Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bento Bento Bento

This is the cat....just because.
So in the wee hours during a jet lag induced web surfing marathon I came across the subject of Bento boxes for kids lunches.

For the past four years Bear has had a few too many hot lunches procured by the school. My morning face has been a tad grumpy after so many interruptions to my sleep each night since the twins arrived. I took the easy/lazy option rather than packing her another lunch she wouldn't eat. Her school went online with monthly lunch orders it was indeed a lot easier to just let her eat the school lunch.

The hot lunch program at our local school is catered by outside suppliers and over the 7 years of school (OMG did I say 7????) things have improved due to a state mandated nutrition policy. But still the waffle, cheese pizza and buttered pasta make their appearance too often and my once very adventurous eater became a little fussy rejecting even the staples such as PB and ham (no, not together) to eat the ziti and mac'n,cheese. She enjoys salad but I was not succeeding in getting much protein into her.

This year Boo and Yum Yum are also eating lunch at school and I decided that I should make all the girls lunches three days a week. Whilst Bear has become oddly fussy she is still an avid fan of japanese food, so inspired by the likes of this and this, I was ripe for the suggestion that we try bento style lunches. After a little online retail therapy I now have the basic bento equipment....

Cute bento boxes
Silicon cupcake cups
Sporks- not really necessary but they were cute and inexpensive
Egg shaper mould thingies (not having great success with these so far- large eggs too small, jumbo eggs too big)
Mini freezer bricks by the sheet (you can cut them to fit the space and reuse)
A bunch of takeout cutlery to recycle, and my existing collection of cookie cutters

I already had the thermos', their Siggies and a variety of small containers and larger lunchbox freezer bricks...and their lunchbags of course. Altogether it's a sizeable investment really ...the return should be in better meals eaten, and prepared, with more enjoyment and less waste in the long term because there is less paper and plastic wrap being used. I hope also that dinner/lunch planning will be more organised and less food wastage overall. My iphone is in the photo because I use the note making function to jot down menu planning shopping lists.

The theory of a bento lunch is in the proportion of protein, starch, vegetable, fruit and a treat. I haven't quite got that part down pat yet. The cute arrangement and small amounts of a variety of foods is appealing to little kids and portion control is easy. Just to be clear I'm not cooking Japanese food to go in these lunchboxes but we are a family that eats a lot of Asian meals any way so stir fry and rice/noodles may make an appearance but will probably be in the thermos.I do want to try making ongiri, which has been on my to try list for several years now.

Bear had the honour of the first offical bento- leftover homemade chicken "nuggets" and salad plus applesauce (yuck- what can I say- she likes that stuff) and a back to school cupcake. The appearance of her panda bento caused a small ripple of excitment at her lunch table- it is very cute...and her buddies are all into anime/manga so it's cool. She ate everything. I have indicated to her that she may be promoted to a more "sophisticated" bento when she is older...something like this perhaps, or this, although she was more keen on this more traditional bento.

On the first day of school I sent Bear, Boo and Yum Yum with a firm favourite- tortellini in a thermos (which the little ones had eaten once before in their thermos at last years late soccer practices). They all ate that happily with a side of grated cheese, some slices of peach and raspberries.

Their second day of school was the inaugural "everyone is taking a bento to school day". Here's my handiwork. Boiled eggs, tomato, cucumber, snow peas (blanched), olives and red peppers with blueberries and grapes. A little side of ranch dressing for Boo and a tiny side of smoked salmon for Yum Yum. Bear had mozarella cubes and olives added to hers after I took this photo. I tried to make the twins eggs look like beetles and Bears was just a random monster which she said had her friends guessing what it was meant to be. (Those little worms lower right are actually stems I removed from the twins blueberries).

Now that three girlies come home with mostly empty lunchboxes, there is a pile of plastic containers that can be safely handwashed by young ladies who are extremely keen to play in the sink. I call that a win!

The next bento lunch day will be sandwich based so the cookie cutters will come out and maybe some fruit leather for garnish. I'm hoping to sneak some "Sunbutter" sandwiches into their lunch- the pre school is peanut and tree nut free due to allergies so this is a sunflower seed alternative. Bear and I tested it today-it's not bad tasting, just different.

On my list for future bento and thermos lunches...
homemade mac'n'cheese (I make it with peas,corn,carrots) requested by Boo
tuna sushi for Bear( I'm trying out a little supermarket kit)
home made beef meatballs with spaghetti
taco salad with corn chips
tuna/chicken pasta salad
turkey/apple balls and other random things on sticks
fried rice with chicken (with a small side of low sodium soy for "soil" obsessed Boo)
yohgurt with fruit/honey
pizza rolls (made with ready made pizza dough)
chicken teriyaki and rice
dumplings in the thermos (my girlies are nuts about dumplings)
ham/ chicken cubes with salad on sticks
hot dogs and cooked veges, mini roll (ketchup for Boo)
should I do this to hot dogs? Maybe I'll save it for April Fools Day!
mini muffins, mini pizzas
pita wraps
salmon and cream cheese mini bagels for Yum Yum
and as treats- the occasional hidden choc chip (just the one chip), pancake, fruit leather, pretzel, popcorn or cereal to munch on (subject to the nut allergy thing).

Yes, more proof that I am not quite right in the head! I am actually thinking that I should pack the Breadwinner a bento. Maybe not a panda bento but perhaps a tiffin? He will feel more loved but he is much more likely to lose the containers. I'll have to think on this.

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