When my son started preschool a few years ago, I had to start packing a cold lunch for him every day. I was used to feeding him reheated leftovers, so I was stumped about what to pack for him. I turned to the Internet and discovered the wonderful world of bento boxes. I was instantly smitten with this way of packing lunches and I knew my three-year-old would be, too. I am still making his lunches this way and I’ve started packing my younger son’s lunches this way, too.
What is bento?
The simplest definition of “bento” is that it’s the Japanese word for boxed lunch. If I were to expand that definition a bit, I would also say that the lunch is packed with a variety of different types of food with different flavors, colors and textures. It is also usually packed to be visually appealing and attractive. Though bentos are traditionally packed with Japanese foods, you can choose any sort of foods your kids like.
Why pack lunches bento-style?
They are fun!
The number one reason to pack a lunch bento style is that it’s fun! I’m your typical busy parent and I don’t always get time every day to indulge my creative side. I have to make my kid’s lunches every day though, so I figure if I’m going to be doing it anyway, I may as well steal a little extra time to have fun with their lunches.
They are good for picky eaters
Bentos are also a good choice for picky eaters. If a lunch is packed with small portions of a lot of different foods, chances are better that you child will be willing to eat the majority of the food. If (s)he decides (s)he doesn’t like a particular food on any given day, (s)he still has the rest of the lunch to eat. If the majority of their lunch is a big sandwich and they don’t eat it, they’ll be hungry all day. If you go the extra few yards and pack the lunch in a cute way, that makes the food even more enticing.
If you pack a lunch with foods in a variety of colors and textures, chances are it’s going to be healthy and more nutritious. I try to use foods of three to five different colors when I pack my sons’ lunches and that requires that I include colorful fruits and veggies as part of the meal.
They’re good for the environment
Finally, bento boxes are usually waste-free, which is better for the environment. The average elementary school student’s lunch generates 67 pounds of trash per year, but because almost everything used to pack bento lunches is reusable, they hardly generate any paper or plastic waste.
Wendy Copley writes about cooking, crafts, parenting and her obsession with lunch boxes at Wendolonia.