My passion for healthy lunches started a few years ago when we started using Bento Box style lunch boxes for the kid’s school lunches. My son requested the same lunch box as his friend. It was a PlanetBox. I originally delayed ordering because the cost seemed high for a lunch box. Obviously when you withhold something from a young child, they end up wanting it more. He included the PlanetBox on his Christmas list, so we ended up getting him and his sister new lunchboxes. And our lunches have been more healthy and exciting ever since.
At first I was intimidated by the many compartments and unsure how I was going to make it work. I shortly discovered a system that made packing lunches a fun project each morning.
Firstly, and most important, I involve the kids. I know this seems like it will make the process take longer (and it does), but I find if they are involved they are more likely to eat their lunch. I make our lunches in the morning, because we all get up insanely early in our house, and I can make it work. But I would imagine that wouldn’t work for everyone. And if you are late risers, or just don’t have time to make lunches in the morning you can make the meals in the evening and also involve the kids. I usually give them am option for a few of the compartments (the ones that I can). For example if I really need to use the leftover chicken, they can have chicken tacos or chicken salad. Or if I only have ingredients for a sandwich, they can choose the fruit and vegetable instead. A few days of the week they actually “help”. They like to put and arrange the foods in the compartments, so it really doesn’t take much additional time. If you are making lunches in the evening, ask those questions before they go to bed. Another way the kids like to help is close the bento box, put it in the carrying case, add the freezer pack and spoon and or fork and fill their water bottle. You could also make the lunches in the evening and let them do the last step in the morning.
There are 5 compartments within the lunchbox- 1 large, 3 medium, and 1 small.
The lunches have become much easier to manage if I designate each compartment to a food group: the large is for protein, the three medium are for fruits, vegetables, and dairy or carb. The smallest one I usually reserve for a small sweet treat.
My kids usually go grocery shopping with us for the week so I usually get them to pick out a fruit and vegetable (they want for lunch). Sometimes they surprise me as to what they pick.
PROTEINS- Large compartment
The large compartment is usually where I start, as it is always the most difficult for me. I usually have two things I am willing to make and give them a choice. For example egg salad or tuna salad. If you have two kids and offer them a choice, they will always, without exception chose different things. Prepare yourself. If you have left over chicken, you could make chicken tacos, chicken burrito, cut up chicken with dipping sauce, chicken salad, add to grilled cheese, or cut up pieces and put on toothpicks (chicken skewers). I often make a batch of chicken for the week or use pre-cooked frozen chicken.
Egg salad Tuna/chicken salad Chicken pieces (w/ BBQ or ketchup) Terriyaki chicken Chicken/turkey meatballs (try the frozen ones) Hard boiled eggs Ham/turkey sandwiches Ham/turkey cheese roll-ups w/ wheat tortillas Chicken or beef tacos Bean and Cheese Burritos
VEGETABLES (Medium compartment)
Fortunately my kids eat vegetables and are pretty open to trying them. If your kid doesn’t eat all vegetables, find the ones they do like and try and introduce new ones once or twice a week. My kids love tomatoes and red peppers, so I always have those on hand. I let them pick out there own vegetables as the marker as well. I have also found if they become uninterested in a vegetable, sometimes if you cut in a different shape or give it to them in a different color their interest is renewed. For example I used to always get baby carrots, and I think the kids started to get bored. And one day they found (pre-cut) crinkle cut carrots, and loved them again. Or I sometimes cut carrots in matchsticks or give them a whole carrot (with the top still on). I have also found getting the colored carrots sparks new interest as well.
Also kids tend to prefer raw vegetables over cooked. I have noticed with other kids as well. So if you child doesn’t like steamed or roasted broccoli- try it raw.
Tomato Cucumber Carrots Celery Red/Yellow pepper Avocado Brussels sprouts Cauliflower Broccoli (raw) Snap Peas. Edamame (You can find shelled or unshelled in frozen food section.) Jicama Squash/Zucchini String beans (yellow and green) Spinach/Kale (LMP students tend to appreciate Kale)
FRUITS (Medium compartment)
My kids love fruits, but not always the same ones. I usually keep on hand oranges, apples, and pears because they tend to last a little longer. And each week they pick out one or two additional fruits. You can buy small quantities- for example, you only need one kiwi for one lunch. If you choose a pineapple or watermelon pick a small one and plan to use it for several days of the week. Also if, as with the fruits, kids lose interest in oranges, cut in slightly way, or peel or get blood oranges, just to change the color.
Apples Oranges Pears Strawberries Raspberries Blueberry Blackberry Peaches Plums Pineapple, Grapes Watermelon Cantelope Star fruit Kiwi Mango Cherries Banana
CARBOHYDRATES/DAIRY- Medium Compartment
Depending on what is in the Protein compartment, I try to balance out. Also this is one of the last compartments I do, as I can use it to balance the compartments.
Sweet potatoes (Try roasted with cinnamon) Pretzels Popcorn Olives Beans Hummus with pita or pretzels Rice Pasta Cheese
SWEET TREAT- Small compartment
I use the small compartment for a sweet treat. I If you are unable to let your kids made decisions on the rest of the lunch, this is an easy one to get them involved. Many of these items are easy to have on hand.
Chocolate chips Piece of chocolate Fruit gummies Chocolate pretzel Piece of a cookie Mini/Bite sized cookies A remnant piece of candy from the weekend’s birthday party Graham cracker and nutella
If the above are too sweet for you or your kid, there are healthy treat alternatives
Dried fruit cut in small pieces, Small graham crackers (like teddy grahams) Yogurt covered raisins/pretzels Homemade cookies.
We sometimes get creative with the lunches. For example, my daughter might request an orange lunch or a red lunch. And we have fun for the holidays.
PlanetBox is made of metal so super easy to care for, as you can clean it in the dishwasher. I also think food tends to look more appetizing in metal or glass (as opposed to plastic). They have also made comments that made me believe they appreciate seeing everything at once.
To get you started I provided lunch option for a week and grocery list
Chicken/tuna salad, red pepper, kiwi, pretzels, chocolates
Chicken w/ terriyaki sauce, avocado, pineapple, pretzels.
Chicken, bean, and cheese burrito, black beans, cheddar cheese, pears, tomato, and cookie.
Orange lunch: Pineapples and oranges, cheddar cheese, olives, whole carrots, tortilla and sliced turkey wrap-ups, sliced, and orange jelly beans
Turkey Sandwich, Avocado and tomato, pineapple or pear (whatever is left over), and Pretzels (or crackers).
Can of tuna Can of black beans Olives Chicken Sliced turkey sandwich meat Whole wheat tortillas Cheddar cheese Pretzels Pineapple Kiwi Pear Tangerine Red pepper Avocado Tomato Chocolate chips Cookies
Happy lunch making.