It’s that time of year again: Parents across the country are scouring grocery store aisles daily, scratching their heads as they try to decide what to pack in their kids’ lunches. And, meanwhile, those same kids are throwing half the food away once they get to school.
At Daily Parent, we love bento lunches—particularly how they can make it so easy for parents to pack meals that are fun, healthy and really, really cute. We’ve even shared a few of our favorite bento boxes that’ll make the packing process that much easier. Still, though, we know it’s easy to get intimidated by the intricate lunches popping up all over the blogosphere.
Anna Adden of Becoming a Bentoholic is one of those bloggers who makes bento-ing look so easy each time she shares one of the uber-creative lunches she whips up for her two kiddos. In fact, she’s so committed to turn everyone into a budding bentoholic that she compiled all of her best tips and tricks into her new book, Happy Bento!: Lunches on the Go (Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, August 2015). Here, we talk to Adden about the must-have tools for maximum bento creativity and sandwich-free tips for every lunch-packing parent.
What first sparked your interested in bento lunches, and why have you continued making them for so long?
When my daughter began preschool I was perplexed as to what to pack for her since she did not eat sandwiches. As any good parent would, I Googled preschool lunches and the bento box popped up. These lunches appealed to me, and I knew my daughter would enjoy them. The bento box presented so many other packed-lunch options than just the standard sandwich, chips and apple. I have always been a crafty person [so I enjoy making bento lunches], but it’s definitely not for everyone. My kids enjoy seeing what is in their lunchbox, and that is why I have continued it. Fun for them, fun for me—win, win!
Why do you think kids like bento lunches so much?
I think it’s the fun factor. Not everyone at the lunch table gets to eat a Hello Kitty lunch. Plus, it’s easy to base lunches around things that they are currently in to. [Ed. note: Check this easy tutorial for Minion bento lunches.] If you make lunch fun with healthy food options, kids get a chance to make the right choices for themselves.
Parents are always looking for ways to make lunches healthier. How do bento lunches make that possible?
Bento lunches present healthy food in a more fun and playful manner. Take a look at cupcakes and candy, always adorned or in the shape of popular animated characters, thus enticing your kids to ask you to buy them. The bentos that I make use the same techniques, so they entice the child to try healthy food.
For new-to-bento parents, what are the must-have tools to get started?
You need at least one bento box or lunchbox and a knife to get started. Beyond that would be cookie cutters and silicone backing cups. Also, save those cupcake toppers from any party your child attends—they’re a cheap and easy way to add punch to your bento lunch.
Which foods/meals do particularly well in bento boxes and which don’t work as well?
Pretty much anything will work. Focus on what your child really likes and what they will eat cold. There are so many different bento boxes and/or lunchboxes out there making it easy to pack whatever foods your child likes. Think about what your needs are in a lunchbox before you purchase it. (Traditionally bento boxes are packed with rice, a protein and a side of vegetables.)
A lot of the bento lunches on the internet—including your site!—look really intimidating. What advice do you have for parents who don’t think they’re crafty enough to bento?
For people just starting out, my suggestion is to start with cookie cutters. They add a level of cuteness and take only a couple of extra seconds of your time. You don’t have to make masterpiece bento lunches for it to be exciting for your child. Also, let your child give it a try. Many kids have fun building their own bento and it gives them an opportunity to learn about packing a balanced meal.
Any other tips for parents considering a bento lifestyle?
Have fun, and do whatever you feel you have time to do. Your child will love it because they know you made it for them out of love. There are so many bentos on the internet; surf the web and get inspired. And my book has many different bento ideas for parents from beginners to advanced bento makers.