When my oldest child was born, he was breastfed exclusively. Six months later, he was dining on carefully crafted homemade baby food. None of that mattered as he became a typical picky toddler asking for pizza, pop-tarts, and macaroni for every meal by the age of two. I sadly sent him off to kindergarten with a constant rotation of PB+J and turkey sandwiches.
Before the next school year, I began researching lunch ideas and came across what’s referred to as a “bento” lunch. Originally a Japanese concept, a “bento” is simply a home-packed lunch of a single serving size in a reusable container and often made decorative. They can be quite elaborate, or they can be quite simple. I decided to try it with my kids, and it was a smashing success. We are still packing bento lunches even as my oldest heads to sixth grade.
The lunches are less cute now, but there are many other reasons to pack bento style:
- I save money by using reusable containers. We have been using the same containers for years. I use Sistema lunch cubes and divided Ziploc containers (which have been discontinued, but you can find a similar container HERE.) Zip baggies are rarely seen in a lunchbox around here.
- I save money on food. I’m able to efficiently utilize leftovers by immediately packing them into the containers. I rarely purchase individually packaged foods since the containers hold individual servings from larger packages.
- I control the portion sizes. I have growing boys, and 5 crackers in a Lunchable don’t really cut it. When I make the homemade version, I can give them good slices of meat, real cheese, and plenty of crackers.
- Everything is ready to eat. Most of the time, my kids can open the lid and start eating. While other kids are opening multiple packages or waiting for help from a lunch monitor, mine are eating. When they only get 15-20 minutes for lunch, this one is a biggie. When they were smaller, things were also cut bite size to let the feasting happen even easier.
- It is so much faster to pack. Having the containers actually makes the choices easier, even with the simplest of lunches. Sandwich, goldfish, apple slices, fruit snacks–all in their sections in a snap.
- I know what my kids are eating, both quality and quantity. I’ve taught my kids to bring their containers home without throwing anything away so I can see if they’re finishing their food. After working for a year in our school cafeteria, I was shocked by how much food (and money!) gets thrown away at school.
- I can make it fun. This was a large factor when they were younger and picky, and they were so much more willing to try things when they were presented in a fun way. If cucumbers are more delicious when cut into stars, then by all means! My youngest is 8, and she still appreciates a fun shaped sandwich or decoration. I like to surprise the boys every once in a while, too, but I know those days are numbered.
- I can offer them unique options. Even when it’s not cute, it can be different. Nachos have been a big hit in our containers, as well as breakfast choices like sausage & gravy or pancakes & sausage. It’s also easier to individualize their lunches to their preferences.
- It’s easy for the kids to do it themselves. As they’ve gotten older, they have started to pack their own lunches more. The containers are an easy guide and allow the perfect amounts.
- INTENTIONALITY. I believe that anything we do with intention and purpose is going to be better. I’ve shown my kids that their nutrition and health is important and that I value them enough to make an effort.
That picky little boy of mine has turned into a fruit & veggie devourer, and I honestly believe that good lunch packing has made all the difference. We gave him choices without the frustration of a dinnertime confrontation, and he rose to the occasion.
We pack lunches like this during the summer for fun on-the-go, and we often use our containers for snacks after school or for movie nights as well. It encourages me to pack my lunch when running errands or joining the kids at school for a little one-on-one time, and I find myself making healthier choices, too.