Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The perfect bento

I started packing bentos for the little one when she started preschool four years ago. I wanted to make bentos for a few reasons. 

1. Waste. I was concerned with the amount of baggies and trash we would make if we sent her to school everyday with a normal lunch. Bentos are great in reducing waste. They are a great green option to regular sack lunches.

2. Nutrition. I think most people are aware that todays school lunches are not up to par with the required nutrition for our children. I mean, the school district we are in considers the tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable! Um, hello? Aren't tomatoes a fruit? And by the way, they are no longer serving those delicious rectangle pizzas we once enjoyed 15 years ago! Its more like a slice of tostinos frozen pizza and those kids in the cafeteria do NOT scarf it up like we did back in the day. 

3. Cuteness factor. Lets be real. Bentos are adorable! If there is anything that is going to encourage my child to eat food that isn't chick-fil-a, its a well styled bento. Getting the cuteness factor down takes time and patience so it is important that you prep on the weekends to make bento making easier on the morning of. 

Ellies first day of school bento. Nothing fancy just food that she enjoys eating. Melon ball mix (watermelon and cantaloupe), turkey pepperoni, cheese and ritz cracker lunch able, sliced carrots, and a nutella frosted chocolate mini cupcake.

Getting started:

Gear. The first bentos I made were not fancy one bit. I used a pottery barn bento (here) and the coordinating lunch bag (here). I used basic cookie cutters to cut cute sandwiches and wasn't too big on themes. I've recently discovered a cute japanese store called FIT in Houston in the Bellaire area that I visit frequently when I am in town. It is where I get all my bento stuff now and it is cheap which makes me love it even more. You can also find lots of bento stuff here

Planning. When I make bentos I always meal plan in advance. My goal when meal planning is to include one of the each of the following: Protein (usually in the main dish), one vegetable, one fruit, dairy, carb, and a special small sweet treat. Sometimes I am able to combine two into one, for instance when I make her my variation of a lunch able. In the main dish I have a carb (the crackers), a protein (usually turkey pepperoni) and dairy (cheese). As for drinks, I usually pack either a fruitable juice box or an Honest Kids juice box as they are low in sugar (8g a serving v. the usual 22g in regular juice boxes). I used to pack Horizon organic plain milk but Ellie wasn't having that. I also pack a thermos with water so that she has something to drink throughout the day. I take about 1-2 hours on the weekend to meal plan and prep in advance and it saves so much time in the mornings. Sometimes if I am feeling extra themey I will sketch an idea in advance as well. However, be prepared that your sketch 9 times out of 10 will look nothing like the finished product. But thats okay! That's what makes bentos so much fun!

To get started on planning, I recommend sitting down with your little one and asking them the food they like to eat. With Ellie, I made a list with my six main building blocks: Protein, veggies, fruit, dairy, carbs, and sweet treats. Most kids won't know what a protein is or carbs so run off some ideas for them as you are making your list. Here is an example of what mine looks like:

Yes, that's a screenshot.

I also recommend pinterest! Its a great place to get ideas flowing when you are ready to start. Sometimes I borrow theme ideas and other times I look at what kind of food they are packing and how they are storing it. 

Bentos are great for adults too! I don't pack them for the mister just yet but i'm definitely thinking about it. The problem I have is a very hungry husband and I just don't know if they make bento boxes big enough for his appetite. 

What do you find to be the most helpful when packing a lunch? I'm working on a more comprehensive post in the future on planning and choosing the right gear to get your started. Let me know if there is anything specific you'd like for me to cover.

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