I wrote this up for one of the girls on the Bargain Board for her MOPS group.
Since we've had a no-bento week (Thanksgiving feast with their book buddies on Monday, hot lunch day on Wednesday), I thought I'd post it so the page doesn't look so empty. :o)
Less environmental waste (reusable containers versus baggies & paper bags)
Less food waste (smaller portions are eaten quicker/easier than larger ones)
More balanced lunches (creativity seems to involve color, which involves healthier food!)
The "Cute" Factor (presentation really is everything!)
There are probably more reasons, but everything I can think of seems to fit under those 4 for the most part.
Why I Bento?
I used to teach 5th/6th Grade before my kids were born. School lunches, for the most part, leave a lot to be desired. Most have too much processed food, too much fat and really aren't things I would want my child eating on a daily basis. As well, even if the lunches were better quality, it didn't mean the kids ate it. I saw them throw an awful lot of the good food away.
So when my daughter started school, I made it my mission to send her with a good, balanced & nutritious lunch. She is a good eater, but putting a huge plate of food in front of a 5 year old is overwhelming. I wanted to make the portions smaller and more easily manageable and send a meal that would be finished. So I got creative--shaped sandwiches, fruit kebabs, little bits of veggies & dip, all fun food that I was sure would be eaten.
If you think about it, we have a "SuperSized" culture. Portion sizes are out of control and really don't need to be as large as they are. We send kids with adult sized portions of food, especially the junk. They really don't need 3 or 4 cookies and a bag of chips. We do a lot of shopping at the Asian groceries and the difference in portions of sweets is amazing. The cookies my kids like have maybe 7-10 little rounds per bag and the fruit/yogurt jellies are 1/4 the size of a pudding cup. We send those instead for a treat and never have any complaints that there wasn't enough.
What We Put in Bentos (a short list)
"Faux Sushi" - trim the crusts off bread and roll flat with a rolling pin, spread with cream cheese, sliced turkey or ham, and some cheese, roll up and cut into rounds
Shaped Sandwiches - cut with cookie cutters, rolling the bread flat helps as well
Stuffed Muffins - use corn muffin mix as a base, mix according to the package, then add in diced turkey & veggies or diced ham & shredded cheese, etc, bake according to the package directions
Tuna salad - I use the scoopable Tostada chips as a holder and top with a cheese flower
Chef Salads with ranch - lettuce, cucumber, carrot, shredded turkey, cheese, chopped boiled egg
Fruit kebabs - melons, grapes & strawberries work well for this
Cheese & crackers - cut into shapes with cookie cutters
Pasta salad - sometimes with extra meat & cheese added for protein
For treats: yogurt jellies, panda or koala cookies, marshmallow jams, mini chocolate bars, Goldfish pretzels
For hot lunches: steamed pork dumplings, meatballs (sweet & sour are a favorite here), steamed rice usually pressed into shapes