School bento box with fruit and sandwich cut to look like a koala bear.

Back-to-School: A bento box can help your child eat a healthy diet

A diet rich in diverse fruits and vegetables will give your child a boost in school and a better chance of developing into a healthy adult, says Kerri Lindbergh Stewart, registered dietician with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

But, as Stewart knows, it can take a picky child up to 10 to 15 times of trying a new food to really give it a chance – to know if it’s for them or not. Large portions of an unfamiliar food can be daunting for a child.

A bento box might just be the perfect solution. Bento boxes, which have long been popular in Japanese culinary culture, are small containers with as many as six compartments for small portions of food.

“It’s a great way to encourage a child to try something new, because they’ll see that they only have a few bites of any one particular thing to eat,” Stewart said. A few apple wedges, four or five slices of cucumber, a small handful of almonds, maybe even leftovers from last night’s dinner – you get the idea.

Bento boxes are eco-friendly, too. With neat sections, there’s no need for multiple plastic bags or other throwaway containers.

Stewart works out of the Joe R. Utley Heart Resource Center at SRHS. The resource center, which receives funding support from the Spartanburg Regional Foundation, provides education outreach and other resources to promote heart wellness in the community.

But Stewart stresses that good nutrition goes beyond heart health.

“I think one of the neatest things about nutrition is the ability to turn certain genes on and off,” she said.

Various colors in fruits and vegetables are indicative of the different phytonutrients they contain. These phytonutrients boost genes that support good health while suppressing genes that, say, cause cancer.

Good nutrition also helps children focus in school, avoid sick days, and even feel more cheerful.

“Phytonutrients can cross the blood-brain barrier,” Stewart said. “We know that people who eat more fruits and vegetables are happier.”

Bento boxes can be found at many local retailers and Stewart acknowledges that these handy lunch boxes might not have your child eating every healthy food you offer up – but maybe that’s okay.

“If your child doesn’t eat everything you include, maybe their neighbor at the table will, so somebody’s getting that nutrition,” she said.

The Joe R. Utley Heart Resource Center was named for a local cardiologist who passed away in 2001. Utley was known nationally as a surgeon, researcher and educator. To donate to the resource center or learn more about other causes supported by Spartanburg Regional Foundation, visit online at