KEEP THESE ON HAND
Tortillas. Wraps are the fastest sandwiches you can make, and tortillas often keep longer than bread. You can get all kinds of flavors to change it up, too, from flour or corn to green spinach or roasted red pepper.
Hummus. It's nutritious and filling. Even better, try some of the nontraditional versions, lima bean hummus or Trader Joe's edamame hummus. Change it up and take a whole-wheat roll, cut a sliver off the top, hollow out the center and fill it with a little hummus and salsa.
Tiny tomatoes and bocconcini. If you need something to fill out a bento box, toss little tomatoes and bocconcini (little balls of mozzarella) with a little olive oil, some dried oregano and a little salt.
Grapes. To keep a lunchbox cold, freeze little baggies of grapes. When they thaw, they make a good fruit serving.
Nut butters. Branch out from peanut butter and into almond or sunflower butter. Change it up and make it more substantial by hitting the salad bar and get sunflower kernels, dried cranberries or currants and shredded carrot to stir into it.
Blueberry jam and goat cheese. Trader Joe's Blueberry and Vanilla Chèvre is terrific. Pack a couple of slices with a bag of graham crackers. (Don't spread it on in advance or the graham crackers will get soft.) Or make your own by combining 2 tablespoons goat cheese or cream cheese and 1 tablespoon jam (blueberry or whatever flavor you like). Microwave for 10 seconds, just until soft enough to spread. (From "Little Bento," by Michele Olivier.)
Apples and oranges. Combine apple slices and orange slices, squeezing one orange wedge over the apple slices. It will keep them from browning without having them taste like lemon juice.
Plan leftovers into your lunches. Save some roasted chicken for quesadillas later in the week, or make a big pot of chili you can send in a thermos.
Find a time that works. If morning is too stressful, pack lunches while you're making dinner. Or do it while you're cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.
Double up. Plan lunches around things both the kids and adults can take. It saves time, money and stress.
Pack rainbows. Try for something red, orange, yellow, green and blue or purple to balance "beige," like bread or meat.
From "Little Bento," by Michele Olivier