Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

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Welcome to Week 4 of the 5 week Getting Started Bento Challenge!

A reminder of the outline of this and upcoming Challenge weeks.

  • Each week, we’ll be focusing on a particular aspect of making tasty, healthy and cost conscious bento lunches as efficiently as possible.
  • There will be three task and goal levels: Basic, Going Deeper, and Weight Loss. Basic is what you should try to do at a minimum. Going Deeper is for people who are very motivated and want to take on more. Finally, Weight Loss is specifically for people who want to use the Challenge to kick start, or enhance, a weight loss plan.

(Click here to skip down to the task descriptions, or just the summary.)

Week 4 Focus: Bentos For Others

So far, we’ve mainly concentrated on bentos for you. But many people make bentos for their family members, in addition to or instead of for themselves. This week’s focus is on how to get your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or kids to love their bento, and how you can keep up with bento making without going crazy. Fortunately, you can use all the skills and tactics discussed so far to make your loving bento efforts go smoothly.

Organization is even more important

We started out this challenge by working on mise en place, getting organized and planning ahead. If you are making more than one bento at a time, organization is even more important. I make two bentos, one for myself and one for The Guy. Usually I just make the same thing for both of us, and pack more food in his box. Still, I estimate that making one more bento with the same ingredients adds about 5 minutes of extra time. And more often than not I make something extra for his bento, like a meat item or something. So having everything in order and knowing what to make is critical.

  • Make sure you make ready all of the gear you need for all the bentos you will be making. This includes accessories like bento dividers, soy sauce bottles and such. (A side note: You may notice that I rarely use soy sauce bottles in my bentos. This is because they are rather a bother to fill, not to mention keep clean. I prefer to flavor the food I’m packing enough so that they don’t need additional sauce.)
  • Plan ahead, noting any additions/substitions you need for individual bentos.

Protect your bento stash!

In connection with being organized: If you have been following along with the recommendations both during the Challenge and on Just Bento in general, you know the critical role of bento ‘johbisai’ or stash foods in speeding up your bento making, as well as adding variety. One problem I used ot run into a lot was someone other than me diving into the fridge or, much less frequently the freezer, and eating up my bento stash, wreaking havoc on my plans!

To prevent this, I freeze as many things as possible (in a drawer of my freezer that is dedicated as the ‘bento stuff drawer’, see Week 3), or put it away in a plastic container way in the back of the refrigerator. You may need to take stronger measures if your house has more than one Fridge Marauder, and/or teenagers.

Dealing with picky eaters

Note that I am not that qualified to talk about bentos for kids, since I don’t have kids of my own. My sister has two kids, and I’ve talked to her about making her son, who is a bit picky, eat his lunch (the younger one, my niece, eats everything). Some of her ideas are incorporated here. And there are many other bento blogs that are specifically about bentos for children (see favorite bento blogs.) Of course, picky and demanding eaters come in all sizes and ages!

So, you are all gung-ho about bentos - healthier lunches! more variety! cut down the family food budget! But your picky family members are resistant. What to do? I have been lucky in that The Guy is not that picky about food, but I did have to start him off slowly. Here are some ideas:

  • Start out with little variation on the sandwich lunch. Perhaps you can improve the bread - switch white sliced bread for whole wheat, or a crusty multigrain roll. Add a side salad and fruit.
  • Think about mini versions of food that your family members like already. Some ideas: mini-meatloafs, hamburgers, meatballs, chicken nuggets, etc. Or how about a healthier version of a Lunchable? Pack some yogurt dip, veggie sticks, rye crisp crackers, low-fat ham and cheese in a compartmentalized lunch, with some apple bunnies…
  • Make it look appetizing! I can’t think of anyone who can resist a beautiful, great-smelling box of food at lunchtime. That doesn’t necessarily it has to be a cute decorated charaben, though the main reason most Japanese mothers make charaben is to encourage their picky eater kids to eat. (I’m not counting the extreme charaben here, which are more like artistic or crafty expressions of creativity, but rather the ones with simple decorations like cut-out vegetables and little onigiri with punch-out faces.) Do take a little time to make sure the bentos or lunch boxes you pack will look nice when they are opened though. You can do this with food, or with accessories like colorful picks or the bento box itself. (One bento blogger tucks in Post-It notes with cute messages into her child’s bento boxes.)
  • Tuck in a sweet treat. A bento doesn’t have to be 100% healthy all the time.
  • Don’t go all-out on traditional Japanese style bentos, unless the recipient wants that. You may want to gradually ease in things like onigiri. (Another consideration may be to avoid any bento teasing, though hopefully that will never be an issue for your kids.)

A note for stay at home moms or dads

If you are making bentos for your spouse/SO or kids, you might consider packing a bento for yourself as well. This way, not only do you not have to bother about your own lunch, you also get to taste how the bento is after several hours, and make adjustments as necessary.

So, on to this week’s tasks!

Your tasks and goals for this week

Whatever level you decide to tackle, you should do the following:

  • Photo. At lunchtime, take a photo of your bento, and upload it either to flickr (and add to the Just Bento Group pool) or to your preferred photo hosting service. This week, try to take pictures of the bentos you make for your family member(s) too.
  • Report. At the end of the week, report back here in forum with how it went for you! (Or link to your blog post with your report.)

Basic

Just one more week to go in the Challenge! The most important thing is to just Do It - make bento at least a couple of times a week. If at the end of the Challenge, bento making has become part of your routine, you’ve passed with flying colors!

Going Deeper

  • If you are just starting out, or considering, making bentos for your family, and they are resistant, make a list of the foods that they normally eat, and see how you can make them fit into a bento.
  • If you’ve tried out bentos on your family and they’ve been reluctant about them, talk to them and find out what they objected to. It could have been the food selection, or having to lug around the box itself, or something else. If for instance you were giving them a Mr. Bento bento, maybe they didn’t want to carry a bulky set of boxes - so you could think about packing them a small, compact bento. Were they getting teased about their bento? Maybe you can switch to Western-style bentos and call it ‘lunchbox’.
  • If you are making bentos for your family already, see how you can streamline your routine (see Week 1), make them healthier (see Week 2) and lowering the cost if necessary (see Week 3).
  • Finally, and this is really Going Deep, if you feel like evangelizing the cause of Bento, think about making a big bento to share with your fellow students or co-workers one day. Or if there is a suitable occasion at your kid’s school, you could bring a variety of onigiri, teriyaki chicken on toothpicks, soy sauce eggs and things like that. Maybe they’ll be converted!

Weight loss

Your Weight Loss Challenge tasks are a continuation of the things discussed in previous week, especially Week 2">Week 2. How is the weight loss going? Have you lost a few pounds / kilos / stones?! If not, why do you think it is? You may want to review your bentos, and see if they are packing more calories than you thought. Or maybe you need to step up the exercise? (I know I do!)

Summary

Basic: Your main goal is to make bentos part of your daily routine, so keep putting together those bentos, even if they are very basic ones!

Going Deeper: Figure out how to make your family members and others love bento (or love bento even more).

Weight Loss: Review your weight loss and your past bentos. Are you losing weight? Do you feel healthy and fitter?

Just one more week to go in the Challenge after this. It’s all smooth sailing from here…right? Right!

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

7 comments

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Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

Ha. The woman who packed little post-it notes in her kids' lunches reminds me of a friend of mine. His mum always used to take a little bite out of a corner of one of his school lunch sandwiches when he was small - I think it was to prove it was edible or something. Anyway, when he was at university and she sent care packages she still took a little bite out of something in the package! It had turned into one of those little loving family traditions. I bet he does the same thing with his kids when they're old enough too.

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

When I was younger in elementary school, my mom would write me a note on my napkin. Just another example of the same idea :)

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

Awww. I'm gonna start putting cute notes in my little sister's lunches.
I don't think I show that I care about her enough.
Maybe I can get her to be my little minion this way.
Mwahahahaha.

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

I think another thing to consider would be the opposite of making lunches for picky eaters. What if the person making the lunch is extremely picky?

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

Whether the picky eater is you or someone else, it might be very helpful, and enlightening, to make a list of the food the picky eater(s) like that are more or less healthy, are good cold, and might fit into a box!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

Oh, this is great! I already make bento for my mom and stepfather occasionally, so this'll be a good excuse to do so this week!! They always look forward to my "special lunches in the cute boxes!" I even bought each of them a set to use as their very own, that are appropriate to their size needs. Now I gotta get planning!!! :D

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 4

My Mum used to write on my bananas when I had exams, she used to wish me luck, or instruct me to eat my banana for brain food!

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