BENTOsiasm: Why Bento is Fun

Our eyes eat first before our mouths. If food looks presentable and enticing, chances are we’d eat our plates with more gusto. I got into bento, which is the Japanese art of packing lunch, because my oldest child was a very picky eater. We started when she was in 2nd grade to inspire her to eat more.

She has definitely passed the stage where the novelty of the cute lunchbox is craved. She is 9th grade now, and I can proudly say she will try just about anything. The same applies to my middle child who is now in 7th grade. They really don’t “dig” bento anymore. Add to that, their school program requires them to cook their own lunches in school. But that’s okay because their palates have evolved thanks to years of bento boxes!

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EGGSiting lunches cutiefied by an egg: tiger, Pokemon, mama chicken & baby chick, Halloween pumpkin yolk, smiley, and ghost egg!

Thankfully, I have a “bonus baby” who came 10 years after his oldest sister. He is now 4 years old and will be starting kinder this June. I am thinking up of ways to spice up his lunchbox.

To be honest, I’ve tried to make food art plates for him last year, because he is another picky eater, but he wasn’t receptive. He wanted to preserve the food and not destroy the “Olaf” rice no matter how much I told him it was perfectly alright to decapitate the head. But it was still a no go.

The past few months, he seems to have shown interest in cute food, so I am going to try again. I may not be the best food artist in the world, but I make up for it with my “bentosiasm”! Here are the reasons why I believe in bento:

It is not really difficult

There are those who spend a lot of time making character lunches. I am envious because their creations are really phenomenal. But, alas, my life gets in the way, so I am a speedy bento kind of girl. I am a working mom that doesn’t have hours to spare on a hectic school morning. But I prepare my kids’ lunches anyway, so I take a few extra 10 minutes to “cutiefy” lunch. And really, a bunch of bento tools are not needed. The most reached for items in my arsenal are just plastic wrap (to shape rice like clay), knife, scissors, and tweezers (to place the tiny decor).

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Easy Batman rice shaped with a cling/plastic wrap. The black parts are Nori/seaweed and the white is cheese, which I cut with scissors and a knife.

It is therapeutic

Contrary to what most people think, bento is not stressful to make. It is FUN not just for the kids but for mommy too. I get to be a kid all over again! And the best part is, now, I have permission to play with food and my own mother will not get mad at me. Ha! Sky’s the limit with the imagination. And it was Albert Einstein who even coined the famous phrase, “Imagination is more important than knowledge!”

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Olaf hard boiled egg, served with fresh veggie stir-fried noodles on a bed of rice, served with chicken nuggets, sauteed bittermelon, and a chocolate treat.

It is good “bonding”

When I pack lunch, I send my heart in it. And love is the best ingredient when it comes to cooking! I often send handwritten notes, jokes, or riddles so my kids know I am thinking of them even when we are a part. My older children, until now, have fond stories of their lunches. They may have outgrown this art, but the memories and warm fuzzies bento brings stay forever.

It provides a variety of choices

Bento has many compartments that’s supposed to be filled up with a healthy balance of go, grow, and glow (carb, protein, and fruits/veggies). Of course, a little treat is always fun too. Food-styling presents the opportunity to include a wide array of choices that hopefully entices even the pickiest of eaters to try.

It is a social experience

Many times, my older children come home and share how their classmates flock to their tables to examine their lunches. The kids are all eager to hear the jokes and riddles I send. Most importantly, their classmates show interest in their food like eggplant, bittermelon, or kimchi rice. If the boxes I send inspire others to try different types of food, then that kind of good influence is a bento success.

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My middle child wasn’t too fond of bread, but bento enticed him to try. He later realized there was so much more than rice. Ha! This is a tuna, cucumber, and lettuce sandwich. The panda is cheese with nori. It is served with nuggets, oranges, and a slice of cake. The joke with this was: “What do you call pandas in chaos? Answer: A PANDAmonium!”

It doesn’t always have to be rice

Traditionally, bento is made up of rice; but, we can be super creative with our breads and eggs too. The most important part is not to aim for picture perfection. The main goal is for the kids to come home with empty boxes and full tummies.

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A variety of bread options. The square is wheat bread and the small one is Shirogi pandesal (bread of salt). They’re morphed into: Frankenstein, bears, silly faces, Minecraft, Angry Birds, and emoticons.

Eating with the eyes is always a fun experience. It is great not just for the young-ones, but also for the young-once-upon-a-time. Growing old is mandatory, but growing-up is optional. Definitely, always be a fun kid at heart!

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