Friday, August 20, 2010

Food Revolution Friday: Back to School Lunches!

Back in June, I sent out a call for some guest bloggers for when I was going to be on vacation. Shannon over at What's For Lunch at Our House answered with this fantastic article on Bento lunches. Do you bento? I always thought it would be a lot of work, but reading her post makes me wish Jake was little again. Bentos look like fun to make, and eat! I wonder what a teenager sized Bento would look like?

Read on for some fantastic ideas for Bento lunches, and then get the how to over at Recipes From the Cookie Jar!

Take it away, Shannon.....

I'm very happy to be guest posting at Notes from the Cookie Jar. I actually found this site from the "Food Revolution Fridays" posts. It's a topic that I'm actually very interested in.

I grew up in Southern Ontario and our small JK-8 school did not offer cafeteria services. Neither did the other school next door or the other elementary & intermediate schools in the next little town over. I actually did not see a school cafeteria until high school. My mom made my lunch through high school.

When my own daughter was coming up to start kindergarten, I knew I'd be making her lunch as well, no matter what school we chose for her. I had seen the lunch menus from various schools posted online and knew that it simply wasn't what I wanted her to eat every single day.

One of the interesting ideas I saw online that I knew I wanted to try was "bento" lunches. Bentos are a traditional Japanese single serving boxed lunch. I loved the idea! Cute food, attractive packaging and they feature reusable green items, what more could I ask for?

Over the last three years, I've experimented with tons of ideas and learned a lot. One of the main things I've discovered is that bento doesn't have to take a whole lot of time or supplies.

Really, all you need is a nice reusable box and a good sharp knife! If you like cute, a few cookie cutters don't hurt, but they really aren't necessary.

For boxes, there are tons of options online. Easy Lunchboxes and Laptop Lunches both provide complete sets of reusable lunchboxes and ship to Canada. In Canada, we have also had luck at the Dollarama. They sometimes sell great kids boxes with a removable divider. We have Dora, Diego, Spongebob & Strawberry Shortcake, and are the perfect size for kids.

Fun, but not necessary, items are silicone muffin cups to help separate messy food, cute cupcake picks or toothpicks for decorations, and cookie cutters to shape the food (a simple cheese heart or melon star on top works wonders to pretty up a box). Look around the kitchen too, I was surprised how many things I had that could be used in a bento box without buying more items.

But still, the sky is the limit! Inside the box is usually a mix of yummy foods attractively presented. Bright colors of fruits match up well against simple brown sandwich bread, half a boiled egg adds pretty yellow to the palette, fresh green veggies or bright orange carrots make a box so much more colorful.

Some of our favorites include:

Stuffed muffins (savory corn muffins with meat, cheese or veggies inside)
Mini quiches made in muffin pans
Kebabs of meats & cheese or fruit or pretty much anything on a stick!
Boiled eggs
Mini meatballs
Sandwiches cut into shapes or rolled into pinwheels
Mini pita bread sandwiches (perfect for egg/tuna/chicken salad)
Pasta salads
Mini bagels with cream cheese
Chef salads with meat, cheese & eggs
Lots & lots of cut up fruit
Raw veggies with dip
Healthier dessert items like mini muffins, homemade breads & bars, etc

This is probably my favorite part about bentoing for my kids. It forces me to be creative, to figure out how to pack the best types & balance of foods in that little box. It's not a matter of just adding one more baggie, it has to fit and look cute. In the process, it ends up being healthier. I'll add in a couple extra carrots or grapes to hold the food in place, so they get a few extra pieces of fruit or veggies in the process.

Bento lunches can be as simple or as fancy as you want to make them, as well as with as much or little prep work as you want to do. Either way, they are typically healthier and definitely greener than other alternatives and definitely worth a try!

Want some bento lunch ideas? Check out this post over at Recipes From the Cookie Jar!

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