Let’s take this moment to reflect back when you were a kid. Try to entertain a specific positive childhood memory surrounding your formidable lunchbox! You, a young, carefree, confident feeling kid sporting this brand new, or handed down from the cool cousin-piece of gear for back-to-school.
This box, and what it was filled with often reflected who you were. It was your first sovereign introduction to society. After all, having your very own lunchbox meant you were finally a big kid!
Back in the day, when the trendy American lunch box first revealed itself, boys often carried western or space themed lunch boxes, girls went with the then iconic Barbie theme. Younger children sported a wide variety of Disney characters. All I remember is that I was stuck carrying the plaid design and the girl across the street, had a really cool character lunch box. I didn’t. What were my parents thinking? Regardless of the style, those types of lunch boxes have represented, as well as reflected, a significant part of everyone’s cultural history.
Living in a Time of Shared Cultures
Luckily for our children, we live in a dynamic time of shared cultures. Endowed with so much diversity, granting access to one another’s rich traditions. Once fused with our geographical food regions and a slight twist on presentation… poof, an unusual American lunch box has come to the center, combining a respectable fusion of American lunch boxes, and deep-rooted traditions of an esteemed art of the Japanese Bento, and it is taking school cafeterias by storm.
Bento boxes surfaced in Japan about nine-hundred years ago with the creation of Hoshi-ii, translating as “dried meal.” Specifically referencing cooked rice. Bento boxes were once simple containers housing individually packaged portions of dried rice, meat or fish, and pickled or cooked vegetables. Through the ages, they have progressed from oak or bamboo leaf wrapped pieces into magnificent lacquered wooden boxes, shiny aluminum, and modern-day plastics. There are contests held where people compete to win prizes and prestige for designing the most elaborate bento boxes. This type of artistic bento is called a Kyaraben. They aesthetically arrange the foods to resemble people, flowers, plants, or animals. Some are so beautiful they look too good to eat!
Of course, Bento boxes are still available today in many locations throughout Japan, yet bento boxes have been taking America by storm for years. Kid-centric Japanese Bento boxes are quickly becoming the must-have a lunch box for otherwise brown baggers, including adults. A visit to today’s school cafeterias might have some parents thinking they’ve stepped into a new culture when they see these trendy new containers.
It’s not all about appearances though – Bento boxes are fun to fill, pleasing to the palette, and prevent food from getting smashed. They make packing lunch both cost and time effective.
Great for those picky eaters who prefer their foods, not touching. Bento also is excellent for getting kids in the kitchen and taking some responsibility. If they are old enough to carry a lunch box, they certainly are old enough to build it. Just remember, it is a process, not the outcome. As long as the child chose items from your responsible, well balanced, close-ended food choices, and they work clean and organized while packing the lunch- they are more likely to eat it. This is also a great time to teach other life skills such as cleaning up.
Lunch boxes today continue to reflect one’s ultimate personal style and expression. Even not carrying one is often for the sake of fashion.
The Bento box is a fantastic container housing other various shaped containers for your foodstuffs. Sometimes they are stacked, square round, flat, or whatever your desire. There are designer Bento boxes that are available featuring popular cartoon characters and fun designs. You can accessorize your Bento with fun flatware to match, and miniature bottles no more significant than your thumb for salad dressings, soy sauces or other flavorings of your choice. Great for portion control.
I once purchased a “Laptop Bento” for my daughter when she was in middle school. It came in a thermal cooled case that resembles a notebook computer. It is a typical bento for a “Middle Schooler” – not too flashy. Once opened, the container reveals spaces for all different kinds of goodies. Each area has its own lid, and they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. She absolutely loved it and didn’t lose any of the pieces because it was so important to her.
Whatever your taste, lunch boxes continue to be a reflection of American culture- try a little fusion. Mix this rich, beautiful Japanese culture with your traditional foods from your own culture, and you have created the perfect fusion of you!
Packing A Bento
No matter how old my kids get, they still loved packing their lunches with fun foods. When we go hunting for bento box fun, we frequent the Japanese dollar stores. They have a great variety of kid, friendly lunch packing items. One of my favorites is food molds. With absolutely no primary artistic kitchen skills, you can shape foods into simple animals, cars, trucks, trains, plants, or people shapes. Try them out with brown rice and veggies for flair, tuna or chicken salad, eggs, or even make must-have-meatballs with them!
Just like the use of Japanese containers – use fusion when packing them. Nouvelle cuisine is a blend of cultures, using fresh local ingredients and new fun presentation style on any classic meal. These tiny treasure chests are great for serving up leftovers in a fresh new way that will have your children eager to see last night’s meal again. If you have time to be creative and artistic when packing a Bento and to involve your child. If not that’s ok too.
Use cookie cutters to make uniquely shaped “tea sandwiches,” layer foods for presentation, and include little containers of their favorite dips. The better it looks and the more input they have, the more likely they are to eat it!
Bento Box Ideas
Incorporating a variety of foods your child will make them much less likely to succumb when they hear “I’ll trade you!” in the cafeteria.
No more half-eaten lunches—a taco-inspired Bento box lunch is a healthy and portable meal your kid will love. Include a taco salad with all the fixen you would find in a taco or burrito – protein powered beans, add a dose of healthy guacamole too.
Mac ‘n Cheese – Leftover macaroni and cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes, steamed veggies, and fresh finger fruits like grapes, berries, cherries, cubed melons, sliced kiwi, etc.). They’ll be sure to devour this child-friendly favorite. All housed in separate containers or pressed into fun shapes.
Snack Attack – Diced fresh finger fruits and veggies, sliced cheese, cubed turkey breast or ham, and multi-grain crackers make for a delightful blend of flavors and nutrition.
Fresh banana and nut butter roll up in whole wheat tortillas. Any lunch meats or flavored cream cheeses spread on slices of bread can be rolled up too. A lavash is also an option.
Pack dinner for lunch inspired by your child’s favorite shaped meatballs, brown rice, sliced fresh veggies, and low-fat yogurt to dip. This Bento is also great with leftover spaghetti. Dinner can be breakfast on these days. Why not?
Diced leftovers, roast, roasted veggies, fresh finger fruits, and a garden salad. Served cold, with a piece of buttered whole-grain pita bread or mini waffles.
Molded tuna, chicken, or seafood salad, whole grain crackers, fresh fruits and veggies, and baby cheese wedges or cubes, sliced celery or carrots sticks. They are all charming to eat – especially with cream cheese, or cashew butter to dip them in. Don’t forget to add your child’s favorite vinaigrette or greek yogurt dressings in a fun-sized bento squeeze bottle.
With some Bento experience under my belt, I can honestly say that not only do kids love these crafty containers – but I do too. They are also great for picnics, travel lunches, or any time you’ll be away from home.
Bento Boxes Make Sense!
One more important thing… Bento boxes do require some washing after the box arrives home. This is another excellent opportunity to get the kids involved and teach some early childhood responsibility as they help wash up their lunch box and get it ready for the next day.
To make your own Bento without a starter kit, it just takes a few items. Start with a BPA-free plastic box and use disposable cupcake liners or silicone cupcake liners to divide the food, see if your kid shows some interest before making a large purchase.
If you really want to get into the bento spirit, go ahead and get crazy with fun accessories from my friends at Bento &Co, such as cute food pics, cookie cutters, itty-bitty sauce cups, and fancy carriers. They have the most amazing boxes for kids and adults, including Star Wars, Dragon Ball, and really fun shaped Bentos too like Coi Fish, Schoolhouses or Traditional boxes too.
If you are looking for more creative lunch suggestions or ways to fuel your child’s passion for food – Bento & Co is offering a 10% discount if you check out with code: CHEFGIGI .
Have fun, and take a photo of your Bento- I want to see it!