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Think Inside the Box: Bento Boxes are the Trend in New-School Lunch

The biggest challenge when coming up with a suitable school lunch is ensuring kids will actually eat what you send. Involving them in the process helps, even while they’re at school – one-up the prepackaged Lunchable, putting your own spin on it while keeping the fun factor.

Face it: it’s what kids want. Those small compartments filled with deconstructed pizza/subs/tacos has universal appeal. A compromise: pack whole wheat mini-pitas, tortillas, crackers or naan and any number of fillings: cubed or shredded cheese, hard-boiled eggs, refried beans, tuna, leftovers; frozen meat (small cooked meatballs, leftover roast beef, chicken, pork or ham) will stay cool but thaw by lunchtime. Try including spaghetti or pizza sauce, salsa, cranberry sauce, avocado, raisins – use your imagination, and they’ll use theirs. (What’s wrong with a granola-and-cheese pita?)

Real bento boxes are available, but inexpensive fishing tackle boxes, sewing/craft kits and utility boxes come in all shapes and sizes and are durable, washable and cost about as much as (and often less than) traditional lunch boxes. They act as kid-friendly Bento boxes with little compartments to store ingredients for do-it-yourself pizzas, tacos, stuffed mini-pitas, crackers and cheese, or whatever your child can imagine. The DIY Lunchable saves plastic containers and other packaging, requires minimal morning prep (easier than making a sandwich) and inspires creativity, which might be just what kids need when they’d rather play than eat.

What to consider when packing a school lunch?

Fresh Fruit & Veg: It’s always better to eat your fruit than drink it, and there’s no need for packaging; let kids choose new varieties, or try packing dried fruit such as apricots, blueberries and pears. Vegetables are even better (so long as they get eaten); try mini cucumbers.

Baked Goods: A little lovin’ from the oven is always a good idea; homemade batches of granola bars, cookies, quick breads or muffins are easy to freeze, then grab and go. (This works for breakfasts in the car, too.) Foil, plastic wrap and zip-top baggies are all recyclable (so long as they’re clean); email Swerve and we’ll send you some fantastic lunchbox recipes.

No Nuts? If your school is nut-free but your kids love PB&J, try NoNuts Golden Pea Butter or send sunflower or pumpkin seeds, which are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

Water Bottle: An unsweetened apple juice box contains 23 grams of sugar (to compare: a full-sized Eatmore bar contains 18 g) and generally only has vitamin C added. No added sugar doesn’t mean sugar free – some things just contain enough sugar to begin with. Water is the best hydrator; BPA free bottles are inexpensive and easy to find, even at dollar stores now.

Wet Cloth: Pack a wet-nap or wet washcloth in a zip-top baggie so your kids can clean their hands before they eat even if they haven’t made it to a sink.

Bonus Points: Fortune cookies are a sweet treat with about 30 calories, next to no fat and little sugar, plus a message and lucky numbers tucked inside. Buy them by the box in the Asian section of the grocery store.

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