls.
Tuesday’s Lunch: Ritz crackers, ham cut into circles, cheese cut into bears, strawberries, homemade pumpkin muffin**. Time spent prepping: about 5 minutes, minus the pumpkin muffin.
Wednesday’s Lunch: Ants on a Log sandwich, carrots and celery on a skewer, cheese stars, almond cookie balls*. Time spent prepping: about 5 minutes, minus the cookie balls.
Thursday’s Lunch: Peanut butter & strawberry sandwich with honey, carrots and celery on a skewer, grapes and strawberries on a skewer, homemade pumpkin muffin**, cheese and veggie garnishes (cut from discards from prior meals). Time spent prepping: about 5 minutes, minus the pumpkin muffin.
Friday’s lunch: noodles with peas & ham & cheese, garden veggies – kale & cherry tomato & lemon cucumber, strawberry, raw applesauce (one whole fuji apple in the Vitamix, dash of lemon, dash of cinnamon – you could sweeten with dates or honey if desired). Time spent prepping: about 15 minutes.
So big disclosure here: I’ve never done a thing with bento (my apologies to the real bento artists out there who are probably cringing at my creations!). Whether or not these are bone fide bento recipes, I like to think I’ve borrowed from the idea to make lunch fun, healthy, and beautiful. But in the process I discovered that woah, this doesn’t have to take that long at all – nor does it have to cost a lot of money!
Planning your Week’s Worth of Lunches
Here’s how this could work, in real life. On Sunday, prep the pumpkin bread and almond cookies for the week. (Recipes below.)
* For the apricot cookies, I made the recipe I shared with you previously that I learned at a Whole Foods Market blogger event:
1 cup cashews, minced finely (almost powder)
1 cup chopped apricots (you could soak them to moisten)1 cup dried coconut
3 T lemon zest
1/3 cup honey
pinch sea salt
Simply process all until minced and bind together and roll into balls! Refrigerate. WARNING: highly addictive!
** For the pumpkin muffins, I used this pumpkin bread recipe at Allrecipes.com and put in greased muffin tins instead. They were done at about 15 minutes.
If time is also of the essence, you could prep some of the other food elements, such as cheese stars, veggie sticks, and fruit skewers. Personally though, I would only want to make about 2 or 3 days worth at a time to keep everything as fresh as possible.
Did you also notice that some of the elements were repeated across the lunches I made? To keep food costs down, focus on getting a couple different fruits and a couple different vegetables depending on what’s in season and on sale. My son certainly won’t mind having the apricot cookie balls more than once, or the pumpkin muffins.
Here’s another idea: take a classic recipe like peanut butter and jelly and modify it! These are the ants on a log and peanut butter, strawberry, and honey sandwiches I mentioned above.
Here’s what my grocery list looked like. I already had some of the ingredients in my pantry.
- Tillamook cheese slices
- Ham steak
- Dried apricots (bought in bulk)
- Cashews (bought in bulk)
- Dried unsweetened coconut (bought in bulk)
That’s it! Not too extensive and not too expensive! And the very best part of the whole day of experimentation?
My son LOVED IT! I hate to admit it, but he would eat one of those Lunchables every day if I let him. (I don’t!) Guess what? He said the ones I made him were way better. He also loved how everything was bite sized – it made it quick and easy for him to eat.
I hope today’s post has given you some easy ideas of how you can easily transform your child’s lunchbox into something that’s fun, healthy, and beautiful – all without breaking the bank.