Back-to-school bento lunches! | Living the Country Life
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Back-to-school bento lunches!

July 31, 2011

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It’s almost time for the kids to head back to school. Where has the summer gone? At my house, this time of year also means back-to-sack-lunches. I let my three sons choose one hot lunch meal a week, and the rest of the days I make their lunches. Not only is it less expensive, but I feel like they get healthier meals, and things I know they will eat.

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In the dead of winter, I let them eat hot lunch a little more often so they can warm their bellies. I have yet to find a good container that will keep meals from home hot (or even remotely warm) for 4 hours. Many claim that’s what they do, and I have bought several, but none of them have done the job. If you have a container that keeps food hot, please let me know!

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Last year, I became obsessed with the idea of bento lunches. Bento is a Japanese term referring to single-serve take-out food. There are usually several small compartments in a bento box, and the idea is that rather than packing one or two big items, you mix it up with several smaller portions. Some people really go crazy with the cuteness of their lunches. Themes are popular, and you can spend hours creating the most adorable bento lunch ever. You can also spend a ton of cash on bento boxes, but that defeats the purpose in my mind. School lunches have to be quick and easy!

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I found some handy divided plastic lunch containers (Ziploc brand), which work perfect. They’re around $1.50 apiece, and can be used over and over. I also have some smaller, sandwich-shaped containers that work well. I have a little box in my cupboard filled with bento accessories, so I just pull it out when I’m making lunches. It has cupcake papers with matching picks, other plastic and wooden decorative picks (intended for topping cupcakes or holding olives in cocktails), food coloring markers, mini cookie cutters, and fun things like that. Cute napkins are a must, and I also put a note inside their lunches, usually with a corny joke they can tell their friends at the lunch table. The boys have water bottles with ice inserts that clip onto their lunch bags. They usually just take water, since they get milk at school in the afternoon, and drink plenty at home. Sometimes they get a can of spicy vegetable juice or a juice box if they’re on sale. I also use frozen inserts inside their bags to keep their lunches cold.

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It may sound like a goofy thing to do, but making these special lunches for my boys makes me feel a little closer to them during the day, and it gives them a little hug from their mom while they’re away at school. I’ve had other moms tell me their kids always describe what the Prater boys had for lunch each day, and teachers have told me they go out of their way each day to stop by their table and see what they’re eating. Here are some of the bentos I snapped photos of over the past school year. I may try to get a little more creative this year!

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bentoantslog

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Kiwi slices with decorative pick for eating, celery with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log), string cheese, mini turkey wrap, and fishy crackers.

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bentoturkeypep

 

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Cupcake papers make perfect dividers for bento lunches. Some folks use the silicone variety, which can be washed and reused. I haven’t found any that I really like, so I go with paper. It’s fun to switch it up with holiday or cartoon character papers, and they often come with coordinating picks, which is fun! Here, we have mini pepperoni (perfect for bento!) skewered on a pick, turkey slices, raisins, whole-wheat crackers, and a cheese stick. A banana was also included in the lunch bag.

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bentostarweek       bentobakedapple

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1. This was Will’s lunch from when he was the “star of the week” in kindergarten. In the upper left compartment, I put grape tomatoes and cheese I cut out with a mini star-shaped cookie cutter. I also wrote “Will” and “of the week” on the stars with food coloring markers. He also took champagne grapes, ham slices, a no-sugar-added dried fruit bar, and Irish soda bread. I could have made his sandwich for him, but this way he got to be a big boy and make his own sandwich, plus his bread didn’t get soggy.

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2. Turkey wrap, mini cornbread muffin, baked apple (I made extras when we had them for dessert the night before), and carrot chips. A frozen tube of yogurt was also packed with this lunch. They thaw out by lunchtime, and keep the lunch cool!

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bentohamkabobs        bentomeatloaf

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1. Mini cornbread muffins, grapes, and grape tomatoes; a peanut-butter-chocolate bar; and cubed ham and pepperoni with picks for eating. A frozen tube of yogurt was packed with this lunch as well to get in some dairy. Frozen containers of fruit cocktail or applesauce also work well to keep lunches cool, and they thaw out by lunchtime.

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2. Meatloaf is even better cold, the next day! I cut it into bite-sized chunks and included picks for eating, and some cheese. The kids made their own meatloaf kabobs with this. They also got an apple and some baby carrots in their lunchbag. 

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bentopaintedtortilla        bentomeatrollup

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1. A PB&J made with tortillas instead of bread, then cut into quarters, makes a great canvas for food coloring markers! This lunch was made around Christmas. Get creative with the markers … you could make pepperoni and cheese quesadillas, and paint the tops to look like pizza! Or, paint a picture like a face, clock, or baseball on the round tortilla before cutting it up, to make an edible puzzle. Also, mini pretzel crackers mixed with raisins and nuts; and a juicy apple. This lunch came with a container of cottage cheese as well.

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2. Salami and cheese rolled up and poked with a pick, raisins, crackers, carrot chips, and pudding. The cupcake papers are great for separating food. They just hit the top of this container, so when the lid is on, nothing slides around, and crackers stay dry!

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bentohalloween

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It’s worth going a little above and beyond for holidays. Here, a PB&J sandwich crawls with gummy worms. Strawberries dipped in white chocolate are painted with dark chocolate to look like skulls and ghosts, and chocolate “eyeballs” round out this Halloween lunch. I normally don’t include candy in their lunches, but hey, it was Halloween!

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I hope you’re inspired to make some tasty, fun lunches for your kids this school year. I’ve got all kinds of ideas for my boys, and I’ll post photos throughout the year. Have a great lunch!

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