Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bento, anyone?

Bento.. is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. Although bento is readily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops (弁当屋 ,bentō-ya?), train stations, and department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend considerable time and energy producing an appealing boxed lunch. Thats.. what Wickapedia says about Bento Boxes.

Here's my definition.... they are cute little lunch boxes, with compartments and lids and stackable layers. Then you fill these little lunches with fun and interesting foods, cute shapes, small portions, little dividers, etc. Above are mini hamburgers, purple potato salad, some sort of salsa or something... fruit, condiments for the burger.. cutlery...

I was first introduced to these little cute lunches when my friend Ruriko Yokoi came to work at our school in 1991. She brought rice balls wrapped in Norri and cute cut up veggies in weird shapes, and cute little containers. Now I loved to cut shape sandwiches for my kids with circle cheese or heart shape carrot slices. I fancied tomatoes and even made tomato skin roses for them. But Bento... is sooo much more pretty. I never really got into making them when the kids were little. There wasn't "Google" in those days, to research how to do "Octopus Hot Dogs" or shaped eggs. So I continued with my cookie cutter shaped sandwiches and cute veggies.

Chantal's little ones are in their first year of school and are taking lunches. I am also making a lunch for a little boy... who is very fussy. Chantals kids are not fussy and therefore, she will have more success with Bento!!! Bento is also a great way to use up leftovers in a pretty way.

My favorite Website for Bento Lunch ideas is Lunch in a Box website. It has lots of fun examples of kid bento lunches and also adult ones too. I linked you to the last page of the website which is more dedicated to lunches.... the more recent pages are a little more commerical and off topic. I love all the creative ideas she has.

I bought some egg shaper molds off of ebay to give to my kids and also to Chantal for her kids. I tried them out. I did have a little trouble with with the size of the eggs I used, but it was fun to make the shapes. The set I bought came with 6 shapes... a car.. a fish..a bunny...a kitty.. a star and a heart. All I wanted was the star and heart, because there was no imprints on the outside of the eggs, because I want my egg shapers for slicing eggs for on top of potato salad or to make deviled eggs with... so I gave my kids and Chantal the fun shapes and I kept all the stars and hearts..

below you can see a bento box from the above website that has mini sandwiches, fruit, salad and a star shaped egg (dyed blue for extra kid fun). This link shows you how to make those eggs and you can use different types of molds to make ice cream sandwiches or shaped sticky rice (not that my kids would have eaten that.. but you never now)
Here's a few pics of my attempt to make shaped eggs. The first eggs I used (before I thought to take pictures) were extra large.. and they just squished out the sides of the mold. Terry went out and bought me small eggs for my next attempt... and alas.. they were too small. Large eggs are the trick for the fun shapes.. but alas.. through more failures, I figured out that for the star and heart shaped eggs... you need EXTRA Large.. ughYou boil your eggs the way you usually do for a hard boiled egg.. After they have fully cooked, you cool them just for a sec or two and then you peel them when they are hot.. not so easy to do by the way. Select your shapes you want and then pop the hot egg into the mold. snap it shut and put it in cold water for 10 minutes (or some instructions say the freezer for 5 minutes). Here is a bunny egg but the was too small so it didn't fill in to the ears and the impressions on the sides of the eggs were fairly faint. My most recent attempt (10 minutes ago) was to make heart and star shaped eggs. These are with large eggs and not as good as my next ones will be!!!

Take some time to peruse a few of the links above and enjoy some great bento ideas. Get inspired and remember, bento is not only for encouraging kids to eat.. its fun to make your lunch a little more appealing, while incorporating healthy choices and smaller portions!


GailM. said...

I love this blog.. Great Idea Bento. No trash either! It's hard to make lunches for kids now a days. My grandkids can't take eggs, fish, peanut butter, kiwi, and probably a few other things. I'll have to research some of these things get the kids each a bento box for next year.

mickermoodles said...

Okay i need to learn how because I'll be brown bagging it every day!! help!

GailM. said...

I'm reading about Bento again, to see where you can buy the little boxes you showed on your website. Is there a link where you can buy the box with the 3 or 4 little containers.. And wouldn't it be fun to make your own long small loaves of bread like in the picture.. I don't think I've ever seen the small but long bread pans. I have seen small heavy bread that you can purchase for canapes... but I don't think kids will like it.

Jill said...

I. Want. a. Bento. Box. Because. I. Want. to. Be. Just. Like. You.!

So cool! Love, love, love them. Making lunches might be fun again!

mvm said...

I should look around here in Markham because I'm sure they are here. Great idea and my kids may want to eat their lunches if I get them each a bento box. Thanks Donna :)

cpm said...

My kids LOVE their egg presses! (and so does Mommy!) Thanks for the great gift Donna! Just this week Abbey took the a bear shaped egg for her lunch, Michael only/always asks for the car shape. lol! I'm going to go re-read your blog and hit all the links. Super fun to read! You have the best ideas!