The First Week of Bentos

September 12, 2014

We’re finishing up our second week of school around here, and I’m still adjusting. New teachers. New classmates. The mountain of forms to sign. The strict bedtimes. The waking up and hurrying up to get out the door. The carpool. The jockeying for spots in the pick-up line.

And of course, the bentos.

The kids’ school district this year is offering free lunches for all students, and it’s tempting (oh so tempting) to send them out the door lunchbox-less, knowing they’ll get a hot meal. But while food options have gotten a lot better, there’s still a lot of processed, packaged stuff that we don’t normally eat at home. Last year, when my nine-year-old would buy lunch two days in a row, he’d come home with a stomachache–without fail. So as much as I’d love that extra time in the morning, I know that ultimately feeding them good food is what’s best for us.

Here’s what I’ve been packing, usually as caught on my iPhone while the boys ask me for matching socks and my toddler clings koala-style onto my leg.

star naan bento

Contents in a Komax bento:

  • Aidell’s pineapple and bacon chicken sausage
  • naan with cheese stars
  • carrot sticks
  • grapes
  • snap peas

chicken sausage bento yumbox

This is the same lunch for my first grader, but with added cabbage strips, which he LOVES. I love that the Yumbox container has that little section for sauce.

heart stamp sandwich with prosciutto bento

Contents in an ECOlunchbox:

  • PB&J “you rock” stamped sandwich (cutter and letter stamps bought at World Market)
  • red bell pepper strips
  • prosciutto-wrapped nectarines
  • mixed berries

chicken teriyaki bento

Contents in a Planetbox Shuttle:

  • chicken teriyaki drumstick (recipe here, but I subbed organic apple juice for the pineapple juice)
  • steamed carrots and broccoli
  • grapes
  • strawberries

ham rolls bento with Annie's crackers

Contents in an Easylunchbox:

  • Applegate ham and provolone cheese roll-ups
  • Annie’s cheddar crackers
  • mixed berries and nectarine
  • celery with peanut butter

slow cooker flank steak burrito bento

Contents in a Lunchbots Click (top) and Steeltainer (bottom):

  • slow cooker flank steak (recipe here)
  • cabbage strips
  • baby carrots
  • apple
  • Horizon organic milk

breakfast bagel bento

Contents in a Korean-brand stainless steel container (top) and a Steeltainer divided snack container (bottom):

  • egg and cheese bagel sandwich
  • avocado
  • rainbow carrots
  • apple slices

hard boiled eggs snack bento

Contents in the upper tier of a Komax bento:

  • hard-boiled egg with paprika
  • raw yellow squash with avocado
  • nectarines with raspberries
  • Vita Coco flavored coconut water (LOVE this, since it’s only 8g of sugar vs. 20-something of most juice boxes!)

 

turkey rollups bento

Contents in an ECOLunchbox:

  • turkey tortilla rollups with spinach tortilla, turkey, cheddar, mashed avocado, and baby spinach
  • purple carrots
  • apple
  • cantaloupe
  • trail mix cookies from Trader Joe’s (addicting)

 

So there you have it. I survived, my kids survived, and we only have about 38 more weeks of this to go! If you’ve been packing lunch, I’d love to hear what’s been going in your kid’s lunchbox.

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Bento 101: Organization

August 21, 2014

So you’ve settled on a bento box, picked out your cute accessories, and now… have to store them all somewhere.

I know the feeling.

For the better part of the year, I had all the little things crammed into a box, and my growing container collection hanging out wherever it wanted to. Some on my dishrack. Some in my corner cabinet. Some lids (omg, all the lids) playing hide-and-seek behind the flour jar.

Yesterday, I decided that if I wanted to survive this school year, I’d better get my act together. So this is what I came up with:

bento organization accessories

TOP LEFT:  plastic cutters in a Container Store accessory box
BOTTOM LEFT: silicone cups and plastic sauce cups, also in a Container Store accessory box
TOP RIGHT: assorted fondant and mini cutters (Duff and Wilton brands) in an old lock n lock bento container
MIDDLE RIGHT: more fondant cutters in an old bento container
BOTTOM RIGHT: picks, nori punches, mini sauce containers, lunchskins reusable snack bags, and lunchbox love notes  in an old lock n lock container

Then came the task of putting the tools and all my containers within the same zip code. It took a bit of rearranging, but I think I’ve come up with a pretty sustainable solution:

bento organization cabinets

Now, listen: I have no organizational prowess whatsoever. There are reasons why I don’t post any pictures of my home here. So if I can do it, you surely can, too. It would be nice if I could group the plastics and stainless steels, but I’ll take it.

Here is the accessory box, at a very affordable $1.79:

The Container Store accessory box

And some other strong candidates I see after browsing The Container Store:

two-sided compartment box, (double the storage!) $1.99-$2.99, great for picks and small cutters:

Container Store Two Sided Compartment Box

 

large compartment boxes, $3.99-$4.99:

Container Store Large Compartment Boxes

 

Translucent Hobby Case, $16.99 (love that it’s an all-in-one. Might get these for the kids’ homework tools):

Container Store Hobby Case

Anything from the Smart Store system, since it’s totally customizable: The Container Store Smart Store System

I’m sure the dollar stores would have something similar, and Michael’s and Joann’s with their ubiquitous 40% off coupons are always a good bet. Whatever you decide, go with what works for you and your needs, and in the spirit of bento, clean and simple.

 

 

 

Get (more than) What You Pay For

Sometimes you get what you pay for. Sometimes, you get a lot more.

I was shopping at my local HMart getting my usual Korean food necessities, then ventured into the housewares section, which I already knew had a few bento boxes. I saw this two-box set sitting in a corner–Komax, a Korean brand–just waiting to go to a loving home. Who am I to refuse?

I love that:

  • they stack.
  • after stacked, they’re held together with an included band.
  • the top box has three sections AND a sectioned lid so everything stays put.
  • it’s the perfect size for school lunches.
  • it was only $4.99.

Five dollars.

For anyone who claims bento-ing is too expensive, this little gem can be had for less than the cost of an extra value meal.

And I have to confess: it’s one of my current favorites. It had me at sectioned lid. And $4.99, of course. I picked up two sets. All this to say, if you have an Asian grocery store nearby, it doesn’t hurt to check and see what kind of bento gear might be waiting for you.

Here are a couple examples of how I’ve used it so far:

 

salami fig bento in komax

Finger foods make a great school lunch for kids, especially if they’re busy chatting with friends. Contents:

  • figs
  • thick-cut salami
  • Organic Valley cheddar cheese
  • Trader Joe’s multigrain crackers
  • celery
  • apples
  • cherries

komax soba noodles bento

I roasted kabocha squash for the first time with some coconut oil and a bit of turbinado sugar and followed this recipe from nom nom paleo. The kids LOVED it, so I’m trying to sneak it in when I can: it’s packed with beta-carotene (iron, vitamin C, some B vitamins) and fiber.

Contents:

  • roasted kabocha squash
  • pickled cucumber slices
  • red pepper slices
  • soba salad

For the soba dressing, I whisked together:

  • 1/4c soy sauce
  • 1/4c honey
  • 1/8c rice vinegar
  • 2 garlic gloves, peeled and finely grated
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated (use more if you like a strong ginger flavor)
  • a steady stream of sesame oil to taste

This was plenty for three bundles of soba noodles.

Sadly, I don’t see that you can buy the Komax bento set online anywhere, but it may pop up on eBay here and there. Otherwise, get thee to an Asian market!

 

 

 

Printable lunchbox ideas and bento planner

August 11, 2014

This year, I vow to be a little more organized. At least a little. So to help me, I made these printables to help me plan out school lunches. Hope they help you in your bento journey!

LUNCHBOX IDEAS

I grouped food suggestions into major food categories: protein, veggies, fruit, grain/starch, and dairy. Of course, these are mere suggestions and many categories overlap, so feel free to use it as loose inspiration vs. a hard-and-fast guide. I tried to mix in quick and easy with not-so-common ideas to help get your creative juices flowing, too. Click here or on the image for the full PDF. Stick them in a clear document saver, or laminate, and write on it with a fine-tip dry erase marker!

printable lunchbox ideas

WEEKLY BENTO PLANNER

Again, some categories will overlap or not apply for your family, so not every box will be filled for every day. But there’s something extremely satisfying about sitting down for two minutes and writing out a plan–regardless of whether you stick to it faithfully or not.  Click here or on the image for the PDF.

printable weekly bento planner

I may work on a second version since many document holders I find are portrait vs. landscape. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here’s a different version! Click here  or on the image for the PDF.

weekly bento planner blue and orange

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Goodbyn Hero

August 8, 2014

Sometimes, you don’t realize you need rescuing until a hero comes along.

The Goodbyn Hero is the latest addition to the Goodbyn family, and thanks to the people at Reuseit I got the chance to play around with it. I’ve reviewed Goodbyn containers before, and I love that they’re constantly innovating and coming up with new designs, so I knew I’d want to test this one out.

image via reuseit.com

But first, going back to the whole not-realizing-you-need-rescuing thing: I have a good number of bento containers already–some that look very similar to the Hero, actually. Take a look:

three section bento containers comparison

The Hero (blue) looks most similar to Easylunchboxes (top right, with a purple lid). Quite honestly, I thought it would be too similar. After spending some time using it, though, I realized the Hero has carved out its own niche in my kitchen cabinets for a couple reasons:

  1. The Hero is huge. Not only are the overall dimensions larger, but it’s deeper, too. It’s not necessarily a good thing or bad thing, but definitely a thing depending on how you pack, and who you’re packing for. If you’re packing light, or for a small child, it’s easy for the food to look a bit swallowed up by the container. However, the size is great for older kids, adults, multiple kids sharing, long outings, etc. I think that’s where this container really shines. The Hero is no wimp.
  2. Those two little containers are everything. They’re included in the set, and each container fits in any of the three compartments. That means they can instantly take up space in the large section if needed ( a little phone-booth-style transformation, if you will) and make the whole layout flexible. It’s also nice to keep them inside the Hero so that your kid won’t lose them or forget to use them during lunch.
  3. It’s bright. This may seem trivial, but a saturated, fun color could help a reluctant kid be more attracted to eating his lunch (and a sleepy parent at 6am be more attracted to packing it).

Here’s how I used it:

goodbyn hero review

That’s four slices of bread stacked, to give you an idea of its depth. The amount of food I packed is perfect for my nine-year-old, and plenty for him to eat for lunch and for a scheduled snacktime in his classroom.

All in all, I have a feeling I’ll be calling on the Hero a lot this coming school year.

Star Sandwich Tutorial

Sometimes all a boring sandwich needs is a little facelift. Here’s a brief tutorial on how to use the container as a sandwich cutter and make the two-toned star.

star sandwich tutorial

  1. Use the container as a cutter on a slice of dark sandwich bread. I used Pepperidge Farm’s “dark wheat”.  Wiggle side to side until you feel the edges cut through the bread completely.
  2. Push in gently on one side until it’s easy to take out the bread.
  3. Use a star-shaped cookie cutter, again wiggling from side to side. Set aside.
  4. Use the star-shaped cookie cutter on a slice of light bread.
  5. Push the star-shaped bread from bottom to top until it comes out the top. This molds the cut edges completely to the shape so that you don’t get any scraggly edges.
  6. Pop it into the negative space you made with the first slice of bread.

Easy! I made pb&j with these, but if you wanted to use deli meat or other filling, you’d just have to cut everything to size.