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Who doesn’t love the elaborate bento boxes that some parents create for their children? They’re fabulously creative and so detailed that they use tweezers to place tiny bits of seaweed, peppers, and other organic material to create eyes, noses, and more. But who’s got time for that? Most of us are lucky if we can slap some PB&J between two pieces of bread and throw in a juice box. But I’m here to tell you there is a way to pack healthier lunches, make them cute, and not spend hours in the kitchen!
Choosing a Bento Box Lunch Container
The first step is select your bento box. My personal preference is a stainless steel bento (read why I recommend stainless steel lunch and drink containers). Yes, this Steeltainer Leak-proof Stainless Steel Full Size Container has some plastic parts, but the part that touches the food is stainless steel. I’ve tried all-stainless options and they leaked, so this is a nice compromise. The 12 oz Thermos Funtainer Bottle also has a plastic straw, but again, the part that touches the liquid for the most part is stainless. Plus if you put cold water into the container as well as cold juice, it stays chilled for about 4 hours. Funtainers come in fun Disney characters as well, though I chose a plain one that can be decorated with vinyl I cut with my electronic cutter or stickers.
Once you have your container, it’s time to think about the cute factor. Most people use plastic picks with adorable character shapes and silicone cupcake wrappers, but that defeats the purpose of converting to stainless steel. We want to get plastic out of our kids’ food. Plus, most of the plastic pics do not say whether or not they contain BPA and since there’s no law against using BPA, I assume it’s there unless otherwise stated. Sure, they’re cute, but at what cost?
Bento Box: Quick & Easy Ways to Make it Fun
So how do I create a cute bento without silicone and plastic? With paper. But wait! Yes, I know that using paper adds trash to landfills, but for the health tradeoff, I’m willing to add 2-3 paper cupcake cups to the landfill. Plus, these are not your typical cupcake wrappers, they’re unbleached cupcake wrappers (in standard and mini sizes). It’s the bleaching process that’s so harmful to the environment, and paper is biodegradable, so I’m OK with the choice. I also use Unbleached Paper Snack & Sandwich Bags instead of plastic bags.
Next I purchased a few canape cutters – a set of simple shapes for versatility – rounds and stars in a variety of sizes. These are metal so they’re durable, can cut through meat easily, and are two-sided for even more cutting shapes. Combine the sizes and shapes to create animals, flowers, and more.
The one plastic item I used in the creation of my bento box is a hard boiled egg shaper that claimed to be BPA-free. I believe it was either an error or a misrepresentation on the seller’s part because nowhere on the packaging does it repeat the claim. I won’t use it often because the egg has to be hot when it’s put inside, and it’s the heat that causes the plastic to leach.
Bento Box: Nutritious Options
Now that I have all the items I need for packaging, I need some healthy food options!
- CVS Gold Emblem Abound Raw Natural Almonds – Ingredients? Almonds. That’s it. Have you read some of the ingredients in the foods you eat? You’d be surprised what they put in some of them.
- CVS Gold Emblem Abound Stoned Wheat Crackers – These crackers are smaller than standard saltines which make them perfect for kids!
- Gold Emblem Abound Fuji Apple & Raspberry Clusters – Also available in Fuji Apple & Raspberry and Fuji Apple & Cinnamon Clusters. Fuji apples and blueberries diced into tiny pieces, that are freeze-dried for a crunchy sweet snack. Ingredients: Freeze-dried Fuji apples, freeze-dried blueberries, fruit pectin, and apple juice concentrate
- Gold Emblem Abound Banana Crisps – No sugar is added to this naturally fat-free food. Just freeze dried bananas that kids love.
- Organic Hard Boiled Egg – molded into a star shape – leave it whole or slice it in half
- Natural Ham and Cheese – cut into small shapes which fit nicely onto the stoned wheat crackers. If desired, you can add a teaspoon of mustard for dipping.
- Organic Baby Carrots – cut in half horizontally and placed between the wrappers
- Gold Emblem Abound Organic Cranberry Juice – Also available – Organic Grape Juice and Organic Apple Juice. Made with no added sugar and they cost just 12 cents an ounce – that’s less than a dollar a serving! Ingredients: Filtered Water, Organic Apple Juice Concentrate, Organic Cranberry Juice, Organic Fruit And Vegetable Extract (color), Organic Cranberry Flavor, Cranberry Essence
Additional Options to Stave off Lunchtime Boredom:
These Gold Emblem Abound foods are healthier because they use nutritious ingredients, no artificial preservatives, and no artificial flavors, and there are options for everyone! Choose from organic, gluten-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free products.
Here are a few that are especially lunch box worthy.
- CVS Gold Emblem Abound Strawberry & Banana Fruit Twists
- Gold Emblem Abound Unsalted Deluxe Mixed Nuts and trail mix
- CVS Gold Emblem Abound Snack Bars: Mango & Raspberry, Pomegranate & Cranberry, Red Fruit & Chia, Chocolate Chunk & Chia, Blueberry & Pomegranate Superfruit, and Strawberry. Plus Mango & Strawberry Fruit & Veggie Bars
- CVS Gold Emblem Abound Baked Rice Crisps: Sea Salt Flavored, Sea Salt & Vinegar Flavored & Barbeque Flavored – these are fantastic with cream cheese
- Gold Emblem Abound Crisps: Mixed Fruit, Strawberry, and Banana
- Gold Emblem Abound Crunch: Cranberry Orange Almond, Cherry Vanilla Almond, and Blueberry Lemon Almond
- CVS Gold Emblem Abound Organic 8-Grain Wheat Crackers
- CVS Gold Emblem Breakfast biscuits, macaroni and cheese, salsa, peanut butter, jelly, and more!
Don’t forget to pick up after school snacks!
Check for CVS Gold Emblem Coupons online – there are two worth $5 off currently available
Assembling a Bento Box Lunch in 5 Minutes
Cut thin slices of meat and cheese. Use the canape cutters to cut them into sizes that fit the cracker (eat the scraps or use them for soup – toss them in the freezer and add to them everyday – cut closer together to avoid waste). Cut the mini carrots horizontally. Turn the cupcake wrappers inside out and start filling with ingredients. Use the cut carrots, cut side down, to fill in the gaps. Pour the chilled juice into the refillable container which has been chilled with cold water first. That’s it!
Bento Box: Decorate It!
Instead of fussing with the food inside the bento box, use inexpensive repositionable stickers to decorate the outside. I used a Pixar Studios sticker I bought on my last trip there. It’s the perfect way to add a little fun for an older child and it can be removed and discarded or washed in place. Or use Post-It Notes to write a note telling her how much you’re looking forward to seeing her after school. Or use it as a reminder to let him know that today he’s going to a friend’s house for a playdate. Kids love finding a note in their lunchbox and they’ll start to look forward to it! It’s a great way to tell your child she’s fabulous.
I handwash my bento boxes to keep the plastic pieces in great shape to avoid leaking. Using the unbleached cupcake wrappers eliminates a lot of the mess and a quick swipe with some warm soapy water and it’s ready to be repacked for the next day.
Bento Box: Take it On the Road
Got a toddler at home? Pack a bento box for his lunch at the same time. It will save you time later on when lunch is ready and they love doing what their older sibling does! But bento boxes aren’t just great for school lunches, they’re perfect for bringing along in the car for a mess-free lunch on the road. Or pack one the next time you have a trip by plane scheduled. They’re less expensive than airport food and better quality as well!
Also check out our Healthy Breakfast at Home or On-the-Go in 5 Minutes! plus our Travel Packing Tips: Pack to Stay Healthy While Traveling for more quick and easy tips.
How do you pack your child’s lunchbox? Do you do a bento box or brown bag it?