Sue Ching-Yeoh is a mum-of-two, an oral medicine specialist and, above all, a bento-box lover. But this wasn’t always the case…

A Yumbox packed by Sue’s daughter, age 6.

The end of “learning from home” is here, with many kids having returned to school in recent weeks. While this is a relief for many parents who have been juggling supervision of home-schooling tasks – as well as working from home themselves – it does mean that our reprieve from racking our brains over what to pack for school lunches is over.

When I ask my kids what their favourite part of the school day is, they both say in unison, “Lunch time!”. They love the combination of hanging out with their friends in the playground and finding out what delicious treats are contained in their lunchbox.

My kids, like many others, hate the monotony of sandwiches – they roll their eyes whenever I suggest anything remotely resembling a sandwich for school lunch. Packing lunch for them became a task that made me nervous: what could I give them that was quick and easy to make, would last all day without becoming soggy or spoilt, be easy for them to eat, satisfy (or at least attempt to satisfy) nutritional guidelines, and be an enjoyable meal for the playground… and not be encased between two slices of bread?!

That’s when I moved to a bento-style lunch. Our family has always loved all things Japanese: eating Japanese food, visiting the beautiful country, embracing their culture and language. But the Japanese bento box meals in particular have always been a favourite of ours – so many different varieties of food contained within one box! Little morsels of deliciousness that together create a thoroughly exciting and satisfying meal.

Over the years, I have collected quite a number of different bento-style lunch boxes… some with removable dividers, some with multiple small compartments. My current favourite is the Yumbox Original, as it fits nicely inside the school bag and is leak-proof.

Those who are familiar with this box will remember the six little compartments of varying sizes. When we first started using the box, my husband and I made a little bet. We decided to allow the kids to choose the filling of three compartments, and I would then pack the rest. I was sure that they would choose junk food… lollies, chips, chocolate. “Have a little more faith in them!” my husband said. I rolled my eyes…

The first time we did this, I watched as my youngest reached for a snack sized chocolate bar. I kept my mouth shut as she went to put it in the lunch box, but right at the last minute, she hesitated. She put the chocolate bar back, looked at me and asked me to cut up some pieces of apple so that she could pack them in one of her allocated compartments. I was stunned… my husband gloated.

Since then, both my girls have mainly picked their favourite fruit, cheese and crackers for their compartments. That’s not to say that they’ve never added chips, or mini Easter eggs – they are kids after all. But for the most part, the weight of responsibility of packing half their lunch has led them to sensible food choices.

This leaves me with the easy part: filling the other three compartments with whatever other food group they are missing. Sometimes it’s cherry tomato and hunks of ham or turkey skewered together on a toothpick, other times it’s yogurt, or even sushi. Each day brings a different combination and, for the most part, it’s worked quite well.

The kids get a variety of bite-sized snacks that are fun to eat, nutritious, and most importantly, not sandwiches, and they feel that they have as much say in their food choices as I do.

It’s a win-win – and I’ve never been happier to have lost a bet.

Feature Image shot by Urban Safari.