When it comes to lunch at work or school, many of us send the kids with lunch money, or stop at a fast food restaurant or convenience store day in and day out, rather than face the dreaded lunchbox. Even though we know we could save money and eat healthier by bringing lunch from home, the question of what to pack, plus the time it can take to put it all together, AND lack of variety week after week, can strike fear and dread into the strongest of people! Boxed lunches seem to have so many requirements; the "ideal" lunch would be:
- easily transported
- able to stay fresh until lunchtime
- balanced nutritionally
- both healthy and tasty
- and most of – have VARIETY!
Of course, sandwhiches are an old standby because they are so portable. However, variety can be a big challenge. I still remember when I was in the seventh grade and my mom gave me a tuna fish sandwhich for lunch just about EVERY DAY for the whole year! A few days during the year I got roast beef as a special treat, but that was rare. Once she gave me salmon instead of tuna, but didn't tell me because she thought I wouldn't like it. She was right – because I thought it was bad tuna and tossed it in the garbage!
Sandwhiches are OK once in awhile, but even if you vary the type of bread or the fillings occasionally, it's still a sandwhich, and they get old after awhile.
As I have been searching recently for solutions to my own lunchbox challenges and those of my clients (the what to have for lunch question comes up a lot!), I came across a Japanese box lunch technique called Bento. Basically, Bento is a simple boxed lunch, usually in some sort of box container that has some different compartments to keep different foods separate. Boxes can be very simple, such as disposable compartmented take-out containers, or elaborate, made of wood or lacquerware. Lunch contents can also be very simple, or decorative, being made to look like animals or cartoon characters, or with fruit and vegetables cut into fun shapes, etc.
I like the idea of using a plastic lunch container with three or more compartments. It makes preparation simple – just pick three items, place them in the box, and you're good to go. To simplify the process, I have listed some food options that can be packed into the different compartment. You can make an endless variety of healthy lunches just by mixing and matching from these lists!
|Carbohydrates||Proteins||Fruits and Veggies|
|tortilla wedges||almond butter||green pepper strips|
|mini bagels||tuna salad||carrot sticks|
|muffins||grilled chicken||cucumber slices|
|rice cakes||sliced steak||celery sticks|
|popcorn cakes||taco seasoned ground meat||green salad|
|wheat thins||nitrate-free deli meats||fruit salad|
|rice crisps||nitrate-free chicken sausage||pineapple wedges|
|nut thins||hard boiled eggs||banana|
|quinoa||greek yogurt||broccoli florets|
|melba toast||cottage cheese||cauliflower florets|
|brown rice||part-skim Mozzarella sticks||apple slices (skin on)|
|pasta salad||almonds||orange sections|
|all-fruit spread||cashews, walnuts||peach slices, nectarine|
|dried fruit||quinoa||fresh strawberries|
|spaghetti squash||fritata||fresh blueberries|
Kids and adults alike love to dip. At my house it's a challenge to get my kids to eat raw vegetables (not always my favorite either), but if I cut them up ahead of time and give them a little low-fat ranch dip, the veggies diappear like magic! So for lunchboxes, one of the smaller compartments could be used for your favorite dip. Some ideas:
- caramel dip for apples
- low-fat ranch dip for veggies
- vanilla yogurt dip for fruits
If you like to save dinner leftovers for the next day's lunch, a microwaveable compartmented box is ideal – just drop some meat and sides into the box, and you'll be ready to go in the morning with no prep whatsoever!
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but hopefully will give you some ideas to start with.
If you'd like to find some great boxes that are easy and fun to use for bento lunches, check these out at Amazon.com:
Do you have some favorite lunchbox meal or snack ideas? Please share them in the comment section below – we'd all love some more suggestions!
To your health,