Monday, July 30, 2007

Tupperware Bento

I am currently intrigued by bento. Bento is to Japan what brown-bagging is to America, but with the artful touch that typifies Asian cuisine.

We pack a lot of food to go: my husband's lunches, kid snacks, playground picnics. I'm not sure I'll ever have the energy or attitude to go full tilt bento, but I welcome inspiration for this everyday chore. I thought my frugal friends might enjoy the online bento resources I've found.


Why bento?

  • A new approach to packing food can jolt you out of a lunchbox rut.
  • Bento allows you to arrange dabs of leftovers and call it art.
  • Kids go wild over the fun shapes and traditional bento designs.

    The Frugal Bento Box:
  • For "Bento inspired" lunches, any collection of plastic containers will do. Tupperware made a 70's orange lunchbox set similar to the Hello Kitty rectangular Bento Americans are snapping up in supermarkets. My $1 version includes a sandwich holder, a full size cup and small cup.

  • Use paper muffin liners to divide food within containers. These cost as little as a penny apiece. Frilly paper cups hold "a bite of this, a bite of that," and keep food separated for picky kids.

  • Bento is your chance to use all those cool cookie cutters. Shape sandwiches, cheese slices, and thinly sliced fruits.

  • No cookie cutters? Save different size bottle tops for cutting. Some even use craft knives for intricate designs.

  • Bento accessories include tiny bottles for sauce. You can use baby-size Tupperware S'midgets or leftover fast food condiment packs.

  • Check your local international market for Bento boxes and accessories, which are likely to be much cheaper than they are online.

  • Bento resources online:
    Amazing photos at PBS "Meaning Of Food" on obento
    Instructables on Bento
    Lunch In A Box blog

    Above, I found 3 Sterilite containers for 99 cents at ThriftSmart.

    If you're looking for homemade lunchbox ideas in general, don't miss Frugal Upstate's Lunchbox Report.

    56 comments:

    Maggie said...

    I love lunchboxes, especially bento style boxes. We have a few styles. The laptop lunch site has some great ideas for bento style lunches. My sons carry the Mr. bentos.I kinda splurge in this area.

    Mary said...

    There is a blog that I read sometimes called Veganlunchbox. (sorry I don't know how to link)....I love to look at the pictures of what she puts in everyday. Even if you aren't vegan ( we aren't), there are lots of good ideas

    Marsha said...

    I love cookingcute.com for lovely, inspiring Bento ideas. I'm not likely to ever create a penguin-shaped rice ball for my son's lunch, but it sure is a nice thing to think about!

    Alexandra said...

    I love Bento boxes! When we lived in Japan, my older sister used to make these. Great idea! She still makes them. She's much more of a Martha Stewart type than myself. Thise Bento boxes are also good for portion control. This is on my mind as I'm dieting!

    I'm linking your Bibliography today. :)

    Anonymous said...

    Yes, we believe in many small containers for DH's lunchbox. Today, for example, he took sausage-and-rice; roasted pepper salad; 1 chicken thigh; and broccoli salad for his lunch in 4 small containers.

    However, reading this on the PBS link is discouraging:

    "A typical mother spends almost an hour crafting every lunch into a healthful, beguiling blend of cartoon characters, flora and fauna — anything that will make the food appeal to her child."

    I guess they don't swap for Lunchables in Japan.

    Jora

    marycelery said...

    Merideth-

    My 14yo daughter is obsessed with Bento! She is going to a brick and mortar high school after years of being home schooled. She absolutely hates sandwiches, so she was worried about lunch. We found Biggie's Lunch in a Box blog and have fallen into her Bento obsession.

    This weekend, Biggie reported that one of the Japanese Dollar Stores, Daiso, was going to have an internet store soon. This is good news for the bento obsessed!

    However, the frugal will still use the old Tupperware (I have the same, orange sandwich holder). Biggie has great ideas on how to use different "normal" things to do bento like things.

    The best recommendation was to buy short grained, Japanese rice and have the kids "play with it." At first, I was reluctant to allow my children to "waste" food. When I realized it was cheaper than PlayDo, we were off and running. We have practiced making rice balls and frying them. They are FABULOUS! Even my picky eater loved them.

    We also played with molding eggs - very, very cute. Both kids liked them.

    Finally, we bought organic grape juice at the dollar store (I forget which one) and made fruit juice and sliced grape jello. It was a huge hit!

    I think that bento lunches can be a wonderful addition to a frugal family! Left-overs can be packed into the lunch and my kids will actually eat them. I think they love the "little of this, little of that" approach. Please share your adventures!

    Miss Mary

    Shannon@Idylwild said...

    Meredith - Are you getting ready for kindergarten lunches this year?

    Lynnae said...

    What a great idea! My husband brown bags his lunches, and I'll bet he'd love this! I'll have to work on the kids, though. They're pretty picky. I'll bet I can come up with something they like though.

    Anonymous said...

    Oh thanks for the link. DS tiny grade school does not offer hot lunch and I will pack everyday this fall. I LOVE bentos and have been picking up tiny boxes here and there.

    I love that it can be reused and not waste. I LOVE vegan lunch box. If other moms are packing and posting their bento boxes I'd love to see their blogs. I can never have too many ideas.

    Noreen said...

    Meredith,

    I also discovered bento and am totally hooked. I have gotten so much better about packing my husband's lunches with leftovers and trying to include fruits and vegetables. Even though some of the containers are small, they are surprisingly filling. I have three year old twins and pack bentos when we go to the park for lunch. I have gotten a laptop lunch box which is great and have also gotten some bentos from sugarcharms.com which is more reasonable than what I found on ebay.

    I love reading your blog, thanks for all of the great work you do.

    Noreen

    Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

    Well, I guess I was doing quasi-bento and had no idea that the art form even existed :)

    We mix-match here alot with containers and trays and the like on the go, out of necessity more than anything.

    I'm loving your series here Meredith for the finishing school. You are quite wise

    Anonymous said...

    Walmart sells a set of small containers with lids that are designed to fit into a rectangular lunchbox. Very similar to the bento box sets I've seen, and only $5.00. I pack 3 lunches a day during the school year and I am always looking for a way to make brownbagging lunch more interesting. Thanks for the tips! Miss Kris

    Anonymous said...

    Does this remind you of Elinora's wonderful lunchbox in "Girl of the Limberlost?" Thanks for the great tips and inspiration!

    Angela said...

    These are great ideas! Thank you for sharing, and I hope you will post more bento ideas! :) We started using Bento type boxes a year ago when I read about them here: http://w8ng4him.blogspot.com/2006/07/works-for-me-wednesday.html Our whole family uses them now, and when we are out, we get lots of friendly questions about them. :) The above link has pics and links also to Vegan Lunchbox--with LOTS of great ideas for lunch (even though we are not vegan).

    Amy said...

    Great tips! We actually do this too, but I had never thought about it. I buy the sectioned containers at the Dollar Store and fill them with our leftovers for my husband to take into work. I never knew about "Bento."

    You are a wealth of knowledge, Meredith!

    Michelle said...

    I live in Japan and love Bento!

    You must check out the Vegan Lunch Box, especially the archives from the last school year:

    http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/

    This woman does amazing kid friendly bento style lunch boxes for her school aged son. I'm not vegan or vegetarian but her lunch ideas are just so inspiring!

    Green Tea & Kimchee said...

    I use a lot of the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage for the cups and dividers. Also, save the shells from your citrus fruit, they can even be frozen until you need them. A lemon or orange cup makes a really cute fruit basket. It's a frugal way to use up something that normally winds up in the compost.

    devildogwife said...

    I've been totally looking into this whole concept since my daughter and husband are gluten-free. Have you seen the laptop lunches? They are very pricey though... I love your inexpensive version.

    Kimberly said...

    What a wonderful odyssey you sent me on this morning! I happened to read your blog entry first today and it sent me surfing the net for bento information, ideas and more pictures. I am thoroughly enchanted! I think it will be wonderful for my low carb way of eating and since I'm going back on induction tomorrow morning, it will add some much needed panache to what could noramlly be a bit of a hard day! I'll post a pic on my blog and ping you to it when I do one.

    Also, I wanted to let you know that I have really enjoyed your finishing school lessons. They really made me think about things in a whole new light. Wonderful stuff, that.

    Have a cozy day!

    Tammy said...

    To spend an inordinate amount of time on the computer *GRIN* go to flickr.com and type in "bento".

    Here's a sampling:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/bento/clusters/

    Anonymous said...

    Meredith-

    My two oldest boys were getting ready for bed as I was reading this just now. They both had no clue what "Bento" was when I asked them. I showed them the photos on some of the sites and one son thought it was neat, but the other one thought it was weird!! Pretty typical responses, I think , from two teenagers! I'm in your camp, though, Meredith. I don't think I would ever get into this too much, but I am all about making lunch as beautifully presented as possible. Thanks for sharing this information, because I learned something totally new to me!
    Susan

    Green Tea & Kimchee said...

    If you have time after the flicker visit go to:

    http://www.e-obento.com/mainichi-Frame-set.htm

    My youngest goes to a japanese school so I am always looking for inspiration!

    It's a Mom Thing said...

    I feel like I've been living under a rock or something. I've never heard of this "bento" phenomenon. Amazing. It is just so cute! And so very practical.

    Meredith said...

    THANKS to everyone who recommended the Vegan Lunchbox. What an amazing blog (and book)!!!!!

    Thanks to everyone who contributed even more ideas about Bento inspired lunches.

    Anonymous, it DOES remind me of Elinora's lunchbox!

    Biggie @ Lunch in a Box said...

    Hey, thanks for the shout out on my speed bento blog, Lunch in a Box! I've been working my way through my Japanese-language bento cookbooks and cherry-picking out the speed tips and techniques that I think translate well for a more international (BTW, a couple of months ago I actually moved it to its own location at http://lunchinabox.net although I still post placeholder-type entries on the LiveJournal site.)

    I applaud your frugal Tupperware bentos!!! Seriously, bento boxes are just glorified Tupperware; the trick is to look for shallow Tupperware as it's easier to arrange a variety of food in it bento-style.

    Alice Gunther said...

    About six months ago, I spent a ton of money on bento boxes, and they aren't any nicer than these. In fact, I like yours a lot better!

    This blog is an inspiration.

    Jenn @ Frugal Upstate said...

    Thanks for the mention of my Lunchbox Report! Since you emailed me about Bento, and then posted this--well, lets just say I've been spending too much time online reading about and researching Bento :)

    elissa said...

    If it hasn't already been mentioned, I think My Lunch Can Beat Up Your Lunch (http://www.c4vct.com/kym/bento/index.htm) is worth checking out!

    Anonymous said...

    Just a note that I've been making bento-style lunches for the kids ... and they're eating them.

    today, for example, DD#2 got a teddy bear face made out of rice and lentils, with sliced peaches for ears and a 'hat' of strawberries. She ate it all!

    -- Jora

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