It’s almost back to school and you know what that means. Time to pack lunches. This activity be somewhat of a challenge for many families. If you want a quick, creative, easy, and healthy lunch consider trying a bento-style lunch.

First things first, what exactly is a bento-style lunch? Bento is a compact, balanced, visually appealing meal packed in a box.  A typical bento meal will consist of 3 parts carbs (such as rice or breads), 2 parts fruits and veggies, and 1 part protein. So here are some quick tips to get your bento-style lunches started.

 Reusable Containers

A big part of the bento-style lunch is the container. You will need a box for the lunch as well as “separators”. You will want to think about which foods you want to mix and which you do not. You can purchase a large container and numerous small-sized containers to place within. You can also use food items such as celery as a separator. Reusable cupcake cups or silicone trays work great as well.  For a list of lots of great bento lunch supplies check out Susan Yuen. Susan also has a fantastic blog dedicated to these stylish lunches.

Think Pretty

A big part of the bento meal is presentation. If you have a picky eater this can be a huge determining factor in what is eaten and what is left behind. Presentation is key. In traditional Japanese bento meals sticky rice is used to form lots of fun shapes. You can mold the rice into circles, hearts, stars, or any shape imaginable with the help of cookie cutters (or a keen eye).  You can even use colored shrimp powder to color the rice. You can alternate colors with fruits to provide an even more aesthetic appeal. Try filling a silicone cupcake cup with strawberries and kiwi. You can even add some decorative reusable toothpicks to liven it up even more.

Left-Overs

The great thing about bento lunches is the reusing of leftovers. You can take the previous nights meal and revamp it a bit. For example, if you had salmon try shredding the salmon and adding a little bit of eggs and bread crumbs, then fry them on the stove to make small finger food sized salmon patties. If you have leftover pasta consider adding the pasta in with a little bit of eggs and cheese and frying them up to form a nice pasta frittata. Again just cut in small squares (or cut with cookie cutters to create cute shapes) and place in the box.

New Flavors

Since there is a big emphasis placed on “looks” with the bento-style lunch you will be opening your child up to a whole new world of flavors.  You child might not like seaweed paste (YUCK!) but if you add a little bit of seaweed paste to the center of a sticky rice ball top it with a little coloring and cut it into a cute shape they will inevitably eat away.  So think outside the box.  There are no boundaries.

Start the new year off with a new lunch routine and some simple bento inspiration. You can start small by cutting your sandwiches into cute little shapes and adding simple fruits and veggies in a clean and colorful cupcake cup. Then move on to some more involved recipes. I promise when you child opens up their first bento lunch they will be all smiles.

Do we have any veteran bento lunch packers out there? If so, I would love to hear your tips and tricks for a healthy and beautiful lunch.