Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

Author: Alecia Pirulis

A style of lunch box called a bento

A style of lunch box called a bento (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just when I’ve settled into a nice, comfortable summertime routine – less traffic on the roads, no homework to supervise, quiet evenings — summer comes to a screeching halt. Here in Atlanta, kids go back to school on Monday … let the chaos begin.

Next week is guaranteed pandemonium … last-second back-to-school shopping (because I put it off once again), a flood of papers and forms and school supplies covering every available surface of my home, homework, reports, projects, band practice. Every year, I have visions of myself being Supermom and getting everything done early, organized into rigid perfection, and making it the Best Year Ever. And every year, well, we just get through it.

There is one thing I am determined to focus on this year, though: lunch. During a discussion with my kids about school recently, they informed me that they don’t usually eat their school lunches. They may pick at one or two things (usually the wrong things), and they end up throwing most of their lunch away. But, while they don’t care for the food at school, they also don’t want to carry around a sack lunch filled with the old stand-bys of PB&J, chips, and an apple. So, what’s a mom to do?

If you have picky eaters, you know how difficult it is to get them to eat balanced meals. And when you’re not around to convince them to at least try it – what’s to prevent them from just tossing it all in the garbage bin?

In an effort to get my kids to eat better (or, in the case of my older, pickier son – to just eat something), I’ve decided to take control of the lunch situation. Hopefully, with some unique lunch containers and a little ingenuity, I can create lunches that will end up getting eaten instead of tossed.

While searching for healthy recipes that will appeal to kids, I came across a unique lunch idea: the bento box. A bento box holds a Japanese-style lunch that traditionally contains rice, some type of fish or meat, and cooked or pickled vegetables. The box-shaped container dates back to 1185, so it’s definitely not new, but it has become the latest, greatest trend – especially among crafty moms.

Some bento lunches can be very elaborate and creative. I’m amazed that people can make such unique works of art out of food, and I think this would definitely appeal to a picky eater. After all, the more attractive it is, the more likely they are to at least try it. But do I think I will actually cut sandwiches into cartoon characters and shape fruits and veggies like flowers and trees? Um, probably not.

But I can get behind the basic idea of the bento system – compartmentalizing foods is ideal for kids who don’t like their different foods to touch (yeah, I have one of those), there’s portion control, and it helps parents organize a healthy lunch because there’s a section for each of the food groups – and they all need to be filled in order to keep the food in the box from shifting around.

If you want to do a traditional Japanese bento box, here’s a great website to get you started. Get creative with recipes and keep lunch interesting – and borrow some of the ideas for yourself, as well! You can purchase bento boxes, find a variation, or just use any square container (create sections with cut vegetables).

Do you have some great lunchbox recipes? Share them with us on Facebook!