Make Lunchtime Fun with Japanese-Style Bento Boxes
Get swept up in the adorable bento box lunch fad. Your kids will love it too!
Bento boxes, traditionally used to pack home-cooked food for on-the-go meals in Japan, has swept the Western world by storm. Modern Bento lunches use a wide variety of ingredients, from sandwich bread and fruit and vegetable slices to sticky vice and vegetarian sushi to create the images of popular characters, scenes or places. School lunches are no longer simple turkey on rye sandwiches, an apple and a muffin in a brown paper bag. To keep up with Joneses - and the Goldbergs and the Martins, modern moms are pulling out all the stops to make lunchtime a fun and creative culinary experience.
So, if you’re in need of a little inspiration as to how to get your kids to eat their school lunches and actually enjoy them, here are some great tips!
Pack foods you know your kids will eat
You have to pick your battles. Your kids are learning and trying out new things all day in school. Lunchtime is downtime, when they seek a little extra comfort and need to refuel before continuing on with the school day. Make sure that their lunches contain a variety of foods that are both healthy and appealing to them, but you can also sneak in a few “surprises,” food you’d like them to try, as part of the scene you create inside the bento box. The general rule is, if you’re going to pack three food items for lunch, two should be items you know your kids like and the third can be something you’d like them to try.
Get your kids involved in the lunch prep process
If you want your kids to enjoy lunchtime, why not involve them in the preparation process? Let them decide which character or scene to create (within reason, give them realistic options). Have them cookie-cut their sandwich bread or roll sushi grade salmon into “tulips.” Giving them the chance to help set their lunch scenes will get them extra excited to eat every last bite when the lunch bell rings.
Leave secret messages for your kids to find
Say “I love you” or like never before. With bento boxes, the options for leaving creatively strewn secret messages are endless. Instead of taping a Post-it note to your son or daughter’s lunch bag, write “Have a great day” on a banana peel or spell out “xoxo” in cut cucumbers. Create an in-box treasure hunt with grains mapping out a path to a hidden treasure. Your kids will take bite after bite, working their way to that pot of gold - or yogurt.
Invest in reusable lunchtime accessories
Aside from buying your very own bento box, there are a few reusable accessories that can amp up the lunchtime fun and help you remain environmentally friendly. Silicon muffin wrappers can become nifty berry purses or hold a dollop of dip. Toast stamps can turn any piece of bread into a familiar character, or cute scene. Fork picks can turn common cutlery into a sign or add color to your meal. And of course, food cutters, whether you use cookie cutters or specially shaped bread or sausage cutters, can make food prep and eating creatively delicious.
Bento boxes are great. They place your kid’s entire meal before him in a uniquely creative way, making lunchtime fun and interactive. Using bento boxes gives you an opportunity to fashion fresh, healthy meals using foods your child likes - and sneak in a few ingredients you want them to try without them even knowing it! Plus, the convenience of the separated container ensures your kid will spend lunchtime eating, instead of wasting time opening food packages.
- Mark Fireman