Bento box lunches for back to school

Registered dietitian shares four kid-friendly meals

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WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. – For many parents, it's a dreaded nightly chore -- trying to fill your child's lunchbox with food that's nutritious, easy to eat, nut-free and that tastes good.

As the school year gets underway, we asked an expert for some advice to start the semester off right.

Bethany Thayer is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Henry Ford Health System. As a mom to two teenage boys, she also has years of personal experience packing lunches.

Thayer says to start packing better lunches -- think inside the box -- the bento box.

"The bento box is something we get from Japanese culture," Thayer said.

Bento boxes have been around for centuries, but the latest colorful silicone versions are dishwasher-safe and perfect for school lunches.

"The foods don't touch each other, for those kids who don't want their food to touch each other, and portion sizes work out really well, too," said Thayer. "You end up with a very colorful, portion-appropriate lunch box."

There are various styles of bento boxes available, ranging in price from a few dollars up to about $25.

To create even more compartments for food, Thayer likes silicone muffin cups. Those cost about $9 for 12.

"If you're going to use the larger section of the bento box for a sandwich, you can still use some of these to add some smaller servings of something else," Thayer said.

Thayer said that the formula for a healthy lunch is simple: Try to include one fruit, one vegetable, one whole grain, one protein and one dairy.

"Make sure things are cut, or sliced or peeled, so they can just grab them," said Thayer.

As for dessert, "It doesn't have to be something you do every day," Thayer said. "Make it a treat."

Local 4 asked Thayer to create four sample lunches using ingredients most children like.

Bento Box Nachos
Details here.

Pinwheel Wrap Box
Whole grain tortilla (8-inch)
Lean turkey (2 ounces)
Cheese slice (1 ounce)
Grapes (1/2 cup)
Carrots Coins (1/2 cup)

Pita and Hummus Box
Whole grain pita triangles
Grape tomatoes
Orange – Clementine if possible

Egg and Co. Box
Hardboiled egg
Cheese squares
Red pepper sticks
Whole-grain chips

The bento boxes have the feel of prepackaged box meals, but give parents more control over the contents.

"If you rely on prepackaged items, you tend to get more salt, more sugar, things the kids don't necessarily need, and they're expensive," Thayer said. "To save money and to make sure you're getting everything into the lunch that you know your child likes and to make it healthy, it's much better to make your own."

Thayer's most important lunch packing advice: Be sure to involve your children in the process.

"If they're actually putting the foods in, they're much more likely to eat those," Thayer said.