Bento Basics: Stock your pantry

The hardest part about packing school lunches is deciding what food to send. You want to send food you are confident they will eat. The challenge is that even non-picky eats can be fickle. One day they are happily eating green vegetables and the next they declare they will only eat things that are red. It’s hard to hit this moving target.

Making a list of your child’s likes can help you see you really do have some options. This was a simple exercise for me since I have photos of lunches from the last year. This is what I came up with:

Grains: sandwich bread, pita, flat bread, bagels, cheerios, pretzels, pancakes, snack mix, muffins

Dairy: yogurt, cottage cheese, babybel, cheddar slices, cream cheese

Protein: lunch meat (turkey and ham), salami, tofu, bacon, hard-boiled egg , hot dog/tofu dog, sausage, sunflower butter/peanut butter, hummus, beans (#2 only), lentils, felafel, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds

Fruit: kiwi (#2 only), grapes, pears, berries, watermelon, plum, oranges, clementines, mango, apple, raisins (#2 only)

Vegetables: celery, carrots, broccoli, cucumber, red and orange pepper, beets (#1 only)

Other: fruit leather, yogurt pretzels, chips and salsa

Don’t forget to add new foods to your list and to revisit it from time-to-time. I had a couple of “oh-yeah” moments making the list, remembering foods I haven’t sent in a while. This list can save you when you feel like you’re in a lunch-making rut.

Stock Up

While “knowing is half the battle”, you also need to have these foods on-hand. If your kitchen has foods your children will eat, making lunches will be that much easier. I shop at various stores but try to make it once a week to a local store called Berkeley Bowl. This local store has a humongous selection of produce for good prices. It also has the benefit of having some samples, which the children like.

We are fortunate enough to live near an excellent Farmer’s Market which we visit most Saturdays. My kids love to eat their weight in samples as we work our way through the market. I think it’s made an impact on their willingness to try new foods because I’m not always the one pushing something new.

The Bulk Section

Find a local store that has a bulk section. This is an excellent way to try out new foods you think your children might like. You can start by buying a small sample of something that looks promising and add to your rotation as you find things that work.

I throw all the snack-type food we have in our snack bin. This helps contain the mess in the pantry, since snack food seems to come in all shapes and sizes. When it’s time to make lunch, I pull out the bin and choose items to round out the lunch or snack.

The most important part of making lunches and snacks for your children is to give them something healthy that will nourish them. Anything beyond that – cute boxes, whimsical decorations – does not serve them if there is not nutritious food at its core. If you have healthy food to pack, the rest can come later.

How do you keep your kitchen and pantry stocked? What foods do your kids gobble up?

If you like this post, you may want to check out Foodler on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Bento Basics: Stock your pantry

  1. I like your idea of listing the lunch items. I might do that. I definately go thru school lunch ruts. Especially with 2 kids, one declares he doesn’t like raisens while the other does. I can’t keep up.

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