Tips from a Top Chef

Mom and chef Lee Anne Wong shares her tricks for making lunch fun and healthy.


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Photo: Lee Anne Wong

Top Chef alum Lee Anne Wong may be best known for her award-winning restaurants—Koko Head Café on O‘ahu and Papa‘aina on Maui—but she’s also a devoted mom to a picky-eating preschooler. Lucky for him, he’s got a mom who knows her way around food! Here are some tips for other working parents struggling to come up with creative home lunches that are both healthy and fun—and that get their kids excited to eat.


1 Protein, 2 Veg, 3 Fresh Fruit

“I always make sure he has some form of protein, usually peanut butter or string cheese. Hummus is a great way to deliver both vegetables and protein, with colorful veggies like carrots, bell peppers, snap peas and cucumbers to use as dippers. I process all his fruit so it’s easy to eat: Trim the strawberries but keep them whole, cut his apples into wedges, peel his lychee fruit.”



Hf2207 Ay Bentos 5821 Beach Ocean

Ocean bento: Sinaloa Hawai‘i whole wheat tortillas for cheese quesadilla sails, apple wedge boat, organic blueberries, mini cheese wheels as beach balls, Swedish Fish gummy treats, clementine octopus. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Get Them Involved

“These days I ask my son what he’d like to eat for lunch. We talk about eating all the colors of the rainbow and the health benefits of each color. Asking him what he’d like and building his lunch together ensures he eats most of it and takes ownership over feeding himself.”


Roll With It!

“Kids like small fun shapes. I have a wide variety of cookie cutters and molds that I use for garnish and to give my son’s lunch some personality. Sushi rolls and tortilla roll-ups are awesome ways to sneak in veggies and can be eaten with little hands!”


Hf2207 Ay Bentos 5806 Rainbow

Rainbow bento: Homemade rainbow bread for a colorful sandwich, Goldfish crackers colors, rainbow of chopped fruits (watermelon, pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, green and red grapes, blueberries) and vanilla yogurt with rainbow sprinkles. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino



Keep it Simple

“When [my son] started preschool, he was only 3 and in an entirely new environment without Mom and Dad. I would pack these elaborately fun lunches with at least a half-dozen choices of fresh fruit and healthy snacks. I was often disappointed when his lunch box came home half full. (The chef in me took it personally!) His teacher suggested I simplify his lunchbox with maybe two or three things, which allowed him to enjoy his lunch without stress or distraction.”


It’s OK to Cheat a Little

“Making lunch every day from scratch can be stressful for pretty much anyone, including professional chefs. Admittedly, my son is obsessed with dinosaur-shaped nuggets. So every now and then, I’ll make a dino-landscape in his lunchbox, with avocado, crunchy yogurt pretzels, fruits and veggies. And he’s overjoyed when he gets to have his favorite dino snack for lunch.”



Hf2207 Ay Bentos 5818 Aloha

Aloha bento: Steamed rice, Spam sticks, rainbow carrot slices for flower cutouts, local mixed arare, and nori snacks. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino



Ocean bento: Yumbox, $30, Rainbow bento: Rainbows & Sunshine Good Lunch bento box, $12.80, SoHa Keiki, Kāhala Mall, (808) 466-8878, Metal cup (with lid), $9, Compleat Kitchen, Kāhala Mall, (808) 739-1059, Aloha bento: Metal Shuttle Lunchbox, $50, Little Dipper cup with lid, $9, Compleat Kitchen. Flamingo chopsticks, $5.80, SoHa Keiki.