In Japanese, bento (弁当 bentō) refers to a compact, nutritiously-balanced, visually appealing meal served in a box. Bento meals are typically neatly packed in a lunch-box like plastic container and are usually prepared for children. Unfortunately, these adorable lunches do have a dark side. In Japan, a child’s bento box is a reflection of a mother’s love and hence, poorly packed bentos often equate to poor parenting. However, for starters, if you do plan on making bento lunches for your kid, you can start with these tips and keep it simple instead.
Settle for simple
You don’t have to go above and beyond with each bento meal that you pack because we all know none of us actually want to spend hours creating a couple lunches which will be consumed in mere minutes. Settle for something simple yet nutritional, and try to include your child’s favourite foods and snacks. If you’re feeling adventurous and have a little more time on your hands, you can use shape cutters to your advantage and up your aesthetic game.
Divide the meal proportionately
The most important thing to note about bento lunches is that they are supposed to be nutritious and balanced meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following proportions for a balanced meal: 40% vegetables, 30% whole grains, 20% protein, 10% fruit.
Credit: Jessica Spengler
Mix it up
Add some foods that are savoury and others that are sweet to raise the flavour levels of the bento lunch. The contents need not be limited to the Japanese cuisine. Everything from sandwiches to pasta and salads may be included in the bento. Again, keep in mind your child’s favourite foods and balance them with fruits and veggies of brighter colours and earn some presentation points while you’re at it.
Pack it tightly
By packing a bento tightly, you reduce the incidence of the different foods being shifted around during transit. You can use bento accessories like dividers, skewers and paper ramekins to separate different foods. Gaps can be filled using smaller veggies and fruits like green beans, cherry tomatoes and grapes.
Involve your kids during preparation
Have your child help out while you’re preparing their lunches if time allows. It can be a fun parent-child bonding activity and you can also get to know their likes and tastes as well as introduce them to foods they’ve not tried yet.
Featured image credit: Masaaki Komori