Preparing a Preschool Bento

by Wendy Copley on May 24, 2008

When looking at the photos I take of Wyatt’s bento lunches, several people have commented that they must take a lot of time to prepare and others have asked where I find the extra time in the morning to put his lunches together. The truth is, making a bento box usually doesn’t take much longer than putting a “regular” lunch together. Because Wyatt takes a cold lunch to school, I don’t need to do any cooking, so for me, 90% of what I do to put together a bento revolves around the equipment. Other parents put food into baggies. I put food into boxes and cups. I try to make them attractive as well by varying colors and textures (which I would be doing anyway), adding cute accessories here and there (equipment again), and occasionally cutting food into shapes (the other 10% of the work).

Take this lunch for example:

Bento Lunch Prep: Start with a sandwich

I start off with the typical ingredients for a PB&J. (The picture shows almond butter which I grabbed by mistake, but I actually used peanut butter.)

Bento Lunch Prep: sandwich prep

I make the sandwich. I bet this looks pretty much like what every other parent is doing to prepare their kid’s lunch on a Thursday morning.

Bento Lunch Prep: My helper cuts the sandwich

This is where we get fancy. After the sandwich is prepped, Wyatt picks out a cookie cutter and cuts the sandwich into a shape. Or sometimes I do it. Or sometimes he does one shape and I do the other. But the gist of things is that I cut the sandwich and put it in the bento box. This process probably takes about twice as long as putting a sandwich in a baggie. But really, how long does that take?

Bento Lunch Prep: Scraps

You’ll notice that there are a bunch of scraps leftover after cutting. So what do I do with those? With very few exceptions, someone eats them right then and there. If it’s a sandwich leftover, it’s usually me or Wyatt eating the scraps. If it’s cheese, it’s usually my husband.

Bento Lunch Prep: Fruit cup

Next, I put together some kind of fruit or, more rarely, a veggie for the lunch. I forgot to take a picture of the prep for this little cup, but basically, I cut half a banana into slices, put the slices into the baking cup and sprinkled a few dried blueberries on top. Most of the time, Wyatt won’t eat a whole piece of fruit, so that’s why I always cut his fruit up. He also can’t figure out how to open a banana or an orange by himself yet so that’s another reason I cut stuff up. When I cut his fruit, I either put it in a cup or put it right in his bento box.

Bento Lunch Prep: yogurt

He wasn’t in the mood for cheese on this day, so instead I sent him with yogurt. His yogurt cups won’t fit into his lunch box, plus he can’t open them on his own, so I decant the yogurt into a baking cup as well. This involves opening the yogurt and spooning it into the cup.

Bento Lunch Prep: yogurt cup

Here are the results of my labor.

Bento Lunch Prep: put it in the box

Now I put everything in the bento box. I was doing some of this work as I went along. I do try to arrange the box a bit so it will be pretty. Some of the things I do include:

  • Varying the color of the baking cups I use. I try not to use two of the same color in one box, for example. I also don’t put a yellow cup in a yellow bento box, or a blue one in a blue box.
  • I don’t put two things of the same color together. For example, instead of putting red cherry tomatoes next to a cup of red strawberries, I would try to put them next to cubes of yellow cheddar cheese.
  • I also look for little details I can add to make the lunch prettier. This was actually a pretty pale lunch — white bananas, white bread, very light pink yogurt — so I tried to jazz it up a bit by adding blueberries to the banana for contrast and putting the strawberry food divider on the yogurt. The food divider also helps keep the yogurt from spilling onto the other foods.

Bento Lunch Prep: Finished

Finally, I look for empty places in the lunch box and fill them in. Empty spots can cause the contents of the lunch to move around while it’s being transported and stuff can spill or get mixed together which isn’t particularly appetizing when you open the box up to eat. Here there were a few empty spots around the sandwiches, so I stuffed a couple of grapes in there. Other “packing materials” I use include crackers, dried fruits, grape tomatoes and cubes of cheese. These items tend to be colorful as well, so they bump up the pretty factor in addition to stabilizing things.

Preschooler Bento #13: May 21, 2008

And here’s the beauty shot!

Obviously, this is a completely unnecessary and time-consuming step, but taking photos and sharing them on Flickr is something I enjoy. Other people spend a spare five minutes in the morning reading the funnies, checking email or savoring a cup of coffee. I spend them taking photos of food. And Twittering. But that’s another story all together…

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