My son’s lunch turned out super cute today and I just had to share it with you!
- Peanut butter & jelly on whole wheat bread cut into a heart shape (using a cookie cutter)
- Tillamook cheddar cheese cut into mini hearts, eyes, and a mouth (using mini food cutters)
- Organic blueberries on spears (on sale this week at Fred Meyer)
- Yogurt-covered pretzels bought in bulk at Fred Meyer
- Little paper hearts for decoration & a larger valentine note (not pictured)
This only took me a few minutes and I wanted to share it with you in case you missed my earlier Bento on a Budget post from last fall! My son has never wanted hot lunch, which I suppose is a good thing because it saves us money and allows me to control what goes in his lunch each day. However, last year I seemed to have more fails than wins with lots of food returning home in his lunchbox at the end of the day. Then I discovered the cute world of bento and found it struck a chord with him. At first, I was worried it would take a lot of time or brain energy in the morning, but to my surprise, it’s actually made things easier for us.
Today I wanted to recap why this method of lunch preparation has been great for us!
#1. It’s inexpensive to get started! I was surprised to discover that you can get away with a few, inexpensive tools. I found mine at this store called Daiso at the Federal Way Commons Mall (near the Target side), but I suppose you could also find them at an Asian market. I paid about $18 for everything pictured below last fall and it’s all worked great.
I also picked up some Cars themed insulated lunchbox containers from Target when they were on sale. We use these every single day. You don’t have to buy the fancy bento containers. Any sort of food container roughly the size of a sandwich will work. (Cheap Snapware, perhaps?) I do recommend having 2-3 on hand so you’ll be good if one’s in the dishwasher!
#2. It makes me more likely to pack whole foods. You can’t shove a bag of chips so easily in a bento box, can you? In the mornings, you’ll often find me reaching for fruit that can be chopped, a handful of crackers, cheese, or other snacks purchased in bulk.
Don’t get me wrong – my kids do get their fair share of treats. But as much as I can, I really try to pack good nutrition in these lunches. I aim for at least 2 different kinds of fresh produce between his snack and lunch. Among my son’s favorites: mango, blueberries, strawberries, apples (he really likes the “cute” schoolboy varieties), kiwi, and he’ll do some cucumbers, carrots and celery if they are sliced thinly (as pictured above).
If you are concerned about all the waste that kids’ lunches produce – all the more reason! Bento style lunches produce smaller amounts of waste than traditional lunches since you will find yourself using a lot less plastic wrap or buying individual packages. This also makes it a more frugal choice!
#3. It gets eaten. My son often has complained there is not a lot of time to eat during his lunch, so having foods out of packaging and into easily identifiable “bites” makes things easy. Sometimes, I’ll open a string cheese, chop it up and put it on spears. He’s more likely to eat it that way than messing with the packaging.
Even if you are not the most creative person, I think you’ll find it’s really easy to even do just a few things Bento style – spear some berries or grapes instead of bagging them. Display a handful of nuts or crackers in a silicone holder.
Here are some of my son’s favorite items to go into his lunches:
- Mini blueberry bagel with a smear of strawberry cream cheese
- Peanut butter or peanut butter & jelly sandwich on whole wheat (no crust, of course!)
- Ritz crackers with tillamook cheese and pepperoni or ham cut into circles (our form of lunchables)
- Small muffins or a cookie (homemade ones always make his day!)
- Grapes, apple slices, strawberries
- Yogurt-covered pretzels
- Goldfish crackers
The last tip I have for you: find a space in your kitchen to store all your bento supplies. I have a drawer in our island I use to store all the containers, silicone cups, and cutters. It has made prep time quick and easy.
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