Bento Tip: Just do ONE thing

by Wendy Copley on November 2, 2011

I hear from a lot of people who are interested in packing bento boxes lunches but don’t know where to begin. A friend tells them about bento or they stumble across a few links and they’re interested, so they spend some time looking at bento pictures online.  After scrolling through a few dozen photos they’re overwhelmed by the possibilities of what they could do. Lots of questions run through their heads: Do I need a bunch of cookie cutters? Will I have to “glue” food with mayo or honey? Do I have to dye rice? Do I need to mold food into decorative shapes? Should I sketch out a plan for my bento box before I begin?

My advice: Start small. Just do one thing.

If you want to make elaborate scenes in your lunches and try out a million techniques — sure, go for it! That stuff is fun. But, if you’d rather just dip a toe into the bento waters because you’d like to entice a picky kid to eat more or you want to treat yourself to a pretty meal on your lunch break, I think it’s best to start small.

Most mornings I don’t really have time to execute a bunch of decorative techniques for my kids’ lunches but I’ve found that if I jazz up one item in the lunch, then surround that with colorful fruits and vegetables it goes a long way toward making lunches cute and attractive to the eye. It also makes lunch packing speedy.

Here are a few of my favorite — EASY — techniques:

Cut something with a cookie cutter

Preschooler Bento #92: October 23, 2008

Here I cut an elephant shape out of tofu, then layered it on top of the rest of the block of tofu. The rest of the lunch was filled out with some broccoli and strawberries.

Fold (or roll) up some lunch meat

Preschooler Bento #25: June 11, 2008

Fold slices of salami in half or cut turkey into strips and roll it up (see the photo at the top of the post) and put that in the lunch box. Once I finished with the salami, I tucked in some cubes of watermelon, a purchased mini muffin and some crackers.

Write something with a food marker

Kindergarten Bento #276: January 6, 2010

Here, I put fruit and diced leftover chicken in a bento box, then cut a dinner roll in half and wrote a simple sentence on it with food-safe markers for my kindergartener to read. (This inadvertently rude message still makes me giggle.)

Arrange fruits or veggies

Toddler Bento #39: August 4, 2010

Arranging fruit or vegetables in a neat and tidy way (rather than just dumping them in the box) can make a lunch look prettier. Here, I put some clementine wedges in a baking cup and then arranged the top layer in a circle to make it look kind of flower-ish. Everything else — turkey, veggies, muffin, grapes — was just dropped in the box.

Poke it with a pick

Kindergarten Bento #248

Finally, one of the easiest ways to add a little cute to a lunch is to poke a decorative food pick into something. You can put almost anything on a pick, but I tend to go with cubes of meat or cheese or firmer fruits and veggies like grapes or edamame.

What’s your favorite, easy technique for making lunches cuter?

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  • http://twitter.com/agirlandaboy Leah M.

    Love this advice. I can do one thing!

  • http://profiles.google.com/gloryblogs Glory’s Mischief

    Super advice, I need to remember that.

  • http://anotherlunch.blogspot.com/ Melibee

    Great advice! I swear, when I look back on my past lunches it’s usually the simpler ones that stand out as my favorites.
    “You eat buns” has stayed with me since you posted that!! A few weeks ago Paige was pulling a pack of burger buns out of the pantry asking what they were and during the exchange she blurts out “what? you eat buns” and I totally almost peed myself. :P

  • http://www.wendolonia.com/blog wcopley

    Tee hee!

  • http://ameriasian-bento.blogspot.com/ Rina

    I have been loving your blog and it’s the FIRST blog that inspired me when I started making bentos last year! Your lunches are healthy and I love  your techniques and style of packing lunches and the cuteness of using picks and food safe markers too.

  • http://www.wendolonia.com/blog wcopley

    Thanks, Rina!

  • BrendamulrichBubu

    Thanks – you have inspired me a lot! I find I stick those silicone baking cups in everything – they tidy up the container, hold the food, add color, and allow me to put just a little in and have it look like something.  I find myself saving all leftovers because even a few scraggly grapes with a random slice of apple or a few dried apricots can be put in a baking up in a box and look deliberate, colorful and enticing.  My kids also love dipping, so they often get hummus in a container plus veggies, crackers, pita – it’s faster to assemble than a sandwich.

  • Pingback: The Week in Bentos: October 31 – November 4, 2011 | Wendolonia

  • Jessie

    Sprinkles are a simple and fast way to make yogurt, canned fruit, and applesauce look more attractive. I use small clear Solo cups with lids for ‘wet’ foods like that, and I add a pinch of colorful sprinkles to the top for a quick and easy POP that the kids love. Also, adding a cute decorative sticker strategically placed over a boring sandwich can brighten up a box. Cookie cutters are a clear winner for ease and decorative mileage though. A quick pop with a cookie cutter can lend life to any lunch!

  • Anonymous

    I love the writing on the bread. And I just bought food safe markers this weekend!

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