How to Pack a Bento Lunch for a Teen or Middle Schooler

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Yumbox. All opinions are my own.

In just a few weeks, I’ll have a teenager living in my house. What the heck?! I started packing this kid’s lunches ten years ago when he was just a little three-year-old heading off to preschool. In those ten years I’ve learned a lot about packing lunches and a lot of things have changed. The days of using cookie cutters and teddy bear picks are long gone, for example. And as he’s grown, so has his appetite. I used to pack his lunches in tiny Japanese bento boxes but now he needs something that will accommodate a lot more food. And way back then, his dad and I were the sole deciders of what foods he ate, but now the other kids at his lunch table — and his own changing tastes — play a big part in what he eats.

Last school year — his first in middle school — was a bit of an adjustment for both of us, but after a few months a basic set of rules began to coalesce.

1. Lunch Gear is VERY important.

His lunch box needs to be big enough to fit all the food he eats, but it also can not be embarrassing! We found that the Yumbox Tapas ($32) fits both these criteria.

Yumbox Tapas lunch box with a five compartment tray - good for "snacky" lunches

It’s about 50% bigger than a regular Yumbox (which has been a favorite around here for a long time) but the tray has more sedate illustrations than the smaller Yumboxes. In other words, it’s not too cutesy for a teenage boy.

Yumbox Tapas lunch box with a four compartment tray - great for salads and sandwiches

Another feature I love about the Yumbox Tapas, is that you can buy an additional four compartment tray ($16) and swap it for the five compartment tray depending on what your needs are on any particular day. When you want a lot of variety, you can use the tray with more compartments. If you want a big sandwich or a salad, you just pop in the four compartment tray. This is a big change from the previous Yumboxes because although they have 4 and 6 compartment options in the smaller size lunch box, you have to buy an entirely separate lunch set — outer box and tray — in order for the leak-resistant lid to work. The Tapas lid is designed to work with either of the trays — a nice way to save money.

I should also note that the Tapas is too big to fit in most of our old lunch bags. That’s fine with my kid though because again, they have all been deemed too dorky for middle school. Instead we are using the Yumbox Poche — a simple navy blue pouch that is big enough to hold the lunch box, but slim enough to easily fit in his extremely crowded backpack. Win-win.

2. Nothing Cute. EVER.

If you think a cute lunch box is bad, it’s nothing compared to cute food in a lunch box. This one was an easy adjustment because he started saying no to most cute stuff in his lunches back in third grade and they’ve been completely cookie cutter and decorative pick free for several years now.

Yumbox Tapas packed like a

But that’s not to say that I don’t try to make lunches for my son look nice. I still aim for a lot of color and variety in his bentos and I like to add visual interest by arranging the food attractively. Here I’ve packed a fancy version of a Lunchable with neat fans of crackers, salami and gouda cheese slices, bright rainbow carrot coins, two kinds of berries and some small cookies. Nothing over-the-top, but the way it’s arranged makes you want to dive right in.

And my son must have absorbed a lot of these techniques over the years without realizing it because I’ve noticed that when he packs his own lunch (about half the time) he also tends to present it in a way that looks really pretty and appetizing. (But don’t tell him I used the word “pretty”, OK?)

3. Pack Junk Food, but Not Too Junky

It’s an understatement to say that the kids who my son eats lunch with influence the meals he wants. As they get older, kids definitely started to notice what others are packing in their lunches and junk food is the  direction it all seems to be headed in. (It doesn’t help that the school cafeteria serves burgers, chips, and pizza almost exclusively.) Of course kids want these foods — they taste good! But I want my son to eat nourishing food, so my challenge as a parent is to try to find a middle space where he’s getting what the other kids have but he’s also eating lunches that have some nutritional value.

Yumbox Tapas lunch box filled with chicken taco fixin's

One lunch that has been going over well is DIY tacos. I fill the lunch box with mini tortillas, roasted chicken tossed with a little salsa and sides of sour cream, chopped tomato and shredded lettuce to top it all off.

Yumbox Tapas filled with soft pretzels

Another idea: soft pretzels (purchased from the freezer section at the grocery store), sliced cucumbers, melon wrapped with prosciutto (regular ham works too) and a few gummies for a treat. (Oh yeah, did I mention that I’ve eased up on my treat rules? I have.)

4. Ask What They Want

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often I head to the grocery store without asking my son what he’d like in his lunch. That is a very dumb strategy on my part because as he’s gotten older his tastes have changed and it’s opened up a lot of options for lunches. Sure, there are still times he answers “potato chips and Pop Tarts” when I ask him what he’d like in his lunches for the coming week, but there are also times when he tells me he wants a few salads. Yes — SALADS!

Yumbox Tapas packed with a Caesar Salad for a teen

It’s pretty easy to buy a salad kit and pack the big section of the Yumbox with lettuce, cheese and croutons. The dressing goes on the side so the salad doesn’t get soggy and I throw in some rotisserie chicken for a little protein. Some unsweetened yogurt with a dollup of jam is a nice treat to round it all out.

I know what you’re going to ask — do the dressing and yogurt get all over everything? Nope! The Yumbox Tapas is leak-resistant which means that runny stuff doesn’t go all over, but liquids might. I tested this lunch and the creamy dressing and thick yogurt stayed put. We’ve had mixed results with liquid-y vinaigrette though, so be sure you test stuff out before putting it in a backpack with that important paper!

Have you changed how you pack lunches as your kids have gotten older? Got any tips to share? Leave them in the comments!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Yumbox. Find the Yumbox Tapas on the Yumbox website or at Amazon.com.

How to Pack a Bento Lunch for a Teen or Middle Schooler

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Golden State Warriors basketball champions bento box lunch(This post contains affiliate links)

Wahooooo! My beloved Warriors won the NBA playoffs this week and they are officially the champs!

We were all on a high after Monday night’s game, so of course I had to make Augie a Warriors lunch for day camp yesterday. I hadn’t planned this lunch in advance so I didn’t buy anything special to make this lunch — I just used stuff I already had in my kitchen.

I started by grabbing our brand new Neptune Blue Yumbox Panino (thanks for sending me this sample, Yumbox!) because it was the absolute perfect shade of Warriors blue. Next, I chopped a yellow nectarine into chunks and sprinkled them with a few blueberries for more blue and gold.

Golden State Warriors bento box lunch

I wanted to add in the initials for the Warriors somewhere in the lunch box and I had been planning to use cheese or fruit leather to cut them out but we were out of both so instead I peeled a cucumber and cut the letters from the skin. Augie didn’t eat these, but they gave a nice effect.

Golden State Warriors bento box lunch

Next, I made a quick sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich and drew a basketball on it with food coloring markers. I always mess up the black lines when I’m drawing a basketball, so this time I dug up a basketball sticker and copied it. I think it came out pretty well!

And last, but not least, I put a few gummy bears in the treat compartment. I made sure to get a few blue and yellow bears on top!

Yay Warriors!

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Cute Stuff from BentoUSA

February 17, 2017

(This post contains affiliate links.) The postman delivered a big box of fun stuff from BentoUSA today! Yay! I was busy with some other stuff when it arrived, so I decided to open it with Augie when he got home from school. And then I decided to do a spur of the moment Facebook Live […]

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Here are some bento boxes.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Cutesy lunches — especially ones filled with hearts and pink stuff — are not exactly my boys’ favorite right now, but I usually can get them to let me make them something on this lovely day. Here’s what I sent them to school with: Augie let me go all out with a […]

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Stranger Things Bento Box

February 3, 2017

This post includes affiliate links. Join me as we journey to the Upside Down — in a lunch box! Oooooooh! It’s not often that my 12-year-old is interested in fun bentos anymore — and it’s even more unusual when he wants to help me design one — so I felt like I’d been invited to […]

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Interesting Finds at the Winter Fancy Food Show

January 27, 2017

Every year about this time, the Fancy Food Show rolls into San Francisco. It’s a huge event packed with food and beverage companies showing off their newest products as well as old favorites. I’ve attended this event most of the last few years and it’s great fun to walk the aisles sampling tasty bites and […]

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