Another school year has begun, bringing new classes, a new schedule and a new round of school lunches.
Sometimes it can be hard to think of healthy and fun foods to make for your children. To harness your kids’ creativity, spend time together and pack a great lunch they may actually eat, how about trying a bento?
When I went to kindergarten and middle school in Japan, my mother made bento for me to take to school every day. Bento is a one-serving meal packed in a box that people typically take to school or work for lunch or bring with them on a picnic. Bento boxes are often divided into multiple compartments in which you can place a variety of different foods.
My mom often packed a bento box with rice or rice balls called onigiri, an egg omelet, which is a typical item in Japanese bento, a meat dish such as deep-fried chicken or teriyaki-style beef, veggies and fruit. Sometimes she packed sandwiches and pasta.
These days, some Japanese parents take extra time to make their bento look visually appealing to their kids. Kyaraben, or “character bento,” is a bento box that contains food shaped like cartoon characters or animals such as Hello Kitty, Pokémon, Mickey Mouse, panda bears, dogs and more.
Making kyaraben with your children can help them learn about a healthy diet and get excited about their lunches at the same time. My mother and I often cooked together when I was a child, and she taught me about seasonal ingredients, which nutrients different foods contain, and the difference between processed and homemade foods. Although I sometimes complained to my mother about a green pepper in my bento, the act of preparing food together helped nurture my love of cooking and my knowledge of healthy foods.
Tips For Making Your Own Kyaraben
- Draw your ideas on paper. During the process, try to think of ingredients you could use or cook to make the bento. Try to keep it simple.
- Pick a container or a bento box that can hold your items during planning so that you have some idea of how much food you need to prepare.
- Go to a grocery store or farmers market to find ingredients you can use for each part of the character. Ask your kids to find ingredients of certain colors or shapes.
- Be flexible. Alter your drawing of the bento depending on the availability of ingredients.
- Nori seaweed used for sushi is very handy as you can cut it into various shapes easily ... and it gives your kids the opportunity to try seaweed if they haven’t eaten it yet! Nori is usually available in Asian markets as well as some larger grocery stores.
- If there is a space in the box you would like to fill, use simple veggies or fruit such as broccoli, strawberries or sliced apples.
- Try to include variety of food in the box to achieve a balanced diet.
View video above to see the completed 'Sesame Street' bento.
(Makes one bento)
- 2 Slices of Whole Grain Bread
- 2 Slices of Ham
- 1 Slice of Provolone Cheese
- 2 Leaves of Lettuce
- 1-Inch Carrot
- 1/2 Sheet of Nori Seaweed (Used for Sushi)
- 1/2 Tomato
- 1 Boiled Egg
- A Few Stems of Steamed Broccoli
- A Few Strawberries
- 2 Tablespoons of Mayonnaise
- Salt & Pepper