By Carlo Pandian, Guest Blogger
I’m not sure how Japanese mothers find time to create the mini-masterpieces for their children called Bento. To us that means packed lunch – but the Japanese take the cultural tradition of ‘presentation’ to the extreme with these works of art. Shaped to resemble teddy bears, pandas or cartoon characters kid’s packed lunches in Japan not only manage to look incredible but they’re even full of all kinds of foods to fuel healthy, energetic kids. I could probably knock together a Telly-Tubby mashed potato sculpture if I was pressed, but this level of dedication is beyond me, especially at half six in the morning! In my case, I’m afraid that quality, not presentation, is difficult enough to achieve on a daily basis. For those of you who sympathize, here are three packed lunch ideas to turn the kids away from crisps and chocolate. These are focused on three essential ingredients for mums; cost, effort and vegetarian/healthy options.
Vegetarian, Low Cost and Low Effort Ingredients
A vegetarian packed lunch is a good idea to include in your weekly pack-ups even if you and the kids are not full-time vegetarians. With health warnings about the risks of too much red meat in our diets ringing in our already overloaded brains, it makes sense to include a vegetarian choice now and then. It also adds variety to the menu – which is half the battle.
• Hummus is great source of protein and energy and can be added to wholesome pita bread with green salads. Tasty and slightly messy this should appeal. Add chunks of cucumber for additional sources of five a day. A fruit Fromage Frais can be included for dessert along with grapes and a milk.
Cost is on everybody’s mind at the moment and pack ups are the original money saving lunch idea, which have been common for centuries. Low cost doesn’t mean unhealthy. The following are useful ideas:
• Toasted sandwiches fall into the low cost options. Tuna with canola oil mayo or low fat cheeses are excellent fillings. The toasted effect keeps the bread from getting too mushy for our picky kids. Whole grain pasta is another great, low cost buy to keep handy. Beans or vegetables can be added to make a tempting pasta salad and this can be prepared and packed in advance.
As mentioned, half six in the morning is not a good time to design and implement a food sculpture. Half six in the morning is the time for battling with the cat over the familiar issue of her food and your coffee. For those with several kids to coax downstairs as well, effortless pack ups are a godsend.
• Pita breads are an excellent pocket lunch and unlike bread they don’t need cutting! I use them a lot. Fillings can include bean salads, or egg salads and green salads. Teach your kids to love dried fruit like apricots, at an early age and brook no resistance; they’re healthy and preparation is limited to taking them out of the packet. String cheeses are just as easy and a great source of protein and calcium.
These of course are just a few ideas, but some of the ingredients, particularly pita bread and pasta are fantastic basics for a range of easy lunches. Your imagination is the only limit. Keeping packed lunches varied can be a chore of a task, but using staples as mentioned above and varying the ingredients daily can help to break away from the boredom of meat based sandwiches! Keeping kids interested is, as we all know, more than half the battle.
Carlo is a freelance writer and blogs about food, culture and technology covering everything from grocery shopping to contemporary art. He loves gardening and can’t stay a week without his fruit boxes and Italian wine. Carlo loves to eat with his niece, Clotide.