6 Tips to Create Healthy Meals for Your Family
By: Samm Diep-Vidal
I began making bento boxes for my kids in 2016 when my oldest started preschool. Today, my daughters Clara (8) and Gemma (6) are adventurous eaters. I’m Chinese, born in Vietnam, and my husband Marc is from Spain. We’ve always believed in the impor- tance of raising our girls to know and understand the cultures that make them unique. In 2018, we took the most amazing family trip to Hong Kong & Tokyo where, in Tokyo, I attended a 1-on-1 Bento-making class with a Japanese mom and returned home with even more ideas and tricks to try. Between the class and stocking up on Daiso bento accessories, I felt equipped to take lunches to a whole new level. In 2019, I began teaching beginner and intermediate bento-making classes through Denver Parks and Recreation. It was so much fun to meet like-minded moms who were also looking to explore more meal ideas for their kiddos.
Here are ideas that have helped me provide healthy and culturally-relevant foods for my kids:
#1 MEAL PLANNING Meal planning and prepping is huge in my house, especially for those days I have elaborate bentos planned. I love repurposing leftovers into stir fries, empanadas, onigiri, quiches, etc. Since the pandemic, I post a weekly menu of what’s for lunch and dinner each day. It’s nice for the family to see and also helps me plan better with grocer- ies and prepping. I use an app called MealBoard which allows you to import recipes from websites and to sched- ule them for specific meals. You don’t need to use a fancy app, just have a general weekly idea to avoid potential stress and repetition.
#2 BRING ON THE OPTIONS It may seem like a lot more work to pack your kids a bunch of different op- tions in their lunches but most of the healthy snacks (fruits/veggies/cheese/ nuts) can easily be prepacked the night before and stored in the fridge. Then, you can just focus on preparing their main meal the morning of. Giving plenty of options minimizes the poten- tial waste if there’s some- thing they don’t like as well as giving them a fun sense of independence because they get to choose what they want to eat. #3 SKEWERS FOR THE WIN Skewering foods is a simple way to make them more attractive. You don’t need fancy picks from Japan. You can pick up some cocktail toothpicks from the grocery store. The dollar store also sells plastic/reusable colorful picks with hearts and stars. You’d be surprised how much more appealing cherry tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and cheeses/lunch meat look when skewed on a colorful stick versus just put in a container.
#4 MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR Allow your kids to be a part of the process. I ask my kids for meal sugges- tions and ideas. Contributing in pre- paring your own meal always rewards you with a sense of pride and accom- plishment, especially for kids. My kids are also in charge of cleaning and reor- ganizing all the bento accessories.
#5 TRY, TRY AGAIN If foods come home un- touched, don’t give up. Keep trying them. Cut carrots into fun shapes. Make a rice ball head and give it some broccoli hair. Sneak cauliflow- er into muffins (it actually makes them quite moist!). It’s all trial and error. Find different ways to sneak in the foods you want them to eat into meals you know they already enjoy. This is a fun process, don’t overthink it and don’t stress yourself out.
#6 INCORPORATE CULTURE Add aspects of your culture to each meal. I do a lot of stir fries because they’re super quick and easy and you can throw in tons of tofu and veggies. Another big staple in our house, from my husband’s side, is tortilla de patatas (also known as “tortilla española”). It’s like a giant cake made from potatoes, eggs and onions/garlic. We make this weekly and my kids love it, hot and fresh or room temp, in their lunches. You’ll find this served as a tapa in just about any bar in Spain.