Saturday, August 21, 2010

Entering the obento world...the obsession begins!

In a few weeks Justin will start attending a 'Mother's Day Out' program three mornings a week at an Episcopal church on Okinawa. We're so excited for the opportunity for him to have some social time with new friends, and I (Julie) will have a few hours to work at the church and study Japanese. He needs to take a lunch, so a couple weeks ago, I started thinking about what that means for our morning preparations, food shopping list, and things like that. Then I thought about getting him a lunch box and realized I had no idea where we would find one... and I had never seen one here that resembled what kids in America use. Then I put my brain back on and remembered we live in Japan and children here use obento (Japanese lunch box).
A bento box is a small container, usually plastic, where lunch is prepared in a most intricate fashion. I have steered clear of them so far because the ones I have seen look so amazing I was sure that Japanese mothers must spend hours preparing them for their children every day, and while I love my children to death, I'm just not 'that kind of mom'.... ;) But, thanks to the wonderful internet, I started doing some research and through some fabulous blogs about bento making, I learned that it's not so difficult, and maybe even I could prepare a bento lunch for my son.... because I have no choice... this is what we do in Japan. :)
So, one of the first things I did was purchase a cookbook about bento boxes for children:
Kawaii means cute in Japanese... and these bento boxes are amazing! But, what I really like about the cookbook is that it has very easy recipes and simple instructions for some of the artistic food designs... I don't think I'll try too many of those, but they are so fun to look at!

So, the next step is to start purchasing bento gear. Apparently bento boxes have become extremely popular all around the world, so there are many internet sites where you can find TONS of bento gear for quite a variety of prices. Thankfully, we live in Japan (!) and are privy to something WONDERFUL called 100 yen stores... kind of like dollar stores in the states, but WAY better. So our 100 yen stores have great bento gear, and you're not spending a fortune on it. So, here's what I bought... and let me tell you, there are many more things out there... I felt like I was really holding back!

These are the bento boxes I got for myself and Brian... oh yeah, this is not just for Justin anymore, it's a family affair! Ours are two-tiered, and we got chopstick cases to match.

These are Justin's .... I'm sure just the first of many... kawaii!!!
This is the bag that Justin's bento box will go in when he goes to school:
And Justin's utensils and case... of course they have cute matching chopsticks, but we'll save those for maybe next year... ;)

Now we get to the fun stuff... even though I think the boxes are pretty fantastic just as they are. It's important for the various food in a bento not to touch each other, so you can get cute little containers for your different food items. There are TONS of things you can get to make shapes, faces, etc. to try to get your kids to eat different foods. I'm sure it also sometimes becomes a competition of who has the coolest looking food, but we're not anywhere near that yet. Here's what we are starting out with:
Then there are little plastic sheets that also serve as dividers:
Oh, and these fun little 'picks' for finger foods:
You can get really detailed with the food in your bento... must be at least 5 colors; equal portions of carbs, protein, veggies; only a certain number of calories, and many others... but right now, I'm just happy if it's filled with food that Justin will eat. :)

So, today I decided to start practicing. I got out all my stuff and made Justin's lunch, but when he saw me making it, he wanted to eat it right away. Since part of my experiment is to see what the food I make will taste like when it's room temperature at lunch time, we had to come up with a compromise, so he was served breakfast in a bento.... just for today. :)

He did pretty well with breakfast, but thankfully lunch came soon. Justin was extremely excited to eat his lunch. He was with me when I purchased our bento gear and has been talking about 'taking lunches to my new school' ever since. Here's his reaction when he opened his obento today:
My first bento!!! Not a great picture, but it's rice, grapes, cucumber, and hotdog...some of Justin's favorite foods, and I'm thrilled that they stayed in their containers and places.
And the most important part... Justin had tons of fun eating it... maybe a little too much fun. He was kind of distracted by the whole novelty of the event, but he'll get used to it. How cool is it that he will get used to eating lunch like this?
Anyway, we are having fun with our new adventure and my new obsession. Oh, and this is what Noah did during our Saturday experiment:
I'm sure there will be more stories about our bento box adventures. If you want to know more about it, go to It's a great sight with TONS of information. Happy bento making! :)


Grandma Jill said...

I love it! Wonder what they would think at SAWS if Dwayne started carrying a bento box for lunch?!? Jules, you'll be putting those bento lunches together really quickly in no time! Have fun! :-)

lgwoolery said...

What a great post. Wondering if Alice would start putting a bento box together for me? Thanks for the fun update and pics, Julie! Lee