Anyone in the midst of back-to-school preparations likely has noticed that the face of lunchtime has changed.
A quick walk through the school supply section reveals a whole new landscape in the lunch aisle. Gone are the mini-metal, thermos-filled suitcases of yore, replaced with square, compartmentalized containers in funky, insulated carriers.
Gone, too, is the expectation that p, b and j slapped between a couple slices of white bread is healthy. There has been a conscious movement among many parents to move away from sodium- or sugar-laden processed foods, hoping to control what goes down junior's gullet with home-packed options.
But this movement has highlighted another potential problem: You can lead a kid to a carrot stick, but you can't make him eat it. Which is to say, you can pack a healthy lunch, but what good is it if it ends up in the trash or traded away?
That's where these Bento-style containers and a little creativity come into play. With a few cookie cutters and a bit of forethought, providing a delicious, healthy lunch can be all that and a bag of chips. Except without the bag of chips.
There are plenty of reasons to love these new reusable containers.
The good: Food stays put, removing fears from the "Food can't touch!" contingent. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are dishwasher safe.
The not-so-bad: Buying the containers is a one-time investment that ends up saving money and landfill space no longer buying paper bags and plastic baggies.
The no-longer ugly: Having the space of a container allows for creativity. And frankly, anyone who ever has packed a cupcake for lunch can relate to preferring non-smooshed food.
Do-it-yourself: Pre-packaged deli meat, cheese and cracker packs seem cheap, but when you calculate the amount of food you're getting for the price, you might as well be serving filet mignon. Buying deli meat and cheeses in bulk not only saves money, but the items can be used in a variety of ways: serve them with crackers Monday, roll them in a tortilla on Tuesday, then opt for the traditional sandwich on Wednesday.
Don't give up the crunch: Love a little crunch with lunch but want to reduce sodium or fat? Try replacing chips with almonds, peanuts, homemade trailmix or even popcorn.
Leftovers for lunch: Grilled chicken legs, cold pizza and mac-n-cheese all make for refreshingly different lunchtime entrees. Consider heating these items before school and wrapping them in foil to maintain heat. There are also a variety of inexpensive, less-bulky containers perfect for soup and casserole lovers.
Make it pretty: Cookie cutters are perfect for stamping out fun shapes into otherwise plain-looking items. Junior may not be a fruit lover, but he might try a star-shaped apple slice after a piece of heart-shaped cheese. Bonus: Save the trimmings to use in the next day's quesadillas or sandwiches.