Bento boxes are a traditional Japanese-style lunch served in compartmentalized
containers. As opposed to a traditional American lunch consisting of one large
salad or sandwich, the allure is that they offer the diner a well-balanced meal
with small portions of 4-6 different dishes on the same plate. But don’t worry if
you don’t have a special bento box, you can still serve your kids
healthy, balanced meals on a traditional plate.
Bento boxes are versatile, easy and quick to prepare. Use what you have in your
pantry or fridge to fill your kids’ lunch boxes with healthy and nutritious goodies.
Don’t be intimidated; if you are mindful of my 5 easy tips for packing bento box
lunches yourself, you will be a Culinary Ninja in no time!
1. Keep it colorful! Remember, we all eat with our eyes first, so the more
visually appealing a dish is, the more we are likely to enjoy it. Plus,
colorful foods tend to be more nutritious foods. I always suggest that my
clients work toward “eating the rainbow”.
2. Start with at least one protein option, or two smaller servings of different
proteins, and then build the rest of the lunch around that. Get creative!
Protein doesn’t have to be meat; yogurt, cheese, beans, tofu and fish are
all excellent sources of protein. Protein is critical for growing kids, and it’s
very important that kids get enough.
3. Choose at least two vegetables and at least one fruit.
4. Pack at least one serving of whole grains: 100% whole-wheat crackers,
pretzels, bread, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta, etc.].
5. An occasional mini dessert works perfectly here. It doesn’t have to be
included everyday, but once in a while will certainly not do damage to an
otherwise healthy meal.
In our bento box, we packed 1⁄4 cup carrot coins, 1⁄4 cup snap peas, 2 oz cheddar
cheese, 4 honey whole wheat pretzel rods, 1⁄4 cup green grapes, 2 tbsp hummus
and a mini black and white cookie [we are in New York City after all…]
This form of eating can have advantages for a diverse group of children with
different nutritional needs and taste preferences. Bento boxes are especially
good for picky eaters, as it offers them more than one option to try. Picky or not,
there is a redundancy insofar as multiple dishes offer your child the balance of
protein, fats and carbohydrates they need, so don’t worry if your kids don’t eat
all of the offerings you packed. Alternatively, if your little one is underweight yet
intimidated by the prospect of eating an entire sandwich, a bento box can give
him or her options in manageable portions to encourage them to finish their plate.
Bento boxes are also a great way to expose your kids to new foods, as they are
faced with a few small bites of something unfamiliar. Repetition is important to
kids’ exposure to new foods; try and try again! Eventually, they will likely come
The beauty of bento boxes is that they are a liberating way to use up food and
enjoy a creative outlet when preparing your child’s lunch. Not only will your
child enjoy an eating adventure every afternoon, but you will be spared from the
drudgery of making peanut butter sandwiches day after day. The possibilities
and permutations are literally endless. I can’t wait to hear which combinations
your kids like best!