Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Almost Too Pretty to Eat: Bento Boxes for Kids

Did your school lunch look like this? No?
Image: www.foodieparent.com
In a few weeks, parents across the country will be make one of those nostalgia-inducing purchases that never fails to prompt stories that turn into a walk down pop culture memory lane. That's right: the school lunchbox.

My lunchbox was the cafeteria tray. I had to eat school lunch. It was gross. For some reason, we always had taco salad with a cinnamon roll on Wednesdays. Who serves cinnamon rolls with taco salad? Who serves taco salad with an ice cream scoop? And can we really call it "salad" when the only recognizable vegetable is corn? But I digress.

Nowadays I make a lunch for my kid to take to school. Since I have one of those kids who eats like three things, it's a pretty uninspired combination of food: a sandwich containing a healthy fat and some protein, some fruit, and some low fat cheese.  But remember this post featuring the awesome lunch my friend makes for her son? It's just one example of how the sack lunch has evolved, thanks partly to Pinterest making all of our lives cuter and partly to ancient Japanese culture for making the rest of us look lazy. The Bento Box is raising the bar for kids' lunches and mommy guilt everywhere.

The word, "bento" actually refers to convenience, but I think that must be for the person toting the meal around and eating it, not the person who prepares it. If you've peered inside some of the examples for bento box lunches, you can confirm that making one is in no way convenient. But they are fun and provide a great opportunity to trick I mean encourage your children to eat healthy food by making it look funny and cute. 

Traditional bento boxes date back to the 1100s and were simply portable meals prepared from home, I guess to prevent the 12th century rat-racer from grabbing a burger at lunch. Now, bento boxes are often arranged in the Kyaraben style, which means they are made to look like characters from anime, comic books, or video games. Another popular bento style is "oekakiben" or "picture bento", which is decorated to look like people, animals, buildings and monuments, or items such as flowers and plants. Yeah, my PB&J looks totally lazy now.

Here are some ways to add some bento inspiration to your kid's lunchbox and hopefully encourage them to try some new (healthy) food! If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!

1. Include a lot of color. Part of the allure of the bento is the elaborate display of the food, and color adds lots of visual interest. It just so happens that fruits and vegetables are loaded with color! Wow, now that's convenient! 

2. Consider your child's interests. If your daughter is all about pink, quartered strawberries make perfect flower petals! If your son is into Star Wars or army men, try your hand at a Darth Vader sandwich or pretzel tank. Hey, I'd even make a hand grenade out of a kiwi if it meant he would try a bite. Check out these pictures on Parenting.com for some inspiration!

3. Keep it healthy. There are loads of really cute and fun things to make out of food, but just because it is packed in an eco-friendly stainless steel container does not mean it is healthy. Skip the cookies and stick with focusing on having a balance of whole grains, protein, healthy fat, and colorful produce. Check these tips for packing a healthy lunch.

Okay reality check: will I be doing this once school starts? I am going to give it a shot! I usually avoid making food cute because it removes the focus from functional fuel for our bodies and more towards eating as recreation. But if it helps my kid eat more vegetables, I can look the other way and get over it. :) 

At least until I get so busy that I wonder what made me think I had time in my day to craft daily elaborate art installations from food and just toss an apple and sandwich in a paper bag and call it a day.

Get out there and get healthy today, whether your lunch is bento or just pb&j!


No comments: