Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Need For Lunchtime Panic: Guest Post by Another Lunch

So, Jamie didn't read my letter, but my friend Melissa did!  And who is Melissa?  She is none other than the author of the fabulous blog Another Lunch.  If anyone has suggestions on how to survive making lunches for kids, it's her.  And I'm thrilled to announce that in response to my freak out, she's here sharing her tips today!  I hope you enjoy her ideas as much as I do!

It was three years ago that my oldest child began Kindergarten. And like any mama about to scoot her baby into the scary world beyond the nest, I had a lot of concerns. Besides my fears of "Will he make nice friends?", "Will he get lost finding the bathroom?", "Will he be teased for having airplanes on his underwear?" was the worry "what am I going to pack for his lunch?!!".

Cue the bento box.

Bento box?

What's a bento box, you ask?

Well, I'm so glad you asked!

Simply defined, "bento" is a Japanese term for a lunch in a box. A bento box is generally comprised of a variety of foods, packed compactly, and in a single container. Think "Lunchables", but without all the excess packaging, preservatives and sodium. ;-)

Another positive aspect of bento-making is that the food is presented in an appealing way. For making bentos fun and kid-friendly, some ideas are:

* cutting the food into easy-to-eat bite sized pieces.
* using tools such as cute food picks to spear food and/or using cookie cutters to cut food into fun shapes.
* providing an assortment of foods: smaller portions of each, but with more variety overall.

Because a picture really is worth a thousand words...
Noah's Ark L&L
"Noah's Ark bento lunch"
This is a simple bento lunch. It contains pickles, raspberries, cereal bar, homemade granola bite, wheat crackers and cheddar cheese.
pizza pocket bento
"pizza pocket bento"
This bento box holds a homemade pizza pocket, organic baby carrots, pretzels, grapes, homemade granola bite, and fishy crackers.
here fishy, fishy, fishy
"somethin' fishy is going on"
This bento box lunch is fish themed with a sandwich, fishy crackers, hard boiled egg, clementine orange segments and kiwi fruit.

To make lunch preparation run as smoothly as possible during the morning hurry-up-and-get-ready-before-you-miss-the-bus mayhem I get a quick "game plan" in mind the night before and get some quick prep work done before I go to bed.

* I decide on a bento box and set it on the counter, ready to fill.
* I decide on which fruit I'll pack, unearth it from the crisper and wash it so it's ready to chop/peel/spear/whatever in the morning.
* Crackers? Cereal bar? Granola bar? If it's non-perishable I put it beside the bento box on the counter too.
* Any cute shapes either get cut the night before (and stored in a covered container in the fridge) or, at the very least, I'll have the cutters laying out ready to cutesie up some cheese in a flash.

Doing some simple prep work the night before allows me to breeze right though lunch assembly in the morning. While the kids eat their breakfast I am filling bento boxes and getting their lunchboxes all ready to go.

A real benefit of packing bentos for kids is that their whole meal is presented to them at once, not unlike how they are used to eating on a plate. A noisy lunch room full of kids can be a little, um, distracting (to say the least!). The less "obstructions" between the child and their food helps ensure more of it will be eaten. There are no baggies to unzip, bags to pop open or lids to peel off in a bento box. Everything is just right there, ready to eat. The *cute* factor can also draw a child's attention back to their own food, rather than to the chaos that ensues in a cafeteria!

More than anything, a bento is simply a box full of yummy food to fill a hungry tummy. No trash left behind, bentos are a waste-free lunch choice that is healthier for the planet too. :)

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