Bento Box Lunch Ideas That Appeal To Your Child

Do you find school lunches brought back unopened? Worry not. Here’s a collection of creative ideas for colourful, delicious and also, healthy Bento box lunches your child will totally love!

By Ruchira Ramanujam

Bento Box Lunch Ideas That Appeal To Your Child

Packing lunch boxes can be quite an ordeal for some parents. It is especially disheartening when your child brings the dabba back unopened or unfinished — leaving you even more exasperated. 

After all, you put so much of thought into your child's lunch box — the meal needs to be tasty, nutritious, a good-sized portion and appealing enough so that it motivates your child to finish his food. Sometimes, you run out of ideas or quickly pack some junk food, or the meal lacks variety... And what are you left with? A guilty conscience for the rest of the day.

So, what can parents do?

Try the Bento box idea! It is the Japanese way of creatively packing and serving colourful, attractive and wholesome meals in lunchboxes for your child. Bento boxes are conveniently thought-out boxes, designed to hold small portions of a variety of foods, thus encouraging the child to eat a balanced meal that's loaded with nutrition and flavour. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? 

Here are some ‘Indian’ Bento box ideas to pack for your child! 

For preschoolers

What to pack:

  • Mini beetroot and moong dal idlis (high protein)
  • Watermelon lollies (for hydration)

Add-ons:

  • Cheese cubes (calcium)
  • Cucumber slices (fibre)

Mini beetroot and moong dal idlis

(Serves 4)

  • ½ cup yellow moong dal
  • ½ cup white urad dal
  • 1 tsp methi seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp urad dal
  • 6 curry leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 small beetroot, finely grated

Method

  1. Wash and soak the dals and methi seeds for about 4 hours.
  2. Set aside some of the water used for soaking. Drain the rest. Grind the dals to a thick batter of a smooth consistency, adding some water as required. Stir in some salt.
  3. Cover the batter and set aside to ferment for about 6 hours or overnight, until the batter rises well.
  4. Heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop. Stir in the urad dal and curry leaves. Add this seasoning to the batter along with the finely grated beetroot.
  5. Ladle the batter into greased mini-idli moulds and steam in an idli cooker or pressure cooker (without the weight) for about 10 minutes. Remove the moulds from the cooker and slide the idlis out using a wet spoon or spatula.
  6. Cool slightly and pack.

Watermelon lollies

Cut watermelon into 1" cubes. Remove the seeds using a toothpick. Skewer the watermelon on flat, small sticks or bamboo skewers. Sprinkle with thinly sliced mint leaves and pack them right away.

For primary schoolers

What to pack:

Millet and Rajma patties (complex carbs)

Apple yogurt (fibre and protein)

Add-ons:

  • Steamed broccoli (calcium)
  • Grapes (vitamins)

Millet and rajma patties

Bento Box Lunch Ideas That Appeal To Your Child

(Makes 12)

  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 green chilli, minced
  • ½ cup foxtail millet, cooked 
  • 1 cup cooked rajma
  • 50g grated cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp chaat masala
  • 1 tsp jeera powder
  •  ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • A handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • Oil for shallow frying

Method

1. Heat oil in a small frying pan. Add the onion and chilli and cook until soft. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large mixing bowl, place all the remaining ingredients (except the oil for shallow frying). Add the fried onions and mix everything well.

3. Shape the mixture into 2.5" diameter patties. Place on a greased plate, cover and refrigerate until ready to fry.

4. Shallow-fry the patties using a little oil until crispy and well-browned. Cool for a few minutes before packing.

Note: To cook the millet: Wash and soak the grains for 15-20 minutes. Bring 1¼ cup water to boil and add the millet. Cover and cook on low heat until tender. Cool before mixing with the other ingredients.

Apple yogurt

Peel and dice an apple. Cook the apple with a splash of water, until tender. Mash slightly and add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a large pinch of cinnamon powder. Cool and stir the apple into a bowl of thick, hung curd. Add raisins and chopped walnuts, if desired.

For pre-teens

What to pack:

  • Paneer rolls (whole grain with calcium)
  • Chilli hummus (protein)

Add-ons:

  • Veggie sticks (naturally low in fat and calories)
  • Dry fruit mix (fibre)

Paneer rolls

Bento Box Lunch Ideas That Appeal To Your Child

(Makes 4 rolls)

  • 200g paneer, cut into cubes
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large capsicum, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp jeera powder
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp powdered kasuri methi
  • 1 tsp saunf (fennel seeds) powder
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • ¼ tsp garam masala
  • 4 large chapatis
  • 4 tbsp thick green chutney* 

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and capsicum. Fry briefly on high heat, then lower the heat and add the ginger-garlic paste. Cook well.
  2. Add salt, coriander powder, jeera powder, chilli powder, turmeric powder, kasuri methi and saunf powder. Stir well.
  3. Add the chopped tomato and cook until mushy.
  4. Drain and add the paneer cubes. Stir in the garam masala and take the pan off the flame. Set this filling aside.
  5. Spread 1 tbsp green chutney on each chapati. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling on top of each chapati and roll it.

*To make the green chutney: Grind together a cup each of coriander and mint leaves, a green chilli and 4-5 almonds. Add salt, a pinch of sugar, and lemon juice to taste.

Chilli hummus

Soak two Kashmiri or Byadgi chillies and one spicy whole red chilli in hot water for a few minutes. Grind together a cup of cooked channa, soaked chillies, 2-3 garlic cloves, a tablespoon of tahini (sesame seeds paste), juice of one lemon and salt to taste. Add some of the channa-cooking liquid or water, as needed to achieve a smooth and thick consistency. Transfer to a container and use as a dip or spread.

For teenagers

What to pack:

  • Channa tawa pulav (protein and fibre)
  • Veg medley salad (vitamins and minerals)

Add-ons:

  • Mango or seasonal fruit slices (beta-carotene)
  • Raita (calcium)

5. Channa Tawa Pulav

Bento Box Lunch Ideas That Appeal To Your Child

(Serves 2-3)

  • ½ cup basmati rice, soaked for 20 mins
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 capsicum, chopped
  • 1 green chilli, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • 1 tbsp pav bhaji masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked channa
  • A handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp branded salted butter
  • Juice of half a lemon

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large kadai. Add the onion and fry on low heat until the onions are lightly browned. 
  2. Stir in the capsicum and green chilli, and fry for a few minutes.
  3. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook until the raw smell disappears. Put in all the masala powders and salt, and fry for a few seconds. 
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until mushy.
  5. Turn the heat to high and add the cooked rice and channa to the pulav. Toss constantly for a couple of minutes.
  6. Lastly, stir in the coriander, butter and lemon juice. Cool slightly before packing.

Veg medley salad

Chop up any salad vegetables like cucumber, red capsicum, baby corn and cherry tomatoes. Stir in grated carrot. Dress the salad with honey, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir in a tablespoon of coarsely crushed sunflower seeds or peanuts for texture. Your medley salad is ready!

Hope your kids relish these lunch box ideas!

Ruchira Ramanujam runs a popular food blog called tadkapaste.com with her partner Ranjini.

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