School Lunchtime, Think Inside the Boxes

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The bell is ringing and that means it is “Back to School” time! What better time to get your students on the healthy track by rethinking the lunch routine. The new trend in school lunch box packing actually involves lots of boxes, little. Individual boxes, all inside what is called a bento box. These are streaming from a traditional Japanese was of sending out meals which divides the food items in separate compartments. The food is kept separate from each other and thus making it safer and aids in retaining flavor. There are many bento boxes on the market, you can make your own using airtight containers. By the way these are not just for school lunches they are great for office lunches as well.

Some things to remember if you are choosing or building your own bento lunch box includes;

*The container should be as leak-proof as possible.

 For any container you use, do a leak-test by filling it with water and shaking it around a bit. If any moisture leaks out easily, you probably want to try another box. *The container should be easy to wash and take care of.
Many bento boxes are not dishwasher safe, just be sure to check the label of whatever product you choose, so you will know if hand washing is necessary.

*The container should be microwave safe if you intend to nuke it.
If you work in office and have access to a microwave oven, you may want to heat up your lunch in it. Again many of the bento boxes are not microwaveable as traditional they were created to eat food at room temperature, so check the label.

*The container should be the right size for your dietary needs. This is especially important if you are watching your calories to any extent. Also for yourself and your children keep food guidelines in mind.

USDA recommends

2/3 cup Fruits

1 1/8 cups Veggies

¾ cup Proteins

1 ½ cups Grains

1/8 cup Calcium

There are hundreds of resources with loads of great lunch menus created in compartments, often turning your lunch creation into playful characters. Here are a few easy ones that are adult and kid approved.

Fun Finger Food

String Cheese

6 or 8 whole grain or whole wheat crackers

1 cup of broccoli and cauliflower, maybe add a small container of Fat Free Ranch Dressing

½ cup of blueberries

Slice of sweet bread, such as banana bread

Bagel Peanut Butter and Jelly

Peanut butter and Jelly on a whole wheat mini bagel

¾ cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, with a small amount of dressing

½ cup of pineapple chunks (no sugar added of course, fresh is best)

4 mini oatmeal cookies

Leftover Pizza Party

Cut up slices of veggie pizza

¾ cup of sliced cucumbers

½ cup of popcorn

½ cup of purple or white grapes

Pita and Protein

2 whole wheat mini pita pockets, filled with grilled chicken strips and veggies, such as carrots and bell peppers

¾ cup low fat or Greek vanilla yogurt with sliced strawberries

½ cup sugar snap peas

8 animal crackers

Mix and match from each of these category ideas for a wide variety of lunches all week. 



-apples slices or chunks (dip in pineapple or lemon juice to prevent browning)

-berries — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries




-melon chunks — watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe

-dried fruit — raisins, dried cranberries, dried apples, banana chips, etc.

-canned peaches or pears — drain and rinse with water to remove excess sugar.


-pineapple chunks

-orange or clementine wedges


-carrot sticks

-red, green or yellow bell pepper strips

cucumber slices

celery sticks

grape tomatoes

steamed green beans

-broccoli and cauliflower spears




-leftover meat from dinner cut into chunks — you can send almost anything: roast chicken, pork roast, chicken legs and taco filling are just a few

-chicken or turkey sausage with BBQ sauce or catsup for dipping

-deli meats — turkey, ham, salami


-peanut butter “sandwiches” made with crackers or graham crackers



-mini-pizzas — top mini-pitas with sauce, cheese and turkey pepperoni

-hard boiled eggs



-whole grain crackers

-pretzel sticks


-goldfish crackers, cheddar bunnies or other snack crackers

-pretzel thins

-bagel chips

-mini-rice cakes or rice crackers

-leftover pasta — toss with some chopped veggies and vinaigrette or a little olive oil, garlic salt and parmesan.

-granola bars

-banana bread, zucchini bread, or other quick breads

-cereal bars

-dry cereal


-pita bread — best to toast these so they don’t get soggy. Mini pitas are fun or you can cut a big one into wedges.



-cheese cubes

-cheese slices

-cottage cheese

-string cheese, Laughing Cow, Babybel or other small single-serving cheeses

Written By

Photo of Tammy Kelly, Ed. DTammy Kelly, Ed. DCounty Extension Director (252) 527-2191 tammy_kelly@ncsu.eduLenoir County, North Carolina
Posted on Aug 26, 2013
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