What's a bento? Bento (technically o-bento) is the Japanese art of the box lunch. And it's really an art!
A few years ago bento was all the rage, but foodie fads come and go like fashion fads. Things sorta moved to the raw rage as bento rage faded....
But bento is awesome. The reason I like to make bento lunches is you get a visual of whether or not your meal is balanced and complete. Bento box meals should be visually appealing, and mamas in Japan spend hours making them so.
Naturally, I will not be showing you how to spend a LOT of time making bento meals, instead I will be sharing my tips for how to make them using the absolute minimum of time, effort, and tools. Lots of tools used to make fun-shaped food can be a boon to the mother of a picky eater, but a knife and some ingenuity is all you really need.
A bento meal is usually 4 parts starch, 3 parts protein, 2 parts veggie, and 1 part sweet. (However, I have seen these ratios varied depending on the source.) And ideally they include something green, something yellow, and something red. (No, fd&c # anything doesn't count!)
In Japan, you can find a whole host of amazing boxes, trays, and do-hickeys to tote your bento lunch. (In India, the tiffin is a very similar lunch-carrying box.) Here in the States you won't find so much variety, but many companies are jumping on the green bandwagon and offering lunch sets that will do nicely for a bento lunchbox.
In the end, though, it's not the box, it's the food that should steal the lunch-time show... so even a rectangular Rubbermaid container is fine. Traditionally the divisions between food were made with more food- thinly sliced cucumber, strips of seaweed (YUMMM), leaves of lettuce, and the like. These days you can buy little plastic sheets of 'grass' to separate food and even more recently, companies have been making really fun bento-style boxes with divided wells. These keep foods separate, which is uber important for some picky kids (and adults).
I'm "practicing" making lunches so when summer and summer camp season hits, I'll be an expert! Also because we are SO busy these days with life, plus packing and baby nesting, that lunch so easily gets shuffled to the side (go make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!). And my small people really need a good sit-down lunch every day. We all do!
A few wonderful green companies have given me samples of bento boxes and bento helpers for me to review- and give away!- this month. ECOlunchboxes, Go Green Lunchboxes, and Beaba baby products have all sent some very cool things.
At the end of April, I will draw from followers who have left comments for a set of bento tools (sandwich cutter, veggie cutters, egg molds, and rice mold), and also a furoshiki snack wrap from ECOlunchboxes!
Here's an all-day bento meal for a really hungry pregnant mom and her thieving brood of little people:
"A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish."