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To Bento Or Not To Bento: The Pre-school Power Lunch (I’m about to learn a lot)


Somehow I’ve managed to avoid packing school lunches. It’s almost a miracle, really… and it’s about to change.

Both of the kids have solely attended daycare/preschools that provided lunch as well as morning/afternoon snacks, so the kids just ate a quick breakfast at home. When H began kindergarten last year, the price for a before-school breakfast and hot lunch was reasonable and her school had good quality, healthy and wholesome food; so we just loaded funds onto her school account. We did pack a morning snack for her and chipped in to the afternoon snacks her teacher collected. We got really lucky that the arrangements were so easy. Now, in a week H is attending summer camp where she needs to bring a packed lunch and Lo will be at a preschool where all students bring their own lunches (healthy morning/afternoon snacks are provided). I figure when September rolls around, it makes sense to keep packing lunches for both kids since one will need it anyway.

There are some awesome resources out there for brown-bagging it… interestingly, none of them recommend actual brown bags. I’ve really enjoyed reading about the creative/affordable/healthy/convenient ideas people have for their kid’s lunches and wanted to share for anyone else in the same boat.

The Best Bloggety Resource Out There

Okay, this lady is the coolest. Seriously. Her name is Melissa and she writes the super-helpful-to-me-anyway blog Another Lunch. I have no recollection of how I stumbled upon her posts, except probably after some serious Googling sessions and it has been the number one best resource. I feel like we’re friends already. Melissa, I promise not to stalk you, please don’t leave!

Another Lunch has not only cute lunch ideas, but some practical tips and most helpful of all, reviews and recommendations on tools for packing lunches. Full confession: I have no intention of packing lunches as adorable as hers. I just don’t have it in me. I do want to prepare lunches as healthy and well-rounded as hers, and I think a lot of the same tools will help me pack quick and well-received lunches for both kids. Each lunch she posts about includes a description of what she used to make it, and links to the products on the bottom.

Lunching Paraphernalia

Yeah, when you’re starting from scratch with this, it takes some tools. I’m keeping it simple for now, at least – no need to pick up a bunch of extra things to cut sandwiches into elephants and so on at this point… I just need stuff to put the food in:

  • After reading this How To Start post from Another Lunch and this round-up and review of lunch containers from 100 Days of Real Food, I went with the EasyLunchboxes which I ordered off Amazon and am waiting to be delivered. It’s awesome it comes in a set of four for less than $14!
  • Since I know I will be packing mostly finger foods and the kids don’t like things to mix together too much, I also tossed some Wilton re-usable baking cups, and Mini-Dippers (also from EasyLunchboxes) into my Amazon cart. It also brought me up to the $25 to get free shipping, which is nice. A lot of lunch ideas I’ve seen use the baking cups to create additional compartments.
  • Also on the recommendation of Another Lunch’s guide, I will wait until the lunchboxes get here and take one to Target to buy lunch bags that fit them. I really want to check the bags out in person, to be sure they have good insulation – neither kid will be able to use a refrigerator.
  • I’ll pick up some ice packs at some point, too. Any recommendations? Water filled vs. gel filled?

(also, I just spelled paraphernalia correctly on the first attempt. I deserve something for that.)

Pinning For A Good Lunch

I went a little pin-crazy on a Pinterest board, looking up lunch ideas. I’m hoping if I find myself stumped while making a grocery list, I might be able to refer back and come up with a couple realistic ideas. There are some other kick-ass boards with kid’s lunch ideas too (about half on the practical side and half on the shaping-food-like-panda-bears side) – check out this one and this one! EasyLunchboxes also have their own Pinterest boards too. No offense to anyone shaping their kids food like panda bears… I’m just not there yet.

To Bento Or Not To Bento

Our preschool recommends going for finger-food style packed lunches vs. the traditional brown-bag sandwich/fruit/chips/milk combo. This rings true for my own kids, who tend to love snack-ish items such as cheese cubes, fruit, carrots, and so on… but often don’t finish a whole sandwich or big item. Using a compartmental lunch box also allows me to add leftovers from dinner when there is something I think they are likely to eat cold the next day, like some pastas or pizza. We also have one kid who eats meat and the other doesn’t, so adding little bits of different things makes sense for us.

However, this strategy is not what a lot of people mean by bento. Check out the links I’ve listed above and you will see lunches with shapes cut out, cute little picks used to hold food, and very detailed themes. It has become a fad in some areas, from what I can tell online – and a lot of time can be spent turning a kids lunch into something creative and cute. I’m not sure this is my style, but for a lot of people it is worth it and a family bonding activity. What do you think? Over the top or a special treat? Maybe just on birthdays, or if the kid is old enough to work on it themselves? Or do you just stick to the traditional PBJ?

Going Nut-Less

Yes, I know. There was no real way to write it that didn’t come across that way, so I just went for it.

I totally support nut-free classrooms. It’s about safety, and I know I want care, respect, and kindness towards my children if they are ever in that boat. It is a challenge, though, and Lo’s new classroom is not only peanut-free but completely nut-free. Lo loooooves peanut butter – it is very much a staple in his diet. Because of this, I’m hoping to try out some peanut-butter-alternatives such as a soy-butter. Any experience with this, good or bad?

Wish me luck in the world of lunch-packing, and please drop me any suggestions, recommendations, and opinions! Especially if you have a magical peanut-butter-fake-that-tastes-delicious!

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Links to products on Amazon may be affiliate links. Keepin’ it real.


Author: Dani @ Painting Sunny

Hi there! I'm Dani, and it's lovely to meet you. My little family just moved to the quaint little college-town of Ithaca, NY and are loving it. Come hang out with me and talk about food, books, art, and other odd little things.

12 thoughts on “To Bento Or Not To Bento: The Pre-school Power Lunch (I’m about to learn a lot)

  1. Dani! I so appreciate your purchasing my EasyLunchboxes and I’m happy to know that my passionate community of lunch-packers is an inspiration for you :) I am so lucky to be able to share all the amazing ideas they come up with. I’ll look forward to seeing YOUR packed lunches here in the coming months. You’ll be an expert before you know it :)

  2. I’m sure you will love the EasyLunchboxes when they arrive, I know I do!

    I’m also sure once you start packing lunches you’ll really enjoy it :)

    I don’t even have any kids and I still make time to make myself bento, just because it’s such a fun hobby!

    I can’t wait to see what you pack :)

    • They have arrived and I can’t wait to start packing lunches on Monday! Let me know if you have any suggestions – It’s fun to be getting started :) xoxo, Dani

      • That’s exciting! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for your posts :)

        It seems you’ve got a good idea of how you want to pack them and I think they will be great :)
        I would say though that if you can get your hands on a vegetable medley (fresh or frozen) it can be a time and life saver!!!

  3. Pingback: Let’s Do Lunch Again Sometime | painting sunny

  4. My mother bought the Pack-it for my kid sister to take to school. It is AMAZING. Everything the infomercials say was true, and though there isn’t much of a variety of colors and designs, the ones they have are pretty. They honestly stay cold. My sister’s school has laundry baskets for each classroom that lunch boxes go in and gets taken to the lunchroom. with no refrigeration. Yet, my sister’s lunch stays cold :)

    • That is awesome and great to know! My kids don’t have refrigeration either (right now at summer camp and daycare, the lunchbox just stays in their cubby in the morning) so staying cold enough is key. Especially since they love yogurt, etc. Thanks for the tip! xo, Dani

  5. Sunbutter! Tastes just like peanut butter and is nut free! Target and other places sell it!

    • I am so silly, I never thought to check Target! And yes… I live 2 miles from one. Sun butter is now on the shopping list for this weekend! Thanks for the tip :) xo, Dani

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