Jane Lawson’s son, Kellan, 5, holds one of his favorite lunch and snack ideas. He likes to help spread peanut butter and honey on a whole wheat tortilla.
Jane Lawson’s son, Kellan, 5, holds one of his favorite lunch and snack ideas. He likes to help spread peanut butter and honey on a whole wheat tortilla.
August 19, 2013

One of my favorite books is "Yoko" by Rosemary Wells. It is a sweet tale of a little Japanese cat named Yoko whose mother tenderly packs her favorite lunch, sushi, in a special lunch box. The students in Yoko's class make fun of her lunch, and this makes Yoko feel very sad. Yoko's teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, decides to have an international food day so everyone bring food from their culture to share with the class.

Yoko brings a deluxe box of sushi to school hoping others will try the food she loves. Her sushi doesn't end up being a hit, but she does find one special friend who enjoys sushi as much as her.

The start of the new school year often means a new lunch box for school aged children. This year, my son, Kellan, is entering kindergarten and he just had to have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox. He would prefer if I would pack him cold lunch every day (he says it's so he can sit down and start eating right away, rather than wait in the lunch line), but I know he also likes the goodies I pack for him inside.

In the book, Yoko's lunch is packed in a Bento box. Bento is a single portion of takeout food or a home-packed meal that is very common in Japanese cuisine. Traditionally Bento contains fish or meat, rice and cooked or pickled vegetables. There are disposable boxes as well as fancy lacquered boxes and fun boxes for children. Often Japanese homemakers spend much time carefully preparing a lunch box for their husband or child. A children's Bento may contain an elaborately shaped rice ball made to look like a panda or another favorite character such as Hello Kitty.

Bento lunches can be as creative as you'd like making food into art. The food can be artfully arranged inside the container to resemble an animal or even a scene using different shaped food or small cookie cutters to cut meat, cheese or slices of melon.

Try making a cat face made out of a round bread face and ears made of triangles of cheese. Or make a sub sandwich and stick a shortened bent flexible straw in the top of the bun with goldfish crackers swimming around the sandwich.

Even in the United States, Bento is gaining popularity. The good thing is, Bento can be simple. It's all about the presentation. If the food looks fun, kids will eat it.

Some Bento boxes have built-in dividers, but any medium-sized storage container can be used. Keep moist and dry foods away from each other by using waxed paper, muffin liners or even lettuce leaves.

Begin with a sandwich cut into fun shapes or let kids assemble a sandwich of cheese, meat and crackers themselves at the lunch table. If you fill in around the foods with small items, the food will stay put and keep its shape. Ideas for fill-ins are wrapped cheese such as Babybel, raisins or any dried fruit, berries, raw veggies like baby carrots, cereal mix, crackers, or cookies.

Another way to entice kids to eat healthful foods is to skewer grapes, cheese, blueberries, etc. on toothpicks (remove toothpicks first for toddlers).

If serving lunch at home, a muffin pan that holds six muffins is perfect for displaying a variety of foods.

Any food combination your child likes can make a tasty Bento. Here are a few ideas from Disney Family:

All-American Bento

your child's favorite sandwich

cheese and peanut butter crackers

baby carrots

ranch dip

a hard-boiled egg

green olives

grape tomatoes

Italian Bento

hard salami rolled into flute shapes or cubes of pepperoni

grape tomatoes

black olives

mozzarella cheese sticks

sesame breadsticks

Mock Sushi

If your child likes the look of sushi, but doesn't like the taste, try making mock sushi.

2 slices white bread - crusts removed

peanut butter, refried beans, cream cheese or hummus

matchstick cuts of apple, pear, Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, red pepper, carrots or cucumber


Roll slices of bread flat and spread with peanut butter, refried beans, cream cheese or hummus. Layer each slice of bread with desired topping - one single layer is all that is needed - more will make it difficult to roll. Layer refried beans with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese. Layer peanut butter with apples and pears. Layer cream cheese or hummus with carrots, cucumbers and red peppers. Roll each slice of bread up so that the edges meet. Press lightly to seal. Cut each roll into 3 or 4 slices. Keep covered until ready to serve.

Supreme Pizza Pasta Salad

If your child likes pasta, try Rachael Ray's kid friendly pasta salad that keeps well in a storage container.

2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

8 fresh white button mushrooms, sliced

1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 stick pepperoni, casing removed and cut into a small dice

1 pound ball fresh mozzarella or fresh smoked mozzarella, diced

20 leaves fresh basil, torn or thinly sliced

1 pound wagon wheel pasta, cooked to al dente and cooled under cold water, then drained


1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves or Italian dried seasoning

1 rounded tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, eyeball it

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it

freshly ground black pepper

Combine tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, peppers, pepperoni, mozzarella, basil and pasta in a big bowl. Whisk garlic salt, oregano or Italian seasoning, tomato paste and vinegar together. Stream in extra-virgin olive oil while continuing to whisk dressing. When oil is incorporated, pour dressing over pasta salad, add a few grinds of black pepper to the bowl, then toss salad to coat evenly. Adjust your seasonings and serve salad. Leftovers make a great lunch or snack the next day.