Back to School Bento

The month of August is like biting into a sour patch kid. The thought of getting back into morning routine, kids in bed by 8pm while the sun is still shining, sitting in carpool lane and packing lunches on the regular just puts a sour taste in my mouth! All the while, it’s our duty as parents to encourage our little ones to be on time, expand their minds, get excited about school and take on challenges of a new year with  a positive outlook and embrace new adventures. Believe it or not, though I am a chef and love to cook… the thought of creative school lunches gives me a migraine! First, you have to be aware of peanut-free facilities, the lack of refrigeration, and pack something kids can eat in less than 25 minutes. (in reality it is less than 10 minutes because they are little chatter boxes)  The next challenge is whether or not you have a picky eater or any food allergies/sensitivities. Fortunately, my child will eat almost anything since we have insisted from birth she try new foods daily. However, being a cooking camp instructor and working with children from all ages and backgrounds I have been challenged with the pickiest taste buds and sensitivities. What has consistently worked time and time again is the level of involvement the child had in preparing his/her food.
Researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, studied how cooking with a child affects the child’s eating habits. In one study, nearly 600 children from kindergarten to sixth grade took part in a nutrition curriculum intended to get them to eat more vegetables and whole grains. Some children, in addition to having lessons about healthful eating, took part in cooking workshops. The researchers found that children who had cooked their own foods were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria, and even ask for seconds, than children who had not had the cooking class.
Cooking with kids is rewarding and got me thinking on how we can incorporate cooking into school lunches. Thus the creation of Back to School Bento Boxes!  My daughter loves Chipotle’s burrito bowls with rice & beans and adds her favorite toppings to it. So, I created the following box combination where kids can actually mix the ingredients, add their sauce and veggies and become more involved in the meal. If studies are correct, they will become more likely to eat new foods, enjoy their lunch and most importantly give a big high five to mom or dad (which makes it all worth it).

Back to School Bento Box 
½ cup of cooked white rice
½ cup of Trader Joes Cuban black beans ( or any organic black bean in the can)
¼ cup of shredded lettuce
¼ cup of cotija cheese, crumbled
½ of avocado, diced
2 TBSP of pineapple or red salsa
¼ cup of steamed chopped broccoli or roasted asparagus
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
½ cup of diced grilled chicken

For the bento box arrange all the ingredients in small clear containers with a bowl for mixing.  Write a recipe in the box and let your little one choose the combination.  Throw in some grapes or diced strawberries for dessert.  At the end of the day, ask your child what combination they chose and what they would like to see different.  This can become a fun game and gives the child more authority over what they eat and enjoy.

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