What if I told you that you could pack Pinterest-worthy school lunches in a matter of minutes, without cutting foods into cute shapes or spending an eternity in the kitchen? It’s all true.
Packing fresh school lunches that provide both nutrition and variety is a lot simpler than you think. If you check out this Easy Bento Boxes Pinterest board, you’ll notice that the lunches are both colorful and nutritious.
Most of those lunches are made with ingredients already on your weekly shopping list. What gives them the ultimate appeal is how colorful they are and that these same ingredients are used in a variety of ways.
But what if you aren’t the “creative type” and can’t come up with something beyond a sandwich or a wrap? Well, there is always the option of having a school lunch meal plan to help you stay organized and motivated each week.
Here are three easy steps to creating the most incredible bento lunches easily:
1. Start with a compartmentalized lunch container
If you are a beginner and just want to get started, look for a container with three compartments. This way you have fewer compartments to fill, and each will have its nutritional purpose.
A divided container also allows you to separate the “wet” foods from the “dry” foods. Make sure you look for one that is leakproof if you plan to send things like yogurt or applesauce. Most containers are fine for thick items such as hummus.
The largest section will hold the main item. This can be a wrap, pinwheels (a wrap cut into 1-inch pieces), salad, a sandwich or even food skewered through a bento pick.
The second compartment can hold either fruit or veggies, cut into bite-size pieces.
The third compartment can hold either fruit or veggies, a dip to go along with the item in the other compartment or a treat. A treat can be something as simple as fruit or an energy bite.
2. Add color
One of the reasons bento boxes look so great is that there is a variety of colors arranged nicely next to one another. Colorful foods also have a lot of nutrition, so the more you can pack in there, the better.
Baby carrots, cut celery and cherry tomatoes are great examples of how to add color with kid-friendly veggies. Other veggies that hold up well in a lunchbox are broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, frozen peas, edamame and sliced cucumbers.
Adding fruit to the lunchbox is another terrific way to add color. Blueberries, strawberries, apple slices and kiwi are all great options. Do your kids love watermelon? Send that too, but make sure the compartment is sealed since watermelon tends to release juices.
3. Cook once, eat twice
Open your fridge, and look inside, because it’s filled with possibilities! Leftover grilled chicken can be revamped into an awesome wrap, leftovers from taco night can easily be re-created into a taco salad, and meatballs can either be skewered or sent inside a thermos.
Most parents worry too much about the temperature of the food, when in reality, kids rarely eat their food hot. Lunch is as much about socializing with friends as it is about actually eating the food, so just make sure you pack the right utensils, and you are good to go.
If all else fails, you can always stick to one item for the week, like chicken salad, and pack it in a variety of ways like in this video.
Laura Fuentes is the founder of MOMables, where she helps parents add a fresh variety to their lunches and family meals. She’s the author of three cookbooks, competed (and won!) on Food Network and has been featured on the TODAY Show and in Parents, Redbook and Huffington Post. Check out the MOMables YouTube channel for Laura’s family-friendly recipes.