Bento, the Obscenely Adorable Lunch

Cookingcute.com, a great resource, although no longer live.
As the mother of a preschooler, I watch the increasing popularity of bento with a new interest this back to school season.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, a bento is a Japanese lunch box, containing little bits and bites of different foods, often in a multi-tired container(also referred to as a bento).   The concept is extremely old, but the modern applications are often fascinating.




Bento are often readily available to buy at locations like train stations in Japan--featuring local specialties.  For the mothers of children just starting school, entire magazines are devoted to ideas for making the bento nutritious, as well as highly decorative.  The goal is to not only entice the child to eat, but to be a reminder of home and mother as they learn to fit into the very structured system within Japanese schools.  Multiple American blogs and websites are now devoted to the bento, with ideas for both children and adults.  While there's some fantastic bento art out there, I want to focus on what is doable for a busy family. 




One of my personal favorites would be The Vegan Lunch Box.  I started keeping an eye on her blog back in 2006 or 2007, and over the past few years, Jennifer McCann has grown in popularity, writing a cookbook, and helping to design the bento box above.  Even if one isn't vegetarian or vegan themselves, it's hard not to love her creations.  Using the basic concepts of bento, she uses foods and flavors from all over the world to create a lunch that is colorful, fun, and diverse. Great ideas for using variety and color for even the die-hard carnivore!


Luch in a Box, another site designed by a mother, has perfect proportions for a kindergartner or early grade school child.  I love her sensible boxes, often utilizing leftovers, or items that she made in bulk and then froze.  Having lived just outside of San Francisco (her hometown), I'm familiar with the stores she mentions, particularly in Japantown, and know that many of them have websites now, and will ship to other parts of the US(something to keep in mind when my daughter goes to Kindergarten next fall).


Just Bento is a complete tool box for bento building.  The author links ideas from other sites on a regular basis, and provides The Bento Challenge, a complete list of ingredients, calories, how much time it will take to make, and pictures for TWO MONTHS of bento, just to get you started!  An insane number of recipes as well. 

So get out there, try some new foods and pack a lunch or two this coming week!  While this isn't a lunch your Great Grandmother would be familiar with, what grandmother wouldn't approve of nutrition and thrift in such a neat little package?

For more bento basics, check out Food.com's Back to School Special.

3 comments:

nuannaarpoq said...

Total lol here, I have been meaning to do a post on the same subject!!

I make Sophie bento style lunches for preschool, one of her faves is something we call "sammie sushi"--little sandwich rolls that look sort of like sushi. I take a piece of bread, roll it flat with a rolling pin, add a slice of deli meat or two, lettuce, and I take the veggie peeler to carrots or zucchini for the center, and roll it up like a sushi roll and cut it into slices. We also chop up veggies into all sorts of toddler/preschool sized shapes--matchstick carrots, celery "c"'s, and cucumber ribbons are a fave, and rather than invest in a bunch of the bento "gear", I just use plain ol' mini cookie cutters as rice molds.

Jesse said...

That's a cute idea! How well does it hold together, because I'll do tortilla wraps sometimes, but as cute as they are, they tend to spring apart if you don't have a toothpick in them (which I don't want to be handing out to toddlers).

My mother-in-law has a kitchen stocked with all sorts of fun cookie cutters and gadgets, so that's what I'll be getting into for the first little bit.

nuannaarpoq said...

There is a bit of a trick to it...make sure its super flat, that you roll it really tight like sushi, that you have something to act as a sort of binder--mayo, miracle whip, etc, and that after you roll it that bread touches bread and the "end" become the bottom. Then, when you cut it, keep the end on the underside. When you tuck them into the container, they should all fit inside together snug, and by the time they are eaten they hold together pretty well.

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