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American Bento: 5 Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

American Bento: 5 Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

Do you remember your favorite school lunch as a kid? Perhaps it was something you could squeeze, stack or dip. Maybe it came in a fun box or was your mother's homemade special.

If you were like me, you eagerly anticipated this lunch all morning. You may have even found yourself bragging to your friends about how good it tasted. Meanwhile, you carefully guarded your lunch, because you wanted to enjoy every last bite.

This kind of passion over food is exactly what a bento box embodies. Translated as "convenient," bentos are single-serving, to-go meals originating in Japan. They are often used to develop healthy diets in young children,as atypical bento consists of an array of colorful foods displayed in an appealing manner. What makes bento special? A picture of one conveys it all. View amazing bentos on our Bento Box Ideas Pinterest board.

While bentos are convenient to eat, they can be far from convenient to make. Traditional Japanese homemakers spend hours a week preparing these fun and creative lunches for their children. Some mothers even craft food into their child's favorite cartoon character to tempt the child into eating it.

No doubt, bentos are an effective way to get children to eat healthier lunches at school. However, most parents simply do not have the time to make such laborious, hand-crafted lunches. You may even struggle finding time to make dinner much less lunch to take to school. Often store-bought or school lunches become the staple. Unfortunately, most school lunches in the U.S. continue to lack nutritional value, derailing your quest for healthier eating habits.

One solution to this problem is to find a happy middle ground between store-bought and homemade foods. You can turn the bento concept into a feasibly made lunch by choosing one item a day to craft into a fun shape or caricature. This small effort makes the food stand out to your child, and you may even have fun in the process.

To get you started with bento, here are five simple tools to create fun and easy back-to-school lunch ideas:

Cookie cutters

This is the easiest way to make food stand out in a lunch box. Use cookie cutters to turn sandwiches, fruit, and cheese into eye-catching shapes. To minimize waste, keep the scraps in place around the cut-outs or simply make an imprint in the food. You can also use cookie cutters as dividers in plastic lunch boxes and fill with small foods.

Plastic wrap

Use plastic wrap to mold foods into different shapes, such as a ball of rice with a surprise filling. To make this, place a spoonful of sticky (sushi) rice on plastic wrap. Next add dinner leftovers such as Kahiki StirFresh and top with more rice. Bring the edges of the plastic wrap up around the rice and squeeze into a ball.

Edible wrappers

Bite-sized pinwheels look cool and are easy to eat. Use edible wrappers such as tortillas or nori (seaweed) to make your own pinwheels. Mix a spoonful of cream cheese with sticky rice and spread a thin layer onto nori, making sure to leave at least ½ - inch room at the top edge. Add Kahiki Chicken Tempura in a single row at the bottom. Starting at the bottom, tightly roll the nori up around the chicken all the way to the top edge. Dip your finger in water and run over the top edge to seal. Slice the roll into pinwheels.

Brightly colored foods

Bento is known for its brightly colored foods arranged in a neat display. Quickly achieve this look by placing different colored fruits and vegetables in tightly-packed rows.

Store-bought treats

Remember, you do not have to make your child's bento completely from scratch. Save time by purchasing pre-made items you can pack alongside your homemade goods. Look for items that contain vegetables, such as Kahiki's vegetable egg rolls, to incorporate an extra serving into your child's lunch.

Equipped with these simple tools, you can provide your child a bento box lunch in minutes. While it is difficult to match the artistic display of a Japanese bento, the small efforts and special touches you add to your child's lunchbox will still make a memorable impact. Who knows? It may even spark a new bento family tradition.

Living the #KahikiLife,

Sarah B.