Operation Bento Box - FamilyEducation

Operation Bento Box

July 30,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Sometimes I think I should just quit my job and devote myself full-time to the effort of getting L. to eat. It really IS almost a full-time, high-stress job. We cycle through periods where we just deal, because there are other more pressing things going on; other times, like at the beginning of the school year, we go into panic mode, and scramble to implement reward systems and gimmicks--all of which usually end up not working, or fail too soon. Can you guess? We are in full panic, scramble, search-for-gimmicks mode now. L. surprised us by going through a period this summer where he ate pretty well (and know that our standards for "well" when it comes to L. and eating are pretty low). He even tried a new food for the first time in years--one single Cheez-it cracker. He didn't like it, but he willingly tried it, even asked to try it. We were amazed and floored. Was this the beginning of something big? Something new? But then the eating slowed; we have stalled out like a tired old engine, and returned to back-to-school eating habits, or lack thereof. He hasn't eaten lunch at school all week. Not a bite, and he's stopped eating his tried-and-true mainstay--the Chinese tofu we buy at our Asian Market. Pizza, horror of horrors, has become hit and miss, too. We don't talk much to other people about L.'s eating problems. When we do try and talk about it I end up feeling frustrated. "Oh I have a picky eater, too!" a parent might say to us, then go on to list the numerous things her child will eat: chicken nuggets, apple slices, cream cheese sandwiches every day. I would fall over in a faint on the spot, I think, if L. would eat a sandwich--any sandwich, even an open-faced, plain butter one. Unfortunately his rigid eating patterns are connected to stress and anxiety, and when your child is anxious about everyday life, and stressed out by school, then you can imagine what happens. My kids are grazers. I used to worry about this until the kind, wise Dr. Sears told me this was okay. When L. was a toddler we made a "nibble tray"--an empty ice cube tray filled with little items: dried fruit, tofu cubes, plain noodles. For years now we've been giving both kids snacks and light lunches ice cub tray style, except the trays have grown bigger with their ages. L., for instance, might get a platter like this while he watches his favorite show: L.'s Snack Plate (rice cake, dried plums, "energy" cubes, peaches, sunny bears) T.'s platter might look like this: T.'s Snack Platter (Edamame pods, cucumber wheels, peanut butter sandwiches, plums) This year, after years of pondering and trying knock-offs, and after considerable success with the snack platters this summer, we sprang for bento boxes for both kids' lunchboxes. I'm not expecting miracles, mind you, but I have high hopes, I really do (and I'm jumping at the chance to make T. some of the scrumptious lunches from this favorite site of mine). Anecdotal evidence seems to support that some type of box system for lunches works for kids with sensory issues and rigid eating patterns (this looks like an interesting book, doesn't it?). We'll see. ...and if it's a flop, well, I might be hunched over my computer in a few weeks, half my hair pulled out, while I try and list a slightly used bento lunch box system on eBay.