Food & Drink

How to make creative school lunches


Fresno mom enjoys getting creative with her daughters school lunch


Cookies cutters are an easy way to make sandwiches into funny shapes


Bento boxes can be a good way to get your child to try new and different foods


Miriam Widenham has always had a creative side. So when this Fresno mom ran across some photos on social media of whimsical children’s school lunches, she decided to give it a try.

“I thought, why not, I get up early enough in the morning, I can do this,” Widenham says. “Little did I know I would become hooked on it.”

Widenham borrows the Japanese bento box concept and gives it her own spin. Unlike the traditional Japanese meal of rice, meat and cooked vegetables tightly packed in a box-shaped container, Widenham uses brightly colored silicone containers to hold everything from cherry tomatoes to cucumber slices. She uses cookie cutters, fondant cutters and egg molds to make sandwiches and hard boiled eggs into silly shapes like pandas, fish or dinosaurs.

To share her enthusiasm, Widenham posts photos of the lunches on her Facebook and Instagram pages. So far, she’s made and photographed 286 lunches.

“It’s a lot of fun making these,” she says. “Plus my daughter really enjoys them.”

Nine-year-old Sophia Medrano, Widenham’s daughter, says her classmates are always curious about what her mother has come up with. She admits to enjoying the attention her lunches get in the cafeteria.

“I am the only one in school who gets a lunch like this,” Sophia says.

Widenham feels lucky. Her daughter eats nearly everything in her lunch.

“There a few sweet treats in there, but she has also learned to enjoy foods like sugar snap peas with hummus, red bell pepper and quail eggs,” Widenham says.

Although some moms have made snarky comments about how much time Widenham spends making her daughter’s lunch, she says it only takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Having the right tools and foods is important.

Widenham has a collection of about 500 cookie cutters that are strictly devoted for creating shapes out of bread, lunch meat or cheese. She recommends shopping online for cookie or sandwich cutters. She has found quite a few cutters in San Francisco at Daiso, a Japanese-based department store. She has also purchased egg molds that press shapes and designs onto a hard boiled egg.

To reduce waste, Widenham or her dog usually eats the scraps of leftover bread and other sandwich ingredients. She also recommends buying soft bread, it makes the cutting easier.

One her daughter’s favorite lunches was the blue food coloring her mom used to make ramen noodles look like the bottom of the ocean.

“That was really good,” Sophia says.

Widenham actually stopped making the bento lunches for a while after enrolling at National University, where she is studying to be an elementary school teacher. But that didn’t last long.

“My daughter really began missing my lunches.” she says. “So I made a commitment to her that I would continue as long as I could.”