When packing lunches for your kids, there are a lot of factors you need to consider. The lunch needs to be healthy, well-balanced and deliver vital nutrients that your kids need. It also needs to include foods your kids will actually want to eat, even for the pickiest of eaters, and involve prep that can fit into your busy schedule. Bento boxes tick all of these boxes, and are the perfect solution for how to pack healthy meals for your kids.
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Read on to learn the lowdown on these colorful, delicious lunches that are sweeping the social media world by storm.
Bento is a traditional Japanese packed lunch. It typically includes rice, vegetables and a type of protein, whether meat or fish, and variations of bento have been enjoyed in Japan for centuries. However, bento is much more than just a simple homemade lunch. Bento features a variety of foods with different colors, textures and flavors, explained Makiko Itoh, a leading Japanese food blogger, for her site Just Bento. There is an emphasis placed on aesthetic value when the bento box is opened, and all the contents are tightly packed into the box to ensure they don’t move around during transport.
Bento boxes are a Japanese tradition.
Bento boxes can range from simple yet artfully arranged combinations of foods to extravagantly precise compositions, like these bento creations here. Whichever level of presentation you pick, bento is not just about giving your kids a healthy meal, but also giving them something that will make them smile.
“It may sound corny, but to me a bento box is about giving a bit of love to someone too,” wrote Itoh.
However, you don’t have to put together a jaw-droppingly complex bento box to brighten your kids’ days and give them a healthy lunch. In just a few minutes, you can create a bento box that delivers the nutrients they need and that is much more exciting than their standard PB&J or school cafeteria fare.
A perfect bento lunch starts with the container. Bento boxes are plastic containers that are generally divided into one large section and two to three smaller sections for separating the different food groups included in the meal. It’s important to keep in mind that whatever you pack in the bento box needs to be safe to eat at room temperature, or kept cold until lunchtime. This bento lunch kit features a lid that can hold ice packs, along with an insulated carry bag.
Next, it’s time to fill the container. Think about creating a balanced meal that delivers a variety of nutrients. Namiko Chen, cook and author of the blog Just One Cookbook, recommends following this ratio of foods when filling a bento box:
- 4 parts carbs.
- 2 parts protein.
- 1 part vegetables.
- 1 part fruits.
You can also include another section for snack foods that your kids can munch on, like popcorn or pretzels.
You don’t have to follow this ratio exactly, but it’s a good rule of thumb to center the bento box around carbs and protein to make sure your kids get the energy they need for their day. Here are some ideas for foods in each category that you can use to fill the bento box:
- Carbs: Rice, pasta, whole wheat bread for making a sandwich, quinoa, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal.
- Protein: Low-sodium deli meat, grilled chicken or turkey, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, cheese cubes or slices.
- Vegetables: Cooked or fresh broccoli, baby carrots or zucchini, celery sticks, bell pepper slices, cherry tomatoes.
- Fruit: Strawberries, pineapple or mango chunks, blueberries, orange slices.
- Snacks: Popcorn, pretzels, fruit roll-ups, crackers, dried fruit.
Picking colorful fruit and veggies for your kids’ bento boxes appeals to even the pickiest eaters!
Tips for bento
When you assemble your bento box, make sure you tightly pack each section of the box. An important part of bento is presentation, so it’s worth spending a few extra minutes considering how you can make a bright and colorful bento. A nice-looking bento box also has the added value of making even fruits and vegetables look appetizing, which is extra helpful for picky eaters. Choose colorful foods as much as possible when making bento, and look for opportunities to add fun touches, like using a cookie cutter or wavy knife to cut cheese and bread slices along with fruits and veggies, suggested Today’s Parent.
Don’t stay stuck in a lunch rut any longer – bento boxes are a fun, healthy and delicious lunch for your kids that will brighten their day.