It’s coming folks. January 3rd. The first ‘work’ day after the holidays and also the dreaded first ‘real’ day of your new year’s resolution. Is your resolution to eat healthier this year? It’s one I’m making for my toddler. By the way, she’s on a PB&J; only craze these days. While she could be stuck on something much UNhealthier, I do wish she’d snack on some greens now and then. Therefore, the second post of our ‘best of’ week is about packing healthy (and un-boring) lunches. Lunch Crunch (and what’s up with bento?) originally appeared on August 18, 2010.

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We interrupt our typical Wednesday Farmer’s Market Challenge for this breaking announcement.

Our family is in a lunch rut.

If I make one more PB&J;, grilled cheese or ham/cheese swirl, I might scream. I very well may turn into that Edvard Munch painting, green wobbly face and all.

Did you know The Scream is part of a series in which Munch explores life, love, fear, death, melancholia and anxiety? Pretty much sums up my feelings about lunchtime right now.

Maybe melancholia is why so many hit the fast food drive through at lunch. Typically (at least in my professional opinion) melancholia has a disturbing negative effect on creativity.

So I’m on a hunt for toddler friendly lunch ideas that don’t require an hour of cooking, grilling salmon in the middle of the day, or french fries. (Don’t get me wrong – – I like french fries. But I don’t necessarily thing they should be a lunchtime staple). They have to be Pat-friendly, too.

Parenting.com came out with 20 Easy, Healthy, and Gorgeous Bento Box lunches today, and delivered this creative gem right to my inbox this afternoon. Have you hopped on the Bento bandwagon? The concept appeals to me: no-cook, well-proportioned, healthy, fun, creative lunch that doesn’t have to be chilled or warmed. It’s also supposed to be easy-to-make and quick to assemble. Who wouldn’t want their whip-it-up-in-5-minutes-perfect-at-room-temperature lunch molded into the shape of a bunny or rice cows? It seems like a brilliant way to entice a picky toddler to chow down on some veggies.

Building a bento lunch kinda intimidates the bejeezus outta me. My rice cow would probably look more like rice blubber.

I’m all for quick and easy. A quick survey of various sites kept bringing me back to things like Lunchables and PopTarts. I’m guessing that they didn’t see MSNBC’s story on the 20 Worst Foods to Feed Your Kids. The Maxed Out Cracker Combo Turkey and Cheddar contains half of a child’s calories for the day.

Maybe there is a way to combine the healthy bento concept with the lunchable layout? Fun food in a small, divided tray (with cheese and ham but not molded into a giraffe and flowers)? Is it still toddler-appealing if it’s not animal shaped?

I found lots of other helpful resources on my hunt today. Thought I’d share a few:

  • I am in love with ZisBoomBah. Kinda wish Lila was old enough to appreciate this handy online tool where your kids can build their own antvatar (yepp, as in ‘build an ant’) and dinner by food group. When your child adds a food item to their plate, if gives them background information on the food as well as nutritional information. The creative chefs behind this fun, interactive site have a growing list of kid-friendly meals. Who wants a Basil Pesto Chicken Wrap? Bet the Bug is going to love that one.
  • Annabel Karmel’s website has suggestions for toddler friendly food. Annabel has written some great books about feeding kids, and I used her baby food cookbook every day when we were starting Lila on solids. Her creative suggestions include molding food – – but in a first-grade cute stick figure kinda way. Not nearly as artistically intimidating as Bento. The Funny-Face Chicken Pies make ME want to try them!
  • Real Food for Healthy Kids is a blog written by the writers of the book by the same name. There are lots of recipes on the site. Their Huevos Rancheros might actually be a great idea for lunch… there is breakfast for dinner so why not breakfast for lunch?
  • WholesomeToddlerFood.com has some interesting ideas for meals. While I think I’ll skip the lead grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich, potato chowder might be a good choice.

Would love to be inspired by your lunchtime foodie masterpieces. What’s your toddler/kid-friendly go-to lunch? Or what website is your online foodie muse?

Note: Images from Parenting.com, photographs by Anna Yamamoto