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Holiday bento lunch - we don't bento but I like the idea of surprising the kids with this for lunch one day in December

An Extra Special Healthy Holiday Lunch

I don’t know about you, but around here December is a magical month filled with little surprises around every corner – whether it’s a new Christmas book from the library or an impromptu car ride to seek our some twinkly lights.

I’ve said before that, while I don’t regularly prepare bento-style lunches for the kids, I like to occasionally sneak one in here or there for a special (and healthy) treat… No doubt this easy-to-prepare lunch put together by our contributor Wendy will soon become one of our December surprises.

December has arrived and the excitement of the Christmas season has hit my home full-force. We’ve started our advent calendars, our decorations are going up a bit at a time and my kids are positively giddy from all the holiday fun. I enjoy the lead up to the big day as much as the holiday itself, and one of the ways I like to celebrate with my kids is to pack them fun Christmas lunches.

For this lunch, I included some of the icons of the season — gingerbread, Christmas trees and Santa — by making them from healthy and tasty ingredients. Here’s how to create one like it:

Thread sugar snap peas onto a bamboo skewer, then trim the ends to make a tree shape.

Begin by cutting two pieces of bamboo skewer to the same height as the biggest section of a divided lunch box. I’m using a PlanetBox Rover here, but you can use whatever lunch box your family prefers.

Thread sugar snap peas on one of the skewers. Start with a large pea pod and then add smaller and smaller pods until there is about a half inch of skewer left. The snap peas should naturally form a triangle shape that mimics the shape of a Christmas tree. It will be cute as is, but if you’d like to accentuate the shape you can also trim the tips off with a sharp knife.

Poke a grape tomato onto the last bit of the skewer. Repeat to make a second tree.

Layer sliced radishes in the bento box, then top with the trees.

Cut one or two large radishes in half and then slice thinly into half moons. Layer the radish slices in the bottom of the biggest section of the bento box. If your child isn’t enthusiastic about radishes, you could substitute thin planks of jicama (which has a milder flavor) or you can just leave them out altogether.

Place the the snap pea trees on top of the radishes.

Put grapes on a Santa pick, then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for a Christmasy fruit cup.

Rinse a handful of green grapes and dry them thoroughly on a clean kitchen towel. This will help keep the other items in the lunch box from getting soggy.

Thread one or two grapes onto a Santa cupcake pick, then add it to the box along with the rest of the grapes. Sprinkle the grapes with some pomegranate seed or dried cranberries for a little extra Christmas color.

This time of year it’s very easy to find Christmas themed cupcake picks in the baking section of grocery, craft and department stores. They are usually quite inexpensive (about $1-2 per pack of 24) and you can use them throughout the season to add a little bit of fun to your child’s lunch.

Make a "gingerbread" sandwich by cutting bread, ham and cheese with a gingerbread shaped cookie cutter.

Next make a “gingerbread” girl sandwich. Cut two gingerbread shapes from a piece of whole wheat bread. Use the same cutter to cut shapes from some ham and a slice of havarti cheese.

Layer them on one of the bread slices along with mayo or any other condiments your child enjoys. Tear up the scraps leftover from the ham cut-out and put those inside the sandwich as well.

Glue cheese shapes to the bread to create a "gingerbread" girl.

Top the sandwich with the remaining gingerbread shape, then cut details from the cheese scraps to make a gingerbread girl or boy. Adhere the cheese shapes to the bread by spreading a little mayo on the backs of the cheese pieces before you put them on the bread. This will keep them from slipping around and getting messed up while the lunch is in transit.

For my gingerbread girl, I cut a skirt and mouth shape with a sharp knife. The circles for the eyes were cut with the end of a drinking straw. And then I went a little crazy and cut a lace collar using these cutters.

Obviously, not everyone is going to have imported cheese cutters just laying around, but something similar to this could be made using a scalloped cookie cutter. Look at the supplies in your cupboard and see what you can improvise.

Christmas bento box

Add your gingerbread girl to one of the remaining sections of the lunch box.

Finish the lunch by adding some holiday themed crackers to the last empty container. I used holiday themed Wheat Thins here, but I’ve also seen Goldfish and Ritz crackers in holiday designs on store shelves this year.

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P.S. If you’re really looking to have the holidays in the bag this year, get the holiday shopping out of the way with all 10 of our 2013 Gift Guides here.



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Wendy Copley writes about cooking, crafts, parenting and her obsession with lunch boxes at Wendolonia.com. Her first book, Everyday Bento: 50 Cute and Yummy Lunches to Go will be published in February 2014. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young sons.