School lunches. You want them to be super nutritious AND a little bit different each day. Bonus if they’re fairly simple to make! But most of all, you just want your kids to eat them, am I right?
The biggest game changer when it comes to making lunches that are simple, appetizing, and full of variety? BENTO BOXES. Filling several small compartments with little bits of different foods feels so much easier and less intimidating than creating a lunch from scratch (and then finding bags and containers to hold it all). They make it really easy to pack a zero waste lunch, and kids tend to love snack-style meals, so it’s a win all around.
So what should you put in your little one’s bento box? My go-to formula is a whole grain + a protein + plenty of fruits and veggies + a little sweet/‘treat’. I also try to include a source of good fat, but at the same time, I remind myself to look at what my kids are eating over the course of a day or a week, and not stress too much about a single meal.
Pasta salad – Making pasta for dinner? Reserve some plain noodles for tomorrow’s lunch! Mix up a whole grain pasta with some black beans, corn, and peppers, a drizzle of olive oil, and some garlic, cumin, oregano, and chili powder for a Mexican-inspired pasta, or try a Greek-inspired version with chickpeas, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Breakfast for lunch – Leftover breakfast? Turn it into lunch! Anything goes here. Try chia pudding paired with your favourite granola, or pancakes turned into sammies with the addition of pumpkinseed butter, a little pure maple syrup, and some hemp hearts and chia seeds.
Roll-ups – Grab your favourite wrap or flatbread, fill it up, roll it, and then slice it into sushi-style chunks. Try pairing seed butter with chia jam, hummus with carrot matchsticks, or mini cucumbers with a cream cheese style spread. Sprinkle the chunks with hemp hearts, sesame seeds, or a touch of sea salt.
Dip & dippers – Kids love to dip, don’t they? Fill a little container with hummus, pesto, white bean dip, or seed butter and pack it alongside whole grain pita bread, sprouted grain flatbread, pretzels, carrot and cucumber sticks, or apple slices.
Pizza – Turn a mini bagel, a sprouted grain English muffin, or a whole grain pita into pizza with the addition of tomato sauce, shredded cheese, veggies, and a sprinkling of oregano. Broil in the oven for just a couple of minutes to get the cheese bubbly and golden, and you’ve got lunch!
Ways to Pack Fruit
Fruit salad – Chop up an assortment of favourite fruits, mix it up, and you’ve got fruit salad.
Skewers – Everything is more fun on a stick! Thread berries and grapes onto reusable mini skewers to switch things up.
Sauce – Simmer seasonal fruit in a covered pot with just a touch of water, and blend once soft. Apples and pears make a great fruit sauce base!
Rainbow fruit – Arrange some freshly chopped fruit in rainbow order, and voila—rainbow fruit!
Fruit shapes – A little more finicky, but if you’ve got an extra couple of minutes, use a mini cookie cutter to chop watermelon, cantaloupe, or pineapple into fun shapes.
Ways to Pack Veggies
Chunky salad – Chop up your kiddo’s favourite veggies, drizzle them with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of Herbamare[MF1] , and top with sesame seeds or hemp hearts.
Sticks & dip – A classic combo. Chop some veggies into sticks and pair them with a little hummus or dip.
Chips – Turn kale, carrots, beets, turnips, or other thinly sliced veggies into crispy chips by tossing them in a tiny amount of avocado oil, sprinkling them with a little garlic powder and sea salt, and roasting them in a 400°F oven. Watch them closely and remove the chips as they become crisp.
Rainbow veggies – As simple as arranging freshly chopped veggies in rainbow order in your kiddo’s bento box!
Veggie shapes – If you’ve got time, take a mini cookie cutter to your peppers, cucumbers, or carrots to switch things up.
Jen Kossowan is an kindergarten and grade one teacher and mama of two gorgeous kiddos. She’s passionate about play, loves a good diy project, and can most often be found in her kitchen whipping up recipes that taste delicious while meeting her crunchy mama criteria. She started Mama.Papa.Bubba. on a whim in 2010 while living in the Middle East and has been sharing her recipes and activities there ever since.
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