First time making school lunches? Dietitian and mom of two Jennifer Baum shares five of her favourite bento box meal ideas—one for each day of the week!
1. Sandwich Sushi Rolls
Sandwiches get a bad rap for being boring, but they can provide a satisfying and protein-packed lunch. Choose a bread that lists a whole grain as the first ingredient and has at least 2 grams of fibre, then fill with your kid’s favourite ingredients. Cutting them up into bite-sized pieces makes them more manageable. You can use cookie cutters or try out sandwich sushi rolls. (Flatten a slice of bread slightly with a rolling pin, then layer with sandwich fillings, leaving a 2-cm strip at one end; from opposite end, roll up the bread and slice into six rolls.)
2. DIY Tacos
Tacos are a hit with most kids. Packing all of the components separately in a bento box decreases the pressure of having to eat everything and provides some autonomy. This meal is a great way to increase fibre intake. Instead of a hard taco shell, I’ll pack multigrain tortilla chips or a whole wheat soft tortilla wrap. Add a protein like beans, chicken, fish or pulled pork—dinner leftovers often come in handy. Finish it off with delicious toppings such as corn kernels, chopped lettuce, grated cheese, cherry tomatoes, sour cream or guacamole.
3. Brunch for Lunch
Kids get really excited when they get to take weekend breakfast foods in their lunch box—it almost feels like they are breaking the rules. Keeping a batch of mini pancakes or waffles in your freezer makes pulling off this meal a breeze. You can boost the nutrition content by mixing ground flaxseed, hemp hearts or chia seeds into the batter. Include a couple of breakfast sausages (plant-based or meat), a slice of peameal bacon or a boiled egg. The makings of a mini parfait go nicely with this meal: plain yogourt, berries and some granola.
3. Mini Pizzas
Miniature food is often more fun for kids than adult-size food. Have your kids help make individual pizzas using whole-grain mini pitas or English muffins. Layer on some tomato sauce and grated cheese. Then let them get creative with toppings—salami + sweet peppers, ham + pineapple, tomatoes + olives—or whatever bits and pieces you have in the fridge. You can finish up with raw veggie sticks, such as cucumber and carrots with ranch dip.
4. Kiddo Charcuterie
When I was a kid, a shelf-stable box of prepackaged crackers, cheese and cold cuts was a coveted lunchtime commodity. As an adult, I find them too high in sodium, sugar and preservatives. Make your own version with a whole-grain, low-sodium cracker, like plain Triscuits. Slice some cheese and add a few pieces of cut-up deli meat—I prefer the natural versions as they have less artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives. Balance the meal out with hummus, raw veggies and a homemade trail mix with seeds and dried fruit.
What about dessert?
I encourage parents to include something sweet several times a week in their kid’s lunch to normalize these foods and prevent kids from becoming sweet obsessed. It can be a piece of chocolate, a cookie, flavoured yogurt, banana bread, a muffin or any other sweet or baked good you feel comfortable offering your child.