The little miss is not down with a sandwich. She’s eat one if I jazz it up, but a plain ‘ol PB&J will come home untouched. As a result, I have to get a little more creative when I pack her school lunch. My basic school lunch formula is to send her with a dip (guac or hummus), a veggie for dipping (carrots, cucumber, blanched broccoli), a wholegrain carb (crackers, tortilla chips or flatbread), something pickled (pickle chips, cornichons, olives or picked cauliflower), cut up fruit (berries, pomegranate, grapes or clementine) and a few bites of something sweet (dried strawberries, a fruit twist or a small piece of chocolate). Packing all that in a lunch bag means I use a whole mess of little containers, which I did for the past 2 years. I have a drawer full of mini glass ball jars with the screw on lids, which were great for dips and fruit because they’re leak proof. The down side is they are not easy for any of the littles to open on their own. It worked while the little miss was in preschool and had enough teachers around for someone to always help with opening her containers. Kindergarten requires a different setup. Having any sort of container that requires adult assistance does not encourage independence so I needed a different solution. This year I got on the bento box bandwagon and I have to say the little miss and I are both obsessed!
A reusable bento-style lunch box is essentially an all-in-one lunch box with small compartments that allows you to pack foods in separately so they don’t mix, take up less space, use less packaging and looks super visually appealing. Bento-style boxes are traditional in Japan, where the art of good eating on the go has been perfected. Here in the US of A it’s a bit of a new concept to most, unless you are addicted to Instragram, where there are tons of crazy intricate bento box lunch ideas.
First step was to find a great, reusable bento box. There are a lot of them on the market. Just do a simple search on Amazon and you’ll see page after page. Finding a stainless steel, leak-proof bento-style lunch box was my priority. I did a lot of research on the “interweb” and speaking to friends who use bento boxes and tried different brands, and I settled on the PlanetBox. The PlanetBox is a beautifully designed and super sturdy stainless steel box that comes in different sizes, with different fun magnets to put on the front to personalize the look, and a handy fabric carrying case that makes it look more like a traditional reusable lunch bag. It’s a basic stainless steel look that they make kid-friendly with magnets that you can stick on the front to personalize the look. I showed the little miss the magnet choices and it was a done deal once she saw the unicorn and rainbow magnet option.
After the first day I packed the PlanetBox with her lunch, the little miss immediately ran up to me when I walked in the door from work and said she loved her new lunch. I asked what she liked about it and she said “it was like a feast.” I thought that was so cute because seeing all your food laid out in front of you is like a little personal lunch buffet. The bento-style lunch has been a big hit since. Some days I get super creative and pack a theme, like flowers (pictured) or rainbows. Other days it’s 10pm and I throw her lunch together in 5 minutes by sticking in whatever cut up veggies and fruit I have in the fridge, along with nuts, crackers and cheese.
One of the biggest concerns with bento-style lunch boxes is leakage. I pack a lot of drippy things, like hummus, apple sauce and lentil salad. (Side note: I know some of you might not believe the little miss will eat lentil salad at school, but it’s usually because I put a sweet treat like a piece of chocolate or a mini cookie in her lunch and tell her she can only eat the treat if she finishes the lentil salad. You might call that bribery, but I call it the art of negotiation. It gets my kid to eat fiber-rich legumes and extra veggies so I’m fine with a little treat in exchange.) Back to the leakage issue. One of the things that sets the PlanetBox apart from other bento-style boxes is that it comes with these tiny little stainless steel containers with silicone lids that fit perfectly in the compartments of the box so you can pack anything that might leak in those containers. We have not had a single leak yet and I am so obsessed with the mini containers that I am going to order a few extras to use for my snacks.
The flower theme lunch pictured above was a big hit and came home mostly eaten (there were leftover olives – I went a little heavy for design purposes). From left to right, clockwise: Smoked gouda cheese slices cut into flower shapes with a mini cookie cutter and plain rice crackers; whole wheat hummus sandwich cut into a circle using a drinking glass and sliced into wedges, with pitted castelvetrano green olives (they are very mild and a bit buttery); sliced strawberries with raspberry “flower” centers with pomegranate seeds; carrot and pickle chip “tulips” on toothpicks; dye-free chocolate candies.
I know lots of you are looking for healthy and cute lunch ideas that your kids will actually enjoy, so follow me over on instagram, where I plan to post more pics of my bento-style lunch creations for inspo. I also love new snack/lunch ideas so please share in the comments if you have some that go over well with your kids.
*The Rover PlanetBox is the style pictured. I find to be plenty big for the little miss. We could have gone with a smaller option based on her appetite but I wanted a style that would grow with her rather than getting one that needs to be replaced in a year so I chose the Rover. Big thanks to Planet Box for sending me a Rover by request for experimenting and featuring. Like PlanetBox’s Facebook page for occasional special offers and cute lunch inspiration.