My Top 3 Questions about Bento Lunches

by Stacey Nerdin

As the Managing Editor here at 5 Minutes for Mom, I love previewing the posts from our food writers in the 5 Minutes for Food column every Thursday. I’m amazed by their creativity and a bit envious of their skills in the kitchen. I have pretty much zero talent when it comes to cooking or developing recipes, but there is one food-related trend I am very interested in exploring: bento lunches for kids.

What is bento?

Bento (弁当 bentō?) is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container.

A quick search for Bento boards on Pinterest yields a massive list of results:

bento pinterest boards

It seems I’m not the only one looking for a little inspiration here!

Tell Me: What’s the Attraction?

Why have bento lunches become so popular? For myself, I know the reason I’m looking into it is because it seems to encourage healthier choices for food and portion size, and it also seems to be the modern way to send an edible love note from mom.

If you do bento lunches, or if you are looking into it like I am, why?

What Do I Need To Get Started?

At first glance, it looks like I’ll need a lot of expensive little gadgets to get started, but maybe that’s not so. Rachel Lacy, one of our food writers here and owner of the site Following in My Shoes, wrote a great post all about bento resources and supplies for the beginner. She shares great tips for using ordinary, inexpensive supplies like hard plastic lunch boxes and cupcake picks as an alternative to buying specifically marked “bento” supplies.

If you prepare bento lunches for your kids, what are your favorite go-to brands and supplies for the job?

What Kind of Food Do I Use?

Now this – this – is where my creative wheels grind to a halt. My mind draws a blank when it comes to “fun with food.” Fortunately, there are some incredibly talented minds sharing food ideas for bento lunches, one of them being Melissa from Another Lunch. I just stumbled upon her blog and could sit here for hours oohing and aahhing at the foods she puts together for her kids’ lunches! Check out her site, then make it a Tuesday habit to check out Rachel’s I ♥ Lunch link-up for weekly bento food inspiration.

If you’re a bento fan, what are your favorite foods to include in your child’s lunches?

This time, you’re the expert.

The 5 Minutes for Food column is known for bringing you fabulous original recipes for your whole family, but this time, I’m turning the tables and hoping to hear from you! I know many of you have some experience or similar interest in learning more about bento lunches, and I’d love to hear your questions, advice, resources, and more. And if you have posts or blogs of your own related to bento lunches, feel free to post them in the comments!



Email Author    |    Website About Stacey Nerdin

Stacey has blogged personally at her site, Tree, Root, and Twig, since 2005. When she's not online or busy with her husband and five kids, she's probably learning a new hobby, reading a book, taking a nap, or catching up on her DVR. You can find her on Google+ or Twitter at @StaceyNerdin.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jen S. September 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm

We love bento boxes! We actually use LunchBots and while my daughter’s lunch doesn’t look anything like half the pictures on Pinterest, it does look pretty and presentable and the small compartments allow for nicely packaged portions of colorful food. I am a true believer that you eat with your eyes first, so I know that this lunch container only encourages my children to eat what’s been put in there. We love filling the small spaces with mini-mozzerella balls and cherry tomato skewers, olives, nuts, every possible kind of fruit, baby carrots, broccoli, mini ham or turkey rolls, snap peas, edamame, antipasto, etc. etc. I feel like once you “compartmentalize” your child’s lunch, it gets you away from the rut of “making a sandwich and adding an apple and a bag of pretzels.” I love that you can just fill the space with little bits of all types of food!

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2 Stacey Nerdin September 7, 2012 at 1:34 am

Ohhh, I LOVE that – “you eat with your eyes first.” So true! That’s a great reason to really get going on this. Thanks for the suggestions on food items, and the mention of what you use for boxes. Will be checking this out!

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3 MomHomeGuide September 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I am hoping to give my kids “bento” style lunches this fall. The lunches most likely won’t be fancy with all the special shapes etc., but they will include a sampling of different foods to make lunch more fun! I wanted to buy a traditional bento box, but they are so expensive! So, I just bought divided plastic Rubbermaid containers instead. Tomorrow’s lunch will be deviled eggs, some pasta salad, and a few carrot sticks — plus a lunch box note from mom!

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4 Stacey Nerdin September 7, 2012 at 1:35 am

You’re right about the traditional boxes – I’ve been pricing them out, and it’s a little hard for me to justify (though some are SO cute!). Thanks for the tip on Rubbermaid containers. I will see what my local stores have in that aisle!

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5 Jasmine September 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I <3 Bentos! I have a Bento Pinterest board as well. (http://pinterest.com/learningwithmom/bento-fun/)
I like them because of the above mentioned reasons. But also because food should LOOK as good as it TASTES! (That's the Japanese and French way.) I love enticing my little one to eat because everything is so cute! I have quite a few bento rice molds, seaweed cutters for cute faces and picks of animal to skewer food. I'm not a regular cook, but even a sandwich can be dressed up in a bento way. Check out FunkyLunch (http://www.funkylunch.com/gallery.htm) for ideas!

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6 Stacey Nerdin September 9, 2012 at 11:43 am

Thank you for sharing these resources, Jasmine! I appreciate it!

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7 Jo-Lynne {Musings of a Housewife} September 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I also at a bit of a loss. We eat healthy, but my kids are sandwich people and while we have a bento box, I find it hard to fill because my kids usually bring a sandwich and an apple for lunch! LOL. I am going to enjoy these comments!

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8 Stacey Nerdin September 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

It’s funny, Jo-Lynne – when I asked my school kids if they would even *enjoy* these types of lunches, my two girls were enthusiastic, my one son was very “Meh.” I’m not sure I’ll go to the effort with him, because truly, it just doesn’t connect with him. Some kids really are just sandwich and apple kinds of lunch eaters! :)

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