Bento Boxes Are Back-to-School Lunches Kids Will Eat: Here Are 7 Fun Ways to Fill Up a Bento Box by Chef Gigi Gaggero, Host of KSCU 103.3 FM LIVE Food Talk Radio S.F. Bay Area
Bento boxes surfaced in Japan about 900 years ago with the creation of hoshi-ii (dried meal), specifically referencing cooked rice. Bento boxes were once simple containers housing individually packaged portions of dried rice, meat or fish, and pickled or cooked vegetables. Through the ages, they have progressed from oak or bamboo-leaf wrapped pieces into magnificent lacquered wooden boxes, shiny aluminum and modern-day plastics.
Of course, bento boxes are still available today in many locations throughout Japan, yet bento boxes have been taking America by storm for years. Kid-centric Japanese bento boxes are quickly becoming the must-have lunch box for otherwise brown baggers, including adults. A visit to today's school cafeterias might have some parents thinking they've stepped into a new culture when they see these trendy new containers.
It's not all about appearances though – bento boxes are fun to fill, pleasing to the palette and prevent food from getting smashed. They make packing lunch both cost and time effective. Great for those picky eaters who prefer their foods not touching. Bento also is excellent for getting kids in the kitchen and taking some responsibility. If they are old enough to carry a lunch box, they certainly are old enough to build it.
Incorporating a variety of foods your child will make them much less likely to succumb when they hear "I'll trade you!" in the cafeteria. Here are some bento box ideas:
- Taco Tuedays: No more half-eaten lunches! A taco-inspired bento box lunch is a healthy and portable meal your kid will love. Include a taco salad with all the fixings you would find in a taco or burrito, like protein-powered beans – and add a dose of healthy guacamole, too.
- Mac 'n Cheese: Leftover macaroni and cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes, steamed veggies and fresh finger fruits like grapes, berries, cherries, cubed melons, sliced kiwi, etc., all housed in separate containers or pressed into fun shapes. They'll be sure to devour this child-friendly favorite.
- Snack Attack: Diced fresh finger fruits and veggies, sliced cheese, cubed turkey breast or ham, and multigrain crackers make for a delightful blend of flavors and nutrition.
- Roll-ups: Fresh banana and nut butter rolled up in whole-wheat tortillas. Any lunch meats or flavored cream cheeses spread on slices of bread can be rolled up, too. A lavash is also an option.
- Backward Day: Pack dinner for lunch inspired by your child's favorite shaped meatballs, brown rice, sliced fresh veggies and low-fat yogurt to dip. This bento is also great with leftover spaghetti. Dinner can be breakfast on these days. Why not?
- Leftovers Personified: Diced leftovers, roast, roasted veggies, fresh finger fruits and a garden salad. Serve cold,with a piece of buttered whole-grain pita bread or mini waffles.
- Super Salads: Molded tuna, chicken or seafood salad, whole-grain crackers, fresh fruits and veggies, and baby cheese wedges or cubes, sliced celery or carrots sticks. They are all charming to eat, especially with cream cheese or cashew butter to dip them in. Don't forget to add your child's favorite vinaigrette or Greek yogurt dressings in a fun-sized bento squeeze bottle.
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