Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bento Q&A Part 1

I really wanted to do a Part 1 of something, but not sure how many posts this will be or how long I want each post to be, so let's just call it Part 1.

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of getting to talk to a Mom2Mom group at one of the local churches. Since I wasn't quite sure what all to talk about, it ended up being more of a big show & tell session where I dragged a (very large) bag of my favorite supplies along with me and we talked bento and food ideas and all sorts of fun things.

I then posed the question on my Facebook page, to share the burning bento questions you have for future posts. (BTW, not on Facebook with us? You should join in! It's right here. I love Facebook as an easy way to reply to people, since I am very bad about remember to go back to blogs that I ask questions on to find out the answer. Plus I'm always on Facebook!)

I also added in ones that come up a lot on comments or emails, so this may take more than a post to work my way through all of them.

So, what exactly is bento?
Well, technically, it's a specific style of lunches, originating in Japan and noted for their compact presentation in a box of sorts. Traditional bentos have a very specific ratio and combos of food. Bento, in my world, refers more to the box and cute presentation, a good balance of healthy foods, but not a specific system. Most American style bentos tend to be more on the lines of what I'm describing and a little less of the traditional Japanese elements.

And why do you do this exactly?
In my case, it's fun, the kids like it, and I have to feed them anyways. ;o) Actually, it all started when Faith was pre-kindergarten and I realized that she was possibly the world's slowest eater. She's not picky, she never has been, but she takes her time, chats, has a bite or two, chats some more, etc. I didn't think kindergarten was going to allow her a 2 hour lunch, so I started working on ways to get her to eat more quickly & efficiently. The idea of a bento style meal (lots of little bits of a variety of things, including single bite items) worked very very well. You can see our first ever bento here, before we were even able to buy a real box.

Do your kids eat normal food? Do they eat fast food? Do all meals look like this?
Yes, yes, and oh my Lord NO! Breakfast and dinner consist of regular food, cut into pieces, on a plate. Lunch at home varies, depending on whether or not I want to try something and see how it works. But yes, they eat pretty much whatever lands in front of them, regardless of presentation. And yes, we eat out, grab takeout, order pizza, etc. That's actually part of the reason I love bento lunches. If I know they have a good breakfast and a good lunch, it's easier to go ahead and order pizza for dinner, but if they've had two meh-kind of meals already, then I feel like I have to cook a good dinner. And it's much quicker to make healthy lunches than dinners.

Do you serve this stuff cold? Hot? Room temperature? How do you keep it warm/cool?
Most bento stuff is served cold/room temperature. Things like the stuffed muffins (which I personally like warm only), the kids like just fine at room temperature. They are so used to it, that I think it doesn't bother them to eat the food without heating it first. When I taught at the same school Faith went to, I was occasionally able to warm something up for her (her class went to lunch just as my class was coming back from recess), but for the most part, it's all cold. Soups are the exception and I'd recommend the Thermos Funtainers for those. Someone gave me a tip ages ago to fill it with boiling water first, to warm the container a bit, then add in your extra hot soup/food to keep it warmer. As for keeping it cool? Lots & lots of ice packs. I use a few different ones, usually packed around the container in different ways to keep it cool from multiple sides.

What do you do with all the leftover bit & pieces of things? Isn't this wasteful?
This is probably the most popular question I get! It depends on the food. Most of it is eaten by F&B while we are making lunches. Occasionally, it's eaten by me while I'm making lunches.
If it's not eaten by one of us, its:
a) put back in the fridge for later use if it's a large piece of cheese/meat
b) put back in the fridge for salad use if it's small pieces of meat/cheese/fruit/veggies
c) hidden underneath the good items in a bento where you can't see them in the picture anyhow
I really want to try making my own bread crumbs out of the crusts sometime, but for now, the ducks who live in the pond across the street from our house can enjoy them too.

Where can I get bento supplies near me?
Assuming you're not in Dallas (check Minoya in Plano) or an area of California which has Japanese Dollar Stores, your best bet is probably online. Check out Ebay, Etsy, Amazon.com, From Japan With Love, and J-List for Japanese Style supplies. Other great products include Easy Lunchboxes, Lunchbots, Laptop Lunches, and more. If you're wondering about a specific product used in a bento, email me or leave a comment and I can probably tell you what it is & where I got it.

Where do you get the sugar eyes for your creations?
My mom got them for me at a candy store near her house in Canada. Since that's probably not the answer you were hoping for, try here on Amazon!

Being that this has already gotten a bit long and I'm getting sleepy, part 2 (and probably part 3) will be coming soon. Feel free to add any questions on here or the Facebook page! I have no objections to even going to a Part 4!!!

4 comments:

  1. Great info! Actually, I live in Canada, so now you have my interest piqued for the candy eyes! I was hoping to find a supplier, but would really like to try making them myself. Have you ever heard of people making them at home?
    Paula

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  2. Thank you for posting this, much of it I had figured out....but only after lots of hours researching bento stuff....this is awesome for those who are new to bento!
    Also, I thought I'd mention, as you might be interested...I have found the perfect non-bento bento box for me...in the baby section at Target there is a box made by Sassy it is as big as a normal adult sized bento and has two small containers and one big one as well as a spoon in the lid (I traded it out for a plastic fork). They come in blue and pink. It is perfect for bento and I don't have to have a specialty store nearby.

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  3. I had a thought...
    It seems that perhaps in the process of getting different sizes and shapes of bentos that maybe some people have ended up with bentos that are stashed in the back of the pantry and unused.
    Bentos reduce waste immensely, but they seem to lose a little of their eco-friendliness when too many bentos are purchased or received as gifts than are needed.
    What if we set up a Bento exchange system? People with excess bentos could give their old ones to moms and dads who are tight on a dime (which seems like everyone these days). The person receiving the free bento could cover the shipping costs. This way the bento recipient can save money, the bento donator can free up some space in the pantry, the environment will thank you and everyone is happy!
    I hope that I haven’t come off as judgmental on the topic. If you even saw how many dresses I had sitting in the back of my closet you would understand that I am in the same boat.
    I would be happy to help set up this project if you are interested.

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