My goodness, how time flies. I don't know about you, but summer seems to have just whizzed past. School starts for us next Monday, and my mind is turning once again to school lunches. This year Miss E has the option of hot lunch, and surprisingly, it's pretty clear that the county in which we reside has done a pretty good job of putting some healthy items on the menu every day. I'm impressed! I'll still be making bento lunches for her most every day, and if she wants a hot lunch a couple of times a month I'm willing to discuss the lunch choices with her. She's already vowed to eschew all milk but white after watching this last season of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.
So, the first day of school is breathing down your neck. You want to try the bento-style of lunch for your children, but don't know where to start? No worries, I've got you covered.
First of all, I wrote a post about this last year, so you can read over it. I'm going to be redundant and say some of the same stuff in this post.
What should I feed my kid?
That's totally up to you! But, I do have a spreadsheet I update every once in a while to give me some ideas. Also, this blog is chock-full of pictures and descriptions, so check the archives.
My style of 'bento' is a more relaxed and easy. I call it 'American bento'. Traditional Japanese bento uses primarily Asian foods - rice, tofu, fish, nori, etc.. For those kids who haven't gone from breast to table with these foods, it's likely that you'll meet with some resistance if you plop a traditional bento box in front of them. So, I tend to use a mix of American foods, and other ethnic foods to complement, as well as an array of fruits and vegetables. Why do I do it? Because I think that lunchtime is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to new and healthy foods for two reasons. One: they are hungry! Two: they don't have a whole lot of other food options available to them.
You may notice that I use very little sugar or sugary treats. That's my personal preference. I don't feel that my child needs a sugary sweet to end a meal. I like her to think of her fruit as her dessert (and she does save it for last.) Likewise, I don't add a lot of carby snack-style sides. Usually the carbs are part of the main entree.
Where am I going to get this stuff?
With that explanation out of the way, you'll want to know where you can get some bento making supplies. First, I have to say that I am an affiliate partner with AllThingsForSale. These days I buy almost all of my specialty items, decorative food cutters and food picks from these guys. They are based right here in the United States, their prices are really reasonable, and it's shipped really fast. You'll even get 5% off if you use the code Bentobloggy2. You can also find tons of options at places like eBay, Amazon, and other independent online stores. Find something you like? Grab it up! A lot of places discontinue items fairly quickly. For stainless steel options, there is the Planetbox, and Greentainer which I really like.
I've said this before and I'll say it again...do a test-drive of more complicated bento boxes before sending one in with your kid. Some kids just don't have the manual dexterity to put all those tiers back together, and in the correct order! It can even be difficult for adults (myself included.) I've had to put several boxes away for when E gets older for this very reason.
I don't have time to wait for something shipped...I need it today!
No problem! I'll let you in on a little secret. What you buy doesn't have to say bento. Or even lunch. As long as it's food safe, (and BPA-free) give it a try. Look around your kitchen. Do you have a good-sized piece of Tupperware? Some silicone baking cups or pinch pots? How about a non-breakable egg cup? I know you have lots of cookie cutters. Use your imagination. My favorite stores to find bento accessories locally are:
World Market (kitchen section)
Super H Mart (or any ethnic grocery near you)
Disney Store (you'd be surprised)
The Container Store (they have LOTS of items these days that work great for bento making)
Dollar Tree (occasionally you'll find some gems)
Specialty kitchen stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma
Asian novelty stores (Sanrio, Niko-Niko, etc.... They have real bento boxes at these places.)
But how do you keep everything organized?
Check out my posts "Picks Aplenty, Picks Galore" here.
What kind of lunch carrier (a.k.a. lunch box/bag) is the best?
This is a question I didn't really consider when I started, but I quickly realized was very important. If at all possible, find an insulated lunch bag that is a top-carry style. With a traditional lunchbox, the food gets thrown around like crazy and it makes a mess. Not a big deal for a bagged sandwich, but potentially disastrous for a bento. And, they can be frustratingly difficult to locate. Check out my effusive post on this style of lunchbox here for an idea of what to look out for. This is the holy grail of lunch bags, in my opinion. Easy Lunch Boxes also has a great and affordable bag.
EDIT 8/16/11: One of my wonderful readers, Vicki, gave me a heads up about the following top-carry bags:
-A roomy, and affordable option from Leaps & Bounds.
-Adorable and dependable from PBK.
-The elusive HK bag for 2011 from Sanrio!
Now moms & dads, welcome to the world of bento! If you have any questions, ask away and I'll do my best to answer.
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