I haven’t blogged in a few weeks because I’ve recently returned to work, and it turns out that being at work takes up a lot more of my time than I remember. Some mornings, it really does take ages to get a toddler out of bed and dressed.

Anyway, being that I’m back at work, I’m back in the swing of packing lunches. I have a bit of a thing about lunches – I love packing tasty, healthy foods. Even more than that, though, I like packing pretty lunches.

baby bento - sushi and tomato

The Japanese have a tradition of packing nifty lunchboxes, called bento. The word ‘bento’ simply means ‘boxed lunch’ or something like that, but that’s a deceptively simple explanation. The most simple bento is a box of rice with an umeboshi, but bento may also be incredibly elaborate. Apparently some mothers at certain kindergartens in Japan compete with each other to make the most intricate bento for their children, with the result that they spend hours fiddling about with food.

I don’t do that. I like speed bento. Although I like spending a few minutes on pretty flourishes sometimes, I really don’t want to spend more time preparing a lunch than I do eating it.

There are plenty of resources around on how to pack a bento for adults. Where I find bento techniques incredibly useful though is in packing toddler lunches.

Bento has taught me three things. The first is how to choose and pack foods so that they’ll be safe to eat. The second is how to make the best use of available space – the more compact a lunch, the better, in my view. The third is how to make lunch look delicious.

toddler bento - lots of yummy things!

Everyone eats first with their eyes, and then with their mouth. This is particularly true of toddlers, who are notoriously fussy. Even children like mine, who will eat anything at all, have fussy days – favourite foods suddenly become anathema and are eyed suspiciously. Bento encourages the use of colour, particularly foods which are colourful in their natural state – different coloured vegetables, and the fresher the better. Bento often also incorporates cute touches like miniature food picks or vegetables cut into interesting shapes. Little picks are not just pretty – for a toddler, they can be a way of making some foods easier to eat. Little divider cups don’t just keep food separate – toddlers love investigating containers and sampling the treasures contained therein.

You don’t need a lot to get started with bento. You can spend a lot of money on a purpose-designed bento box, or you can simply use any old plastic container. Because I have a bit of a thing about lunches, I do have quite a collection of bento boxes, but I also have quite a collection of other plastics. The toddler bento pictured in this entry all use containers bought from a supermarket or department store: the first two are Willow containers, about $8 or $9 for a pack of three; and the third are made by Décor and cost less than that, again for a pack of three. I collect plastic spoons from our local gelateria and icecream parlours. Although you can buy vegetable cutters to make flowers or animals, you can also easily and quickly cut fruit into traditional designs.

fruit and sammiches

Reckon you can do it? I reckon you can! Pretty soon you’ll be looking for excuses to pack lunches for your kids – or for yourself.

6 responses to this post.

  1. You’re right, I love that Just Bento site. I got started with bento and then stopped when it got cold, but thanks for the reminder. My oldest has just got very very fussy, so I think it’s time to pull out the boxes and dividers again. I have some little silicone cupcake moulds that make great dividers, and seeing I’m in the city at the moment it’s a great reminder to collect all the spoons and picks, and maybe have a look around for what else I can see. When I was doing it I found it very reassuring – I knew she was having a good mix of foods.


  2. Posted by MummyTiff on June 26, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    They all look great! My Mum used to pack very pretty lunches for us – no soggy sandwiches in a paper bag! We loved it and never wanted to trade with anyone! Consequently I do the same thing when we go out or for a picnic and the kids love it!

    I must say though, your first little sushi picture would fill up about 1/8th of my stomach!!


    • Indeed! It would fill about an eighth of my stomach, too – but when the Dumpling was about 16 months it was more than adequate for him. The pictures in this post are all toddler bento – and very young toddler at that.

      In contrast, this was my lunch today:

      One of the nifty things about bento is that their size is well defined – there are rules for working out the size bento you need, and filled according to the ratio 3:2:1 starch:vegetable:protein with fresh foods you can work out their calorific content based on volume.

      The box in this picture is 675ml, which is a rather large bento for a woman, and packed 3:2:1 (which is roughly what I managed today) it should be equivalent to about 675 calories. I know I was stuffed by the time I finished it today!


  3. Awesome CAt… I once saw images on your personal blog, and you inspired me to get into Bento. I love all things Kawaii and Japanese….. and when I saw the Bento lunches you made your LO.. it inspired me.. so I do it, and often and hubby demmanded them to when he was commuting to the office. Now he works from home I have not done as many………. but now… seeing this.. Im back to it *L*


  4. Posted by plahski on June 26, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    That looks fantastic!!

    My dad used to pack my lunch and it was the ol’ paper bag with a ‘surprise’ sandwich – surprise because you might have Vegemite one day and tongue with relish the next… it was GROSS!

    we would always get the bruised apple that squished the sandwich by lunch also…

    I learned very early to pack my own lunch…


  5. Posted by MummyTiff on July 1, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Just coming back to this cAt and noticed that they’re all bento’s for LOs! How adorable – my kids would love them! I LOVE the look of the one you packed for you – SO healthy!


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