By Ramona Sever
Photography by Jenna Noel
My name is Ramona Sever, and I just wrapped up a great first-grade year at Zilker Elementary. I like school for a lot of reasons: I loved my teacher, I have great friends and I really love sinking my teeth into new subjects. I guess I haven’t given much thought to the other things I’ve sunk my teeth into throughout the school year, though. Like my lunch. More specifically, the things in my lunchbox. Even more specifically, the things in my bento box.
My mom has been packing my lunch ever since I started eating away from home, and although I knew that she spent time making sure the food was healthy, I never really thought about the way my lunch looked (or that it was sort of unique) until recently. My mom explained to me that the funny plastic and metal boxes I carried with me to school each day are actually called bento boxes, and there is a long and interesting history about where they came from and why people use them.
Deli Bento suggestions (from owner Kayo Asazu)
In Japan, known as where Bento came from, Mother put so much energy to prepare Bento for kids to make them healthy and happy. We often say it is a part of very important communication between mother and children. So of course, you would like to take this seriously and prepare Bento that kids will love so much.
I believe, in order to have enough nutrition, Bento should have 1 carb item, such as bread, rice or pasta. And one entree (should be either meat or seafood) and then two side dish items (usually vegetables). So it means just one peanut butter sandwich is not enough nutrition for kids lunch! Also Bento has to be visually fun. Be creative! I used to like the very moment when I open the bento box for lunch, and goes... WAO! So my mother carefully chose the items have different colors (such as using carrot as red, broccoli as green, egg as yellow,,,,) And sometimes she cut sheet of seaweed as bunny shape and placed it on steam rice. When the bento is fun, it will encourage kids to eat everything, even something they do not like. And last thing, always keep good sanitary conditions. Make sure wash your hands very well before preparing Bento, and cook everything well-done. These suggestions are very simple, but should apply anytime people make Bento.
Where to find Bento boxes
• Deli Bento also suggests that if you can't find your own bento box, to use a regular tupperware container and cut lettuce or cabbage leaves to make your dividers.
• Ramona's favorite bento can be found here plasticashop.com
• Wheatsville Food Co-op carries Laptop Lunches bento boxes/cases
• buy4asianlife.com has a slection of bento boxes for all price ranges
• laptoplunches.com Laptop Lunches are American-style bento boxes designed to help families pack nutritious, environment-friendly lunches for school, work, and travel. Our sustainable lunch containers--which come with a book of healthy lunch ideas and lunchmaking recipes--are reusable, recyclable, and dishwasher safe. Our lunchboxes do not contain phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), or lead.
• fit-fresh.com Fit Fresh has a variety of containers, though not quite bento boxes, these reusable boxes come with built-in ice packs to keep your food cold until it's lunch time.
• zojirushi.com Lunch jars provide an excellent way to safely and conveniently pack lunch (or a snack) where a microwave or a refrigerator may not be available. Simply fill the plastic inner bowls with rice and soup, or cottage cheese and fruit (always pack all hot or all cold items), and place them in the stainless steel outer container. The vacuum insulation keeps the contents hot or cold for up to 6 hours.
• jlist.com Bento boxes found here are covered in fun prints for children. Lots of shapes and sized, many include reusable chopsticks.
• The Container Store on 183/360 has several food containers that work well and they even have sliding dividers
• Asahi imports on Burnet Rd. also has a limited selection of traditional bento boxes.
• Many more bento boxes can be found on Amazon and Ebay
Ramona’s Picks for Bento Box items
• green salad, dressing on the side
• yogurt with fruit
• tofu pouches stuffed with rice and beans
• chopped veggies with peanut butter
• pasta salad, with crispy nuts
• pb&j of course!
• fried polenta (in fun shapes: see Lunchinabox)
• onigiri (rice balls, can be colored and/or made into fun shapes, see Justbento )
• fruit or fruit salad
Wheatsville suggestions (from Nicki Nash)
• salad, noodle salad
• fresh fruit or vegetables
• (in lidded container) dressing, peanut butter, sauce, yoghurt
• kid sushi (rice & veg in paper)
hint: go for variety!