Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bento Lunches

The first year I taught preschool, I had adorable two-year old twins in my class named Joey and Riko.  Their mom, who was originally from Japan, would pack them amazing lunches.  The food looked like art - cute shapes, nice composition, etc.  What was more amazing was that Joey and Riko were great eaters.  While we were coaxing other kids to take "one more" bite of their PB&Js, the twins would be eagerly munching away on shrimp, broccoli, meatballs, etc.  Whatever their mom sent them, they ate with gusto.

I didn't know it then, but that was my introduction to bento lunches.  Bentos are originally from Japan - and they're not just for kids.  The hallmark of a bento lunch is the small box artfully crammed full of food.  In Japan, the main part of a bento is usually made out of rice - which can be molded and tinted to create fantastic food art.

Both from
Some people get really into the art of making a bento lunch.  It's amazing, but not something I see myself doing five days a week.  What really appeals to me as a mom is the nutritional focus of a bento lunch.  A typical Japanese bento lunch contains 3 parts grain (rice, pasta, bread or noodles), 2 parts vegetable, 1 part protein (meat, fish, eggs).  I plan on adapting my bentos to follow more closely the new MyPlate initiative the USDA rolled out earlier this year.

Bento boxes make it fairly easy to focus on food groups because most come with little divided sections.  You can also use little silicone cups or even tupperware containers to section out your food.  It keeps the different types of food from mixing together and emphasizes the great variety of food presented in a bento box.

There's also the green factor.  Where I taught preschool, the children had to bring their lunches.  You would be amazed at the amount of trash that was accumulated from eight kids' lunches.  Bentos will also help cut down on the cost of packing a lunch.  Instead of buying individually portioned bags of pretzels, buy one regular bag and dole out five at a time.
My son is starting kindergarten in the fall and I plan on sending his lunches most days.  I'd even like to start doing bento lunches myself when I go back to work (they're great for portion control because there's only so much food you can fit in a tiny box).  I'll keep you updated on our latest food adventures.

If you're interested in bento lunches - two great websites are and

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