Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

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While we are still in the dog days of summer (at least here in the northern hemisphere), it’s already time for many of us to start thinking about Back to School!

Whether it’s for yourself, your spouse/partner or kids, you may be thinking about incorporating healthy bento lunches into your everyday routine in the fall/autumn. What’s your plan? What about bentos appeal to you (I’m guessing they must, since you’re here!)? Share your tips, ideas, strategies for great bento-ing, right here in the comments.

And there’s a prize…

The author of the comment that stands out the most to me will receive a US $30 gift certificate, courtesy of our friends at J-List! Not only does J-List carry a big selection of bento boxes and accessories ranging from the cute/kawaii to the elegant and traditional, they also have fun Japanese stationery goods, Japanese study aids, and much more.

The rules and such

  • Please limit yourself to one comment! You can have tons of ideas if you want to in that one comment.
  • Your comment should be in English.
  • In order to be eligible to win the prize, you must live in a country where J-List ships. They do ship worldwide, but if you aren’t sure take a look at their FAQ page.
  • Include a valid email address where you can be reached in the appropriate comment form area if you want to be eligible for the prize.

This contest is now closed to entries. The winner will be announced later this week. Thank you everyone for participating!

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.

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Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

i have already started making lists of different combinations of foods for my childrens school bentos. i am in the uk so the weather starts getting colder when they go back to school so i have just got them both a thermal bento box and my son is looking forward to pasta bolognase and meatballs with rice, my daughter is looking forward to macaroni cheese and stir frys.
my tip is i am gonna start freezing portions in freezer bags resting in the bento so they are the right size to grab from the freezer and put straight in the boxes.
i want to get a back up of two weeks worth of bent in the freezer so i can have lazy days where i just grab them.

christine

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I'm shifting out a lot of my extra-kawaii supplies, since my son is almost 10, and although he loves having a bento, he's too old now for teddy bears and race cars. I'm going to use them up in my sweetheart's bento--her co-workers love to see what's in her lunch, and her reputation won't be injured by a hot-dog squid or a radish gnome. Cold food works best for both of them, so I'm stockpiling recipes for salads and marinated vegetables. I also make mini cookies and cupcakes as well as regular-sized ones, so there's always something the right size to fit into a bento.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I have made big plans this summer to maintain healthy eating habits at my university. All of the available options on campus are greasy fast foods. :/ I treated myself to a new bento box and some accessories and I plan to bento every day. I have been looking into timesavers in the morning. I found a microwave rice cooker that can prepare individual servings of rice which will be very convenient. It also steams veggies really quickly and easily so I am looking forward to using it! I'm lactose intolerant so it's always better when I can cook for myself and know exactly what's in something.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Well, I'm trying to get my boyfriend to carry his lunches more this year. I would make the occasional bento for him in the past, but most the time he said it wasn't enough food. I've taken stock of my bento supplies, and I have a Mr. Bento for him. Now I just need to find recipes that he likes.

I keep all my bento supplies in a little three drawer cart similar to this one. That way my bento supplies are all in one place and don't take over the kitchen. The little shelf on the top is nice because I can set larger items like my Mr. Bento and my large picnic bento up there, because they won't fit in the drawers with the other things. I think it's very important to have your supplies organized, especially as a lot of us are probably making our bento in the morning while also trying to get ready for work/school. That way you know where everything is, even if you forgot to mise en place like Maki suggests. If you keep bento stuff in the refrigerator or freezer, I recommend keeping it separate there as much as you can as well. No more digging for long lost items.

Also, if you like to do kawaii bento for yourself or for kids, all those little cut-out decorative pieces are best done ahead of time. When it gets closer to the first week of school, I'm going to take the time to cut out little carrot stars and keep them in a baggy in the fridge. I've still got pieces of punched out seaweed in a baggy in the freezer that I did ahead of time. I prefill my little salad dressing bottles, and sometimes my soy sauce bottles. My plan this year for those is to only fill them on Sunday, and only with the sauces I'll need. (I found that my salad dressing had started staining one of the bottles from being in there so long.) Since I'll (hopefully) be planning all my bento and meals ahead, if I have tonkatsu this week, and I know I'll have leftovers, then I'm going to want some sauce to go with it. Filling up the bottle ahead of time means I don't have to do it in the morning.

Sorry for the long rambling comment. I wanted to make sure I was clear.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I haven't received my bento just yet, it's on it's way along with all my other equipment.
In the mean time, I've hunted all over the internet for some ideas and information regarding foods and health.

My goal is to loose some weight and start a new and healthy life style, so I've looked up all the nutrients, vitamins, etc that we need in our bodys to go about our day and wrote them all down. After I did that, I found TONES of foods that give me those vitamins, etc and wrote those all down too.
I plan on posting these on my fridge or on a wall in my kitchen or on the back side of a pantry or something.

I got super exited and started looking up a bunch of healthy recipes and ideas for each food I found.

My goal is to not only eat healthy foods, but make sure my bentos are colourful and very appealing to the eye.
So, to help me out on that, I've chosen some colours I want in my bento all the time, if not, most of the time.
-Green
-Red
-black/dark blue
-yellow/orange
-purple
-brown

After I chose the colours I wanted, (I haven't done this yet, but it will be complete within a few days), I plan on drawing out a layout of my bento.
The layout will help me decide where I want each colour and each food to be in my bento that day :D To make this layout re-usable, I plan on laminating it. (I don't have a lot of money, so I'll just be covering it with some moving tape. It works just as good :P )

Another BIG plan I'm doing is, I plan on cooking all the foods I need only on the weekends. As well as preparing my bento the night before, and setting it in the fridge.
This way, I've got that extra time I need for other important things in my life(school, work, etc)

Making all this food on the weekends, I'll need somewhere to put it.
So, I've bought a plastic box container(bit bigger then a shoe box) to place in the freezer and put all my bento goodies inside. Now, I live in an apartment, and so my freezer isn't the average size. It's pretty small. So, I went to Walmart and grabbed one of those shelf things you put in the freezer.
This will help my freezer stay organized and let me use up ALL the room :D

I'm creating different lunch types for each week.
So, for one week, I might focus on having rice as my carb. So, sushi one day, onigiri the next, curry after that, etc. Another week might be noodles. So on and so forth.
Basically, I'll be looking up a bunch of new ideas and recipes each week. (lets hope I can find some lol)

I was researching some vegetarian meals and came up with an interesting article.
This article was about how healthy vegetarians are and how we should really eat more veggies. They had an idea for people not willing to stop eating meat all together. It was to try eating vegetarian meals every other day or so.
This is what I'm aiming for.

I plan on taking a picture of all my bentos and posting them on not only Flickr, but Facebook as well.
I'd LOVE to share all my food ideas to people, so I've planned on talking about the foods in the bento.
Once my things arrive, I'll be posting the pictures on "Bento Gear" to show everyone :D

Now, I don't know about you, but all this sounds A LOT to remember lol.
I've got a TERRIBLE memory:(
To help me out on that, I like using a calender. On my calender, I've got a bunch of different colours for each thing I have planned.
For ex= pink might mean onigiri today, green might mean veggie bento today, etc.

Well, that's me.
I may even get some more ideas lol.
Thanks for reading.
Adriana

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I forgot to post my email. :O
Sorry about that...

pinguin_love [at] hotmail [dot] com

Hope it's ok to post this after I've already posted :S
Adriana

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Since I work full-time at a university in addition to going to grad school and teaching a class once a week, back to school is a very busy time for me. Because of this, I need to pack a lunch since I don't have time to stand in line for lunch because of my short lunch break.

My biggest tip is this: make ahead as much as you can and freeze it. When you're cooking something else, think about whether or not it would be okay to freeze and warm up later for a bento. I've done this for tempura-battered tofu (after it cools, I freeze it individually wrapped and stored in a big freezer bag, then warm it up in the oven to crisp it back up), vegetarian soboro, sauteed peppers and onions, cooked rice and much more. It makes it much easier to get my bento together early in the morning because of this step and I don't have to cook from scratch very often.

Also, I made sure all of my bento are the same color and that the accessories coordinate (even my Thermos wide-mouth food jar!). That way, I don't have to think too hard about it matching when I'm barely awake in the morning. I'm not into overly cute things, but I do like things to not clash color-wise. As far as bento boxes and accessories go, the only thing I've ever felt were necessary are silicon cups and little squeeze bottles for soy sauce and such. Everything else is extraneous.

--------------------------
Love manga? Then check out my manga review blog, i ♥ manga!

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I have devised a system to put in place once the school days begin. Since we all get up at 5:30 am to get ready for school I will need a plan in place the night before. I have purchased three small baskets to use in the freezers and cupboard. One is for the deep freezer, one is for my kitchen frig in the house and the last is for the cupboard. In the deep freezer I have a collection of goyza, spring rolls, mini muffins, mini quiches, rice balls etc. all labeled and dated. They are ready to be warmed or browned and packed. In the second basket in the kitchen freezer I have items such as frozen edamame, pea pods, shaped pasta, tortellini and things I can cook with dinner the evening before for lunch. In the third basket I have dried additions such as dried fruit, small cookies, treats, gummy frogs and things that will make the lunch enticing to toss in at the end of packing.
I have purchased enough containers so that we each have a fancy one and them several cheaper utilitarian ones (like snap lock ) to get us through the week without trauma of losing parts. I know that I will not have enough time in the morning to get too fancy with food preparation so I have focused on small decorative cupcake picks purchased at the bakery outlet store to add joy upon opening the box. I have surveyed the old ice packs and binged all old leaky scoundrels. I always keep a surplus of ice packs since I find that we often forget to toss these back in the freezer at the end of the day. I have one more little container (a ziplock compartment style box) that I will use to store all little bits and pieces of fruits and vegetables after I prepare the bentos in the morning. This little box will be placed in front of the refrigerator shelf so that these bits can be used up first and not wasted when I prepare supper.
It's five days to go and I am back to school too since I am a teacher. I hope my homework this summer will prove usefull in the new school year!

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

These are *great* organizational tips! Simple, and saves so much time hunting for things.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

new2bento that's a wonderful idea! It'll definitely help me out a lot since im a young student and everyone else is too busy to help me out in the mornings so this makes it fast and easy! thanks for the advice i'll use it well! :D

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Onigiri! My plan for this coming fall season is onigiri. I will be working full time and going to school full time, and won't have access to refrigeration until after lunch. I have been saving fruits and veggies this summer with plans for bentos. I think if I make my emphasis on onigiri I will be able to keep my goal of 90% bento lunches.
I have saved shredded zucchini, sour cherries & plums, radishes, radish greens, Swiss chard, edamame, etc. I can’t wait for some corn. I plan to supplement meals with fresh fruit & veggies or small green salads. Nuts will be a big part of the vegetarian bentos, but I am still an omnivore so some of the onigiri will be filled with fish, ground seasoned beef, shrimp, or baked tofu. I can make large batches of onigiri on the weekends and they freeze well for the week to come, and the hubby can help.
Also I plan to do the brown soy sauce eggs and tea eggs since my chickens are producing plenty.
I am so excited for this to come to fruition! I am getting hungry thinking about it!
-JessicaT, Spokane, WA, aquablood [at] gmail [dot] com

planning ahead!

This year I'm actually going to plan our bentos early. Last school year, I used maki's weekly bento planner for only two weeks. The game plan is to use the weekly planner (because it takes out the last minute guess work) and to make bentos the night before.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

My biggest stratety is to stay organized! My "small" bento supplies are kept in a container with individual compartments for the decorative pics, mini cookie cutters, small bottles, silicone cups, etc. It is quick to open and pick out the items needed each morning.

On the weekend, I cut all the veggies and fruit for the week and store it in two large lock and locks with dividers. (All the veggies go in one - carrots, snap peas, bell peppers, cucumbers, jicama, celery, etc in precut in bite size pieces that fit in my bentos. Fruit goes in the other - right now, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, mango chunks, etc. Usually takes about an hour to wash/dry/prep.) By having all the fruit and veggies ready to go, it is fast to pull two containers out and "stuff" the healthy stuff around leftovers. This helps me keep the bentos healthy by having good ingredients ready all week. With the lock and locks - it actually stays fresh all week!

Example - I only ate half my chicken sandwich the previous night at a restaurant. I cut the leftover chicken in cubes and put on wooden pics. Added a small onigiri from the freezer and a small container of BBQ sauce. Then filled all the spaces with veggies, fruit pieces and a small cheese cube. Put in a couple decorative skewers, and had a great lunch ready in less than five minutes!! :)

My husband helps make our bento's in the morning - he is good about adding fruits and veggies if they are simple to find in the two containers. (If I put them in individual containers, we end up with only the first ones he pulls out. Just carrots makes a boring meal.) Kids can help make their own lunch too - put in the "big" stuff and let them pick out the fruits and veggies for all the gaps. Just make sure they pick enough items to make it colorful! By preparing and staying organized, it is motivating to make bentos all week. Now, the biggest challenge is making enough, everyone pulls it out for snacks when we get home! :)

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I'll be using my planner as a bento and dinner planner, a week in advance.

The other plan will be to go through bento sites like this and a few others over the next few weeks and getting some recipes that I think sound good, and bookmarking them in a specific folder. As well as sort of writing them down as notes. Dividing them into the meat, vegetable, fruit, etc. areas.

I have two drawers in the kitchen that I use for specifically bento items. I'm planning on organizing them a bit better. As well as making sure the drawers are organized, so that I don't have an accident in the morning, grabbing something and ending up with a knife. Nothing like slicing your hand to really mess up your day.

Also, this year, I got a thermos and a bag that can hold both my bento and my drink thermos. Or soup, depending on the day. Now all I need to do is decide which of the thousands of bentos I got for my birthday I want to use for the year, and I'll have a pretty good time!

Toddler/Baby/Husband Bento planning

I'm a stay at home mom with a 16 month old and one due in a month. My husband is a military man who is in training right now. I began menu planning over the summer while we had some down time and I have begun incorporating our lunches too.

I'm fairly new to bento and don't have a huge assortment, but I have what I need to make sure that we all have healthy lunches.

The main things I am focusing on are;
Budget Friendly- I am using lots of farmers market finds, and reworking leftovers. With a busy schedule and little ones any time I can cook and get 2 dinners and 2 or more lunches I am happy! I have found that couscous is great for this, it cooks fast, is very versatile, tastes great cold or room temperature, and doesn't tend to get gummy or slimy as long as I am careful as to what I add to it.
Heart Healthy- With a family history on both sides of heart disease we are very focused on keeping our meals low salt, and as healthy as possible. Bentos are great for keeping the husband out of the burger and pizza joints. Plus, since he helps with the planning, I know he's enjoying the meals too!
Easy to Eat- He may not always have access to a microwave or fridge. So foods that keep well and are tasty at temperature are a must!

If I were gong to narrow down a main Back to school bento tip, it would be to incorporate your bento planning, into your other meal planning, that way you can limit cooking time along with grocery shopping time!

Thanks Maki! I'm excited to read all the great tips!
~~Alie

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I'm returning to college this fall but as a transfer student at a new school. My apartment has a nice functional kitchen with a stove, big fridge, a good sized pantry, and oven. This apartment is a school residence but requires you to take a partial meal plan. In preparation for having only 1 guaranteed school lunch per day, I am formulating a bento system in order to not starve. My parents and I have been going over appliances I am going to need such as an microwave, a rice cooker, and toaster, as well as utensils and cookware such as a wok, steamer basket, skewers of all types, cooking chopsticks, onigiri molds, cutting boards, rubbermaid containers, etc. I know of at least 8 markets within 10 minutes of me (walking distance) where I can get groceries I need and there is even a convenience at the bottom floor of my apartment building. My sister (who has just returned from being a JET in Hokkaido) and I are going to start practicing simple recipes for me to use at school and I am taking all my bento cookbooks, and Japanese cookbooks in general, with me. I know when left to my own devices (or whenever my boyfriend is around) I tend to eat a little poorly and gain weight. Since the boyfriend will not be around (sadly) and now that I have done some planning and exercising, I have devised a simple and healthy diet for myself, which includes many bento staples. Among my diet items in my bento will be onigiri with various fillings and toppings, including umeboshi, miso, veggies like shredded carrots and cucumber, and furikake, oyakodon, instant miso!, leafy salads of all kinds (plus, I make great low fat dressings from scratch!), boiled edamame, baked chicken, corn on the cob, pulled pork, beet salad, soy sauce eggs, deviled eggs, plain boiled and poached eggs, soups such as spinach soup, broccoli, potato, carrot, and tomato, seaweed salad, soba and somen noodles, mini sandwiches (esp. cucumber and watercress!), and many more tasty things. Of course, I will need some mixes and reheatable items such as meat buns, noodle soups, pasta, low fat desserts, etc. but those will all factor into my food and grocery budget! I figure I will try to get the majority of my groceries about once every two-three weeks, plus I have two other roommates and we have agreed we will help each other with food costs and shopping. My roommates and I will also divide the pantry into individual sections, as well as a free for all section in the cupboard. I have seen the layout of the apartment which includes the kitchen, which includes dimensions, so I know very specifically how things will fit, be divided, etc. I also live in the city, which is Boston, and I have no car, so I'll be walking a lot! All in all, I will be fit and happily fed, despite my restrictions and meal plan! Each time I shop I will have a list of essential veggies, meats, dairy products, eggs, mixes, and other items to be refreshed in the pantry. Breakfast is the easy part but it will take some getting used to in making my own lunches daily. But I will try my best!
I go to this site almost daily and have cataloged the recipes and tips that I like in my personal recipe book that will go along with my other cookbooks.
The only thing is is that I have to yet to buy a bento box! But I know exactly what I want. I have been eyeing the dual level Totoro bento on Jlist for a while now. I don't think it would be too hard to buy on my own but... it wouldn't hurt to have some help :3
I am so excited for school and if anyone is interested I am going to begin cataloging and archiving my bento lunches as soon as I start school! So hungry! Hope you all have a wonderful summer and school year and eat happy!

Bianca C.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

It's going to be a fall of new beginnings for me. I guess you could call them my Autumn Resolutions!

I work at a University and my schedule fluctuates often so time management is very important for me. However, the food from the different cafeterias there isn't the healthiest for me, too much grease, salt and bad fats. So its time to take care of myself. I'm on a really strict diet right now so I haven't been able to take full advantage of the bento way, but I'm getting ready to start the next phase. I've decided that healthy bentos are the way to go and I'm going to get my husband eating healthier using bentos. I'm preparing to start up and that's where my strategy begins.

1 - Researching different types of bento boxes and supplies. I even started a wish list on JList last weekend so I can order supplies a bit before the second phase of my diet begins. This way I'll have some of the different supplies I want and a few nice bento boxes as a present to myself for having made it through the hardest phase of my diet.

2 - Researching and collecting healthy recipes that will work well in bentos. Also adapting recipes I currently have to be healthier and to work as a component in my bentos. At the same time, I'm using the bento meal planner to plan out meals for several weeks in advance.

3 - Buying ingredients in bulk, pre-portioning them and freezing what I can. Bi-weekly trips to the grocery store to get ingredients that are more perishable to include in my bentos. Things such as fresh veggies and fruit and dairy items. Also scouring the grocery store ads to find good deals on different items and using those in my bentos to save some extra money.

4 - In tandem with the ingredient freezing, I also will be cooking dishes in bulk that will freeze well. Rice, gyoza, marinara sauce, etc. One dish on my list is Beef Chili. Lots of vegetables (tomatoes, green peppers, onions, etc.) and nice lean meat. Chock full of vitamins and protein. I'll be making a giant batch and freezing it into individual servings.

5 - A couple nights a week, I'll make dinners with a few extra servings so I can include them in the next day's bento. I love leftovers and this is a great way to enjoy a tasty meal a few more times and save time and money.

6 - Some days I have to work early in the morning, so preparing a healthy breakfast bento the night before will keep me from stopping at fast food places or the cafeteria. I'll be working on several breakfast recipes that will translate well to bentos.

7 - I am a founder, chairperson and planner of a Japanese Anime convention in my home state (Anime Banzai in Utah) and we love to provide and inform people of many of the wonderful cultural aspects of Japan. I am hoping to run a panel on bento cooking and packing. I want to introduce as many people as I can to the world of bento and how to make it an everyday part of their lives. I want to show them how this great part of every day Japanese culture can benefit them by being fun and healthy at the same time!

So my back-to-school strategies involve making bentos a major part of my change to a healthier lifestyle and to hopefully introduce it into the lives of my husband, friends and Anime Banzai patrons!

I guess this list has become not only my strategy for bento, but my strategy for a healthier and happier me.

~Kime
(my e-mail address is in my user profile)

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

This fall I am going to have a special challenge. I have been reading a Russian book about how to be healthy by balancing your nerves using the food we eat and how each of us have some personality traits that are unique to us and that are rarely in perfect balance. So the book teaches you which tastes, fruit, vegetables you should focus on mostly in order to get more balanced and therefore healthier. For ex. if you are a person who gets cold easily then your body needs not only warm clothes but also some combination of products that naturally warms up the body or makes the body to produce more heat, like for ex. the combination of pickles and sweet vegetables like carrots would make your body to produce more heat even if the food is eaten cold. So I've done some tests with my husband to identify where we are, and which of the nerves need to be balanced, so I am going to plan my husband's bentos accordingly. It's going to be challenging as I need to calculate carefully the percentage of a given product every week, but I am very committed to doing this.
Also we decided to use more brown rice in bentos, maybe at the beginning every other day, less salty food (I am going to reduce the salt content gradually so that we can get used to the taste), less meat and more of other sources of protein. And lastly we decided to detox our bodies so once a week I am going to do carrot-apple juice bento, that means I am going to juice the carrots with apples in the morning for us to have the juice all day and no food in order to clean the body.
All this will require careful planning and lots of adjustments because we are doing this for the first time, so I am going to get a colorful planner just for planning our meals and keeping track of how often and how much we consume each product.
so this is what I am up to.
thanx
Natalia dianatuzzi [at] yahoo [dot] com

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Natalia,
That sounds very interesting. What is the name of that book?
-Shelly

my

I'm a teacher and I anticipate having to "brown bag" at whatever school I'll be assigned to in the Fall so in preparation I've bought some Bento boxes in an effort to try to eat healthier. I'm also going to try to make my own sushi, eventually.

But first, I'm going to try to "bento" some more traditional American brown bag lunches.

I live in So. Cal so my creations may have a Mexican flare.

When I was growing up, packed lunches were either peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish or bologna and American cheese. Occasionally salami and mozzarella cheese instead. So I'm going to work on doing those sandwiches as sushi. I'll be using a flour tortilla as nori and then the fillings as ...fillings. I'll use my bamboo mat to roll them and toothpicks to secure them. They'll be sliced as sushi. I'll use cutters on carrots and fruit as sides. Perhaps add a few pretzel sticks. I may try a rolled tostada using corn tortillas, beans, cheese and lettuce. If I find the tortillas aren't working out I may go for lavosche (sp?) or the flatbread used for traditional rolled sandwiches. Either one will reduce my bread consumption. I may also try stacking and cutting, like tea sandwiches. The fruits and vegetables will improve my diet as I don't eat enough.

The bento boxes will control my portions. I had no idea they were gaged approximately for that. And I can make lunches the night before or for several days in advance as I have several boxes. That will certainly help my time management.

I'm excited to start. After I have the hang of it I'm going to venture into more traditional sushi but I may vary the traditional fillings. I love rice, and may try a tuna fish salad filling. When I get better rolling, I'll work on more traditional fillings. I have visited several local Japanese markets to determine where I need to shop to find the fillings I want. I am going to try to avoid surimi as it's made from pollock and the factory trawlers are decimating Alaskan salmon.

I also have a round bento bowl for salad experimentation and a thermos bowl for hot soups.

Since these creations are mostly for me I'm going to keep track of them and maybe even blog them. If I can develop some time saving techniques all the better. I work and am pretty busy and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. That's how I found this site. I'll be taking pictures and making notes on what does and doesn't work. Who knows? Maybe a cookbook will come out of this directed at Bento for the adult American.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Since my husband's children don't currently live with us, bentos are just a daily thing for the two of us. We've sort of slipped out of the habit but I want to get back into spending Sunday cooking a bunch of freeze-able things in one-person portions.

One thing I love to have in my bento is sushi. My husband and I taught ourselves how to roll it, so I expect I'll have a lot of that when I have the time to prepare bentos in the morning. Otherwise I was considering a build-your-own-sushi picnic bento for the two of us. I'm still working the kinks out of that, but the basic gist is the innards of sushi in compartments of a tackle box I use specifically for food packing, a box of sushi rice, and a packet of nori, because nori tastes so gross when the rice has been on it for a while.

(We're also trying to work out non-seafood versions of sushi because my youngest stepdaughter doesn't eat seafood. So far we've gave her some with your 5-minute marinaded chicken and she loved it, so we're one step up!)

We've also got a bit of a problem in that my husband and roommate are both picky eaters. One thing I've been doing is that every time I make a recipe I've found that's suitable for bento, I print it out and punch holes out on it, and stick it in my bento-binder. I make them both try it and tell me if they like it, and I note who does and does not like it at the top. It's even color-coded; I get black, my husband gets bright green, and our roommate gets bright blue. It makes it so much easier to keep track of everyone's tastes.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I'm planning to be more selective this year about the bento boxes I use. Some just don't work for daughter or myself, so I will pass those onto a friend for her girls. I have a drawer in the freezer where I have started my stash of supplies, these include:spring rolls, gyoza, pre-portioned rice, soboro, chicken pieces and so on. I'm also hoping to achieve a better colour balance in our lunches this year. I'm not a big fruit eater, so by buying smaller portions from the grocery I should be able to incorporate those in my bento. Plans for daughter are to get her into making the most of her bento lunch by herself and teaching her how to pack it properly. Currently she'd throw it all in a box only for it to end up as uneaten mush that comes back home.

Organisation is going to be key this year as well. I need to buy a set of plastic storage drawers for all my gear but on the other hand I'm hoping also to curb my habit of buying bento gear as I think I will end up divorced if it takes up any more space than the bottom of the kitchen cupboard!! Maybe I can sneak the drawers in before hubby notices??

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I work full-time (at a university, like several other commenters!) and have two daughters, 11 and 14, whose school day starts at 8:00 a.m. I pack their bento-style lunches in 500 ml Lock and Lock boxes, but the food is pretty Western in style.

Like many commenters above, we make and freeze our bento staples on the weekends, which makes it easier for me to pull together a lunch in the painfully-early morning. I try to keep the freezer stocked with onigiri-esque rice cubes (formed in an ice cube tray), rice balls (formed with a small ice cream scoop), and more traditional triangle shapes formed in an ice tray we bought at IKEA. Other freezer staples: garlicky, spicy mini-kibbe, made with ground beef and bulgur; Italian-style meatballs; Southwestern-style mini chicken patties; purchased frozen dumplings; homemade cheese biscuits or cheese-and-ham biscuits; and bunches of homemade muffins—pumpkin, zucchini, oatmeal and gingerbread. All of these get warmed in the microwave before packing.

Leftovers from dinner are also bento staples—I can use up bits of cooked meat or pasta that are not enough to make a whole meal in themselves. (My thrifty self loves this). Unsauced pasta is a favorite bento item for my girls; sauced pasta not so much, as they don’t think it tastes great at room temperature.

Of course they love leftover pizza cut into bite-size pieces in their lunch boxes. And they also love—and this is so not healthy!—make-your-own tacos: warmed taco-seasoned ground meat topped with shredded cheese, and served with tortilla chips and salsa for dipping.

I sometimes cut carrots and cucumbers over the weekend, but most fruits and veggies seems to be nicer if I cut them the morning they’ll be eaten. I love the bento way of including several different small portions of different-colored fruits and veggies—that feels like such a smart way of eating. We pack a variety of whatever is in season. Right now the fridge is full of stone fruits, so the girls are getting cherries and plums and nectarines in their lunch boxes. (My kids are in day camps during the summer, so we pack bentos all year round).

Different food items are segmented in the box with cupcake liners—foil liners for anything messy, like meat or a dip, and paper liners to corral pesky round things into neat groups. Chicken legs get a foil wrapper over the bone, and small portions of meat or cheese are often skewered on toothpicks, so that the girls don’t get their hands too messy when they eat.

And the other bento favorite is soup packed in a mini-thermos, with fruit, bread or a muffin, and a little crunchy topping for the soup packed in a 350 ml Lock and Lock box.

My kids get a little less carbohydrate than in a traditional Japanese bento—about half their lunch is fruits and veggies, ¼ protein, and ¼ carbohydrates from rice, muffins or pasta.

We started packing bentos at the beginning of the last school year, and at first I was afraid my kids wouldn't be getting enough food. Those boxes look small! But it worked out so well--there was always plenty to eat, they always had a variety of healthy foods, and the lunches were always so colorful and pretty. I never realized what a difference that makes.

Thanks for this site, Maki. I’ve learned a lot about packing healthy bentos here! And I will definitely be adapting some of the ideas in the comments above, too.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Nutrition, convenience, safety, appearance... there are many attributes to successful bento planning for school lunches. I want to mention another one in this comment – Self esteem.

We should be mindful that the lunch setting for the younger ones is a social setting and sometimes a difficult one, depending on the individual, gender, school, demographics, and age. The lunch can be the object of admiration or ridicule from the child's peers.

As such, along with rice, fruit, protein and whatever is packed in the school lunch it helps to include one portion of self esteem.

Best wishes,

John

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Hey, I'm a student myself (15 going 16) and since school food is really expensive, I pack a bento whenever I have too. Basically I have too "strategies" (if you can call them that).

1. I Always prepare food that can be heated in maximum 10 minutes. It may be the dinner I packed from last night, or some frozen food that just needs to be heated up. Mornings can be really rushed so I try to keep it simple and prepared the night before.

2. If you share with friends, make it potluck. My class really likes having class recess and eating together. So we normally bring one food item per person. E.g One of my friends brings fresh bread, and it varies. I and some others bring desserts like fudge. It means that you don't have to prepare too many things and still eat a variety of food.

Well, this is what I use! ^_^

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Well, I'm completely new to bento (and to cooking if I'm being honest), but I've started trying out the recipes from Justbento and a couple other sites, and I have to say the family is really liking them! I think I'm going to cook through as many bento recipes as I can in the remainder of the summer and then start figuring out my own bento style. I've already got a whole host of Japanese and Indian recipes I want to try to adapt for the bento.

As a work-at-home, homeschooling mom, you wouldn't think that we need bento, but we do. Interrupting the middle of the school day for me to cook seemed to throw us all off track a bit last year. You'd think being able to cook fresh food for your kids' lunches would be the best option, but I'm finding it isn't. Looking back, not only was our day disrupted, but the food I was cooking was more convenience and less healthy. That's why this year I'm determined to do bento!

So, here's a short list of my goals for all of us:
Me: Learn how to cook healthy bento food and amass supplies/tools. Also, lose the baby weight.
Hubby: Improve cholesterol levels and lose some weight.
Son: Learn to eat more than the 3 foods he currently eats. (He actually ate a couple soba noodles yesterday!)
Daughter 1: Learn to use chopsticks. She eats everything already and loves veggies/fruit/healthy stuff, so she's fine in that department. She loved watching us use the chopsticks, thought, so I think I'll get her a learning pair.
Daughter 2: Get her used to good, healthy food from the start.

Thanks,
Belinda

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Well I've been a bento fan since I discovered Maki's site and I even enjoy participating in the bento for weightloss challenge, alas I left bento behind for a brief time and indulged in too many bowls of pho and other carry out delicacies. In the last two months I've been gearing up for bento packing in the fall for myself and my son.
1. the first thing I did was list a variety of well planned mini meals for our lunches, taking in to consideration taste, veggies and healthy combinations. That way my son can pick what he'd like to eat the week before so we can shop for foods on the weekend. I also use Makie Weeekly planner to map out what i have on hand and what I'll need to buy.
2. I have been developing relatioonships with the farmers at my local farmers markets so that I get loads of local fresh produce and fruit as well as locally raised meats and eggs for tasty bentos, that way I'm helping the environment, my farm communities and my family eat healthfully daily.
3. I have quite a few bento containers but remain on the lookout for ones that fit my calorie needs. I eat my largest meal at lunch, but I also make mini bentos for our breakfast, and carry plenty of fruit for snacks, and water to drink. I use cloth bags to carry mine and the SUN has a lunchbox with a heating pack and thermos.
4.I've gathered so many delicious Asian recipes from all over the continent to make the tasty food I crave. I've been a loyal subscriber to many food blogs including Rasa Malaysia, Chubby Hubby, Jaden's Steamy Kitchen and of course Maki's two , besides loads of others because nothing entices me more than delicious food. I pick out a recipe or two, make them over the weekend, and will have them ready for bento assembly on Monday.
5. I'm planning a prep extravaganza really soon, where I will grill of seasoned pork patties, and chinese pork, I'll make a few types of dumplings and soup broth, for quick spur of the moment pairings. I'm also stocking my favorite dry noodles and condiments for those times when I don't have much but can throw together something before I go to work.
6. I'll stay active on the blog communities so that new info and recipes are always available.
7.I'm planning a class on bento making for health and weightloss to share with others a good way to eat well and stay healthy.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I plan on starting my true bento experience this year, since I am headed off to university and will need to be conscious about my eating habits moreso than in the past. I don''t want to compromise my current good health and physical condition by making stupid choices for dinner, especially. The dining plan I have gives dining dollars for the university, which houses many many nutritious options alongside those that I will pass up. I don't have a tooth for those greasy dishes and cannot say that i crave them, so organization in preparing things for myself, even onigiri will be a start for in-between class pickups :) It's been great using your website to compile different recipes I have tried or plan to try in the future and reading all of these excellent suggestions from fellow-bentoers!

Ian
ian [dot] penk [at] gmail [dot] com

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I am new to bento, but love the idea of it. Unfortunately my 12 YO has decided that anything other than a plastic grocery bag to transport her lunch is "so-not-cool". Here's what I'm HOPING to do come school time - at least for the other 2. ;)

1) Make dinner with bento leftovers in mind.
2) I recently bought colorful silicon muffin cups hoping that they would make eating fun.
3) Liberal use of carrot and celery sticks for garnish, separation of items (picky eater - yikes).
4) Freeze various pasta shapes in individual portions for quickie meals.
5) Grab a few extra individual packets from fast food places when we're there.
6) Keep checking here because I can certainly use all the help I can get!

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

As I am getting ready for the "back to school" period, I am making my own bentos. For onigri in a pinch, I cook up instant long grain rice and then add a little bit of mirin and salt once it's done. Then I cut off the corner of a gallon zip lock bag and form it that way!( I cut out a BIG triangle from the corner so I have a lot of room for shaping.)

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Forgot my address:flanadowska [at] yahoo [dot] com

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Me and my sister are twins we read about this competition during our blog hunt and said let's and compiled our best ideas! We hope you all enjoy our ideas. Go Twin Power!
Flax seed furikake: use salt and flax seed on onigiri, you can mix it in to color the rice we use this to make violin onigiri. How is violin onigiri made? Make two onigiri and use a celery stick to make the finger board and the strings made from sprnkling pepper down the onigiri or use rosemary.
Banana pancakes!Yay! Use regular pancake mix and half the amount of milk mash bananas and mix with milk.Follow recipe and eat hapilly. To make a strawberry syrup takes 5 strawberries cut in four and cook in equal parts water and sugar or a cup each, you can use any berry you want. A good syrup that takes a few minutes and can glaze cakes,be the jelly on sugar cookies.
DON'T WASTE THAT HASH! If you see potatoe hash in the supermarket or in your cupboard don't waste the chance! Etakey used to hate the stuff but she never tried it, but now we both love it. Makes a great side dish in breakfast bento and great with eggs. You will be begging for hash in your bento after one try.

Etakey's turn Yay:
What to do with your coldcuts? Salami, postrami,ham,turkey, even bacon~. Toast them up and cut them up. Cut up salad reeeeally small and add a vinegrett and mix both the meat and salad together but of course you need CHIPS! Take wheat bread (mmm healthy) cut off crust which is useful for bread crumbs. Once the crust is gone roll out the bread cut into circles or triangles whatever you like and toast until brown. Now you have a yummy snack.
Staples:
Cooking wine in place of sake
Every bean in creation can make a good side and filling find out what you like now silly so you know what you're eatin inSept.
Try making your own sauce and your own drinks for bento to save money like honey tea which is good hot or cold:2 tablespoon honey, half a lemon, and 2 spoons sugar
Wax paper things can get stickey!
Peanut butter! Yes bond with your jar of peanut butter for quick snacks and it is also good with th wheat bread chips in the recipe above

I hope you enjoy. Love Etakey and Lanou!!

ebbi333 [at] yahoo [dot] com

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Honto Gomen! I am really sorry about the email Lanou let me do it and i messed up the e-mail is ebbi333 [at] gmail [dot] com
Don't tell her ;)

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

My little red bento box and I have become fast friends this past year, and I hope to grow the friendship this school year. To get me through the year, I would like to add more traditional bento items to my lunch, and (with the help of Just Hungry), I have discovered that I am quite possibly a Japanese housewife hidden in a Canadian body. I have aced every Japanese recipe I have tried, from gyoza to tamagoyaki, if not on the very first try (in the case of my fail-agoyaki which was hideous, albeit delicious) at least on the second. Not only have I discovered my affinity with Japanese food, I have also found an outlet for my insane need to give my food faces in the delicate art of kyaraben. Right now my kyaraben attempts have been fairly rudimentary -- restricted by my lack of proper bento-ing supplies and the contents of my refrigerator. Anna the Red’s Bento Factory blog on wordpress is a source of inspiration for me in this area, and looking at her early efforts makes it fairly clear that practice makes perfect (and also makes me way less intimidated by her current fabulous creations).

So, my strategy for this year is to keep my lunch both adorable and nutritious by following in the footsteps of my two favourite food bloggers. Right now bento is a hobby for me, but I think once I get a few more recipes under my belt, and refine my kyaraben skills, my little red bento box will be very busy indeed.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

My plan this year is to keep it fairly simple and to use more fresh fruits and veggies. Whatever's at the farmers' market is what I hope to be the main dish in the bentos this year. And while I enjoy making cute bentos for the kiddos, I do not plan to buy any more bits and bobs that aren't truly functional as well. I'm looking toward simple, healthy, and economic bentos this year.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I had this really awesome entry and my cat came along and decided that it would be of utmost importance in his line of style to lay on my backspace button and the page disappeared in a flurry of history. So! Here an -abridged- version of some of my favorite bento ideas I've collected this Summer that I'd like utilize this Fall! Yay bullet points!!

-I like to get a lot of my bento supplies at World Market: aside from being able to get Ramune and other things like Italian sodas, their picnic section of foods and snacks is totally awesome! I can find little single serving packets of Nutella or little pots of jams and other sauces that fit my bentos PERFECTLY!
-I love waffles, but I have yet to find a waffle maker that makes bento-sized waffles, so I like to make silver-dollar pancakes! As for syrup, I get my tiny bottles from World Market so my cakes aren't soggy by the time I get to eat them!
-I like ham, but I like fried ham better! To dress up my bentos I'll cut little shapes out of my ham with cookie cutters, and put those in a pan until they're deliciously browned!
-One thing I can whip up pretty easily with frozen fruit is compote. If I make the syrup just a bit lighter than the recipe asks for, I can freeze this up perfectly in a bag, and then just break it apart in chunks as I need it. It goes great on left over bits of roasted meat or on top of the pancakes, or even by itself, and it helps keep my bento chilled and is thawed out fairly well by the time I make it to lunch!
-Another weekly recipe I like to make is spiced apples! On Sunday evenings I'll make this, so it's all ready to use! In a tupperware dish I will put apple (peeled and diced small), a bit of flour, some white and brown sugar, and some cinnamon and a dash of lemon juice, and shake it all with the lid on. Through the week I portion this out into cups in my bento!
-I like cheese dip with my veggies sometimes, or if I have bits of corn chips in my bento, so I take a little silicon cup and fill it with tiny chunks of Velveeta and a dab of salsa, and I put it in the microwave at work!
-Frozen veggies and fruits are LIFESAVERS! I make my own hash with veggies, and jams, jellies, and all sorts of other things with the fruits. They're super easy to stock up on and store!
-One easy thing I love to do when I choose to have beef in my bento for the week is to pick up 'cubed beef for stew' at the market. It's pre-cut and trimmed, and is easy to fry up in a small saucepan until cooked through, and gets used up fairly quickly so I don't have any to freeze. Cooking down frozen pearl onions and the cubed potatoes in the last few minutes with a small bit of flour and sake and the meat juices is delicious and just right for a hearty bento!
-I can't get enough hot dogs! So quick! I love spooning out a bit of chili into the bottom of my box, and decorating it with cheese and mustard before putting my shaped hot dog bits on top. It keeps well through the day and is easy to heat up in a snap at lunch time!
-Weekend snack bentos or study/break munchies are thrown together with slices of fruits and veggies, and mini onigiri and nuts and cheese cubes! One easy thing my roommate loves is using various trail mixes as filler!
-Bigger dinner bento for nights at the Observatory are my favorites. I LOVE chicken, and I LOVE fajitas! Chicken prep work through the week is easy-peasy: throw seasoned strips of chicken and a small bit of olive oil in one foil packet and veggies in another and heat up in the oven until both are cooked through! Bentos are prepared with the chicken and veggies in the bottom and personalized toppings in the top. I will heat up the tortillas before we go in the microwave in a damp paper towel, wrap this in foil, and store it in my thermal bottle bag that came with my box, so that they stay soft and flexible. After our stargazing we'll sit on the top of the hill just outside the entrance to the Observatory and enjoy our dinner overlooking the whole east end of town. This is also a favorite for out of town trips. :)

ninthdestined [at] hotmail [dot] com

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I love the fajita idea - ingenious to put the tortilla in a thermos bottle to keep warm :)

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I had this really awesome entry and my cat came along and decided that it would be of utmost importance in his line of style to lay on my backspace button and the page disappeared in a flurry of history. So! Here an -abridged- version of some of my favorite bento ideas I've collected this Summer that I'd like utilize this Fall! Yay bullet points!!

-I like to get a lot of my bento supplies at World Market: aside from being able to get Ramune and other things like Italian sodas, their picnic section of foods and snacks is totally awesome! I can find little single serving packets of Nutella or little pots of jams and other sauces that fit my bentos PERFECTLY!
-I love waffles, but I have yet to find a waffle maker that makes bento-sized waffles, so I like to make silver-dollar pancakes! As for syrup, I get my tiny bottles from World Market so my cakes aren't soggy by the time I get to eat them!
-I like ham, but I like fried ham better! To dress up my bentos I'll cut little shapes out of my ham with cookie cutters, and put those in a pan until they're deliciously browned!
-One thing I can whip up pretty easily with frozen fruit is compote. If I make the syrup just a bit lighter than the recipe asks for, I can freeze this up perfectly in a bag, and then just break it apart in chunks as I need it. It goes great on left over bits of roasted meat or on top of the pancakes, or even by itself, and it helps keep my bento chilled and is thawed out fairly well by the time I make it to lunch!
-Another weekly recipe I like to make is spiced apples! On Sunday evenings I'll make this, so it's all ready to use! In a tupperware dish I will put apple (peeled and diced small), a bit of flour, some white and brown sugar, and some cinnamon and a dash of lemon juice, and shake it all with the lid on. Through the week I portion this out into cups in my bento!
-I like cheese dip with my veggies sometimes, or if I have bits of corn chips in my bento, so I take a little silicon cup and fill it with tiny chunks of Velveeta and a dab of salsa, and I put it in the microwave at work!
-Frozen veggies and fruits are LIFESAVERS! I make my own hash with veggies, and jams, jellies, and all sorts of other things with the fruits. They're super easy to stock up on and store!
-One easy thing I love to do when I choose to have beef in my bento for the week is to pick up 'cubed beef for stew' at the market. It's pre-cut and trimmed, and is easy to fry up in a small saucepan until cooked through, and gets used up fairly quickly so I don't have any to freeze. Cooking down frozen pearl onions and the cubed potatoes in the last few minutes with a small bit of flour and sake and the meat juices is delicious and just right for a hearty bento!
-I can't get enough hot dogs! So quick! I love spooning out a bit of chili into the bottom of my box, and decorating it with cheese and mustard before putting my shaped hot dog bits on top. It keeps well through the day and is easy to heat up in a snap at lunch time!
-Weekend snack bentos or study/break munchies are thrown together with slices of fruits and veggies, and mini onigiri and nuts and cheese cubes! One easy thing my roommate loves is using various trail mixes as filler!
-Bigger dinner bento for nights at the Observatory are my favorites. I LOVE chicken, and I LOVE fajitas! Chicken prep work through the week is easy-peasy: throw seasoned strips of chicken and a small bit of olive oil in one foil packet and veggies in another and heat up in the oven until both are cooked through! Bentos are prepared with the chicken and veggies in the bottom and personalized toppings in the top. I will heat up the tortillas before we go in the microwave in a damp paper towel, wrap this in foil, and store it in my thermal bottle bag that came with my box, so that they stay soft and flexible. After our stargazing we'll sit on the top of the hill just outside the entrance to the Observatory and enjoy our dinner overlooking the whole east end of town. This is also a favorite for out of town trips. :)

ninthdestined [at] hotmail [dot] com

Bentos For Homeschool Lunch!

This is our 17th year of homeschooling and I always take several days to plan out lunch menus. We prefer lunch to be our main meal of the day and then eat very lightly the rest of the day.

Once I discovered Just Bento, I knew I had found the answer to my problem of having the same old same old week after week. AND I knew I had found something that would be so interesting and fun, that my children would love to participate in the planning and building of our lunches.

My plan this year began by buying several containers and dishes. I bought an onigiri mold. I bought a thermos for soup that also holds onigiri or other side dishes to take on field trips. I also bought several heavy porcelain bento lunch plates. They are small enough that they don't take up much room in the cabinet and will hold good lunch-size portions of food.

Our Ideas For Back To School Bento:

We have a Korean grocery store in our town that carries many Japanese food items as well. By using the grocery store and JustBento for ideas, and the internet for reference, we are learning about Japanese foods and culture.

I will create a class for my students where they create menus and prepare the food for our bento meals. We will plan, shop and then cook for the week. Then each day we will prepare our lunches factory production-line style. And we will incorporate figuring the nutritional values of our lunches into our health and wellness class.

We will use many of the techniques explained on JustBento to learn some new food-art forms. Our hope is to be able to make our lunches into personal expressions of art!

I've learned so much from JustBento. Thank you so much!

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I'm absolutely freaked out about the H1N1 virus (aka Swine Flu) and the high risk for transmittal that eating of eatting in a school lunchroom presents. So, to quiet my mommy anxieties we're eliminating anything that comes premade on a lunch tray (who knows how many people have touched previously), and hitting the homemade bento. To that I plan to use just simple blue or red bandanas (high schoolers don't want anything too cute) to wrap the boxes in to be used as a barrier between lunch and the tables that may or may not have been cleaned off in the last 200 years. I may breack down and slip in a prepackaged handiwipe instead of the moist towel, since I really want to get the bento and wrap home in one piece each night and don't want to press my luck.
I hope these ideas inspire others as well.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Hi Liz,

If you have swine flu concerns for the lunchroom, how about giving each of your kids a small bottle of water-free handwash to use before and after eating? I have a small handbag-sized bottle and it's a lifesaver when I'm eating lunch on the go and can't get to a bathroom. It will also be less surplus packaging than a handiwipe, as you can just re-pack it time after time.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

Last year, my freshman year in college, I was required to have a meal plan at my university. Because of the nine months of having my meals prepared for me, I've sort of gotten out of the habit of cooking for myself, let alone every day. But now I have my first apartment, and now I HAVE to make my own lunches (and breakfasts, and dinners). While it's exciting, the pressures of being a full-time student as well as having a job, make the idea of making balanced meals every day sound a bit daunting.

So, I have a couple of strategies. First of all, for all of our meals, my roommate and I are thinking about planning the week's meals each weekend. That way, when we go shopping, we buy only what we need for that week, and have everything on hand. So that bento planner will come in handy for me especially!

Secondly, there's this farm that belong to the university's environmental center. They grow various produce, including basil, tomatoes, an array of squash, and many other things. They have a stand at the farmer's market, but they also let people (especially students) come and help them harvest the vegetables. If you help them harvest, they'll let you take home a good portion of what you pick! That's wonderful because I love squash and tomatoes, and they're versatile foods, plus the harvesting is actually a lot of fun! (Though, squash plants are prickly, and if you go in the evening to avoid the heat, you get the terrible mosquitoes bites, which I scratch like a five year old!)

My third strategy, which is not really a strategy, is to not lose my bento boxes. This may sound simple, but I have a terrible habit of leaving anything that's not attached to my body in classrooms, on busses, in study lounges, in bathrooms. So...not doing that would help, lol. ^_^

I also need to come up with some good vegetarian onigiri fillings, other than the traditional ones. While I'm aquiring the taste for umeboshi, it's not my favorite, so I need some alternatives. Anyone have any suggestions?

Lastly, I need to choose lunches that are especially simple to make, because of my busy schedule. I'm particularly fond of that kidney bean curry recipe, onigiri, and mashed potatoes that are made several days in advanced and last for the week!

I'm determined to eat healthy this year and not turn the Freshman 15 (which I managed to avoid) into the Sophomore 16!

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I start school next week and I have been thinking of strategies on how to pack my food quickly. For anyone that is always in a rush in the morning and likes germ free food read this : D For school I need to get up early and I have a tendency to be very slow in the morning (who isn't -_- ). After I'm all dressed and have my bag packed I have little to no time to pack a lunch because I need to catch my school buss around 6:40 a.m. O.O' So what I do so I can have a delicious and healthy bento each morning is that I pack it the night before.

If I'm having noodles the next day for school I usually prepare it before I go to bed and store it in a air tight container and put it in the fridge.
For when I want rice well I make about 4 cups of it on Sunday night and divide it by each week day in plastic zip lock bags and throw them in the freezer. So on the day I want rice I just pick a bag out of the freezer, pour the rice into a bowl and put a very small amount of water in the bowl so it gives the rice a freshly cooked taste and put it in the microwave for about 45 seconds. And woola! perfect rice that tastes bran new : D
Veggies still have a crisp taste if you cut them over night and eat them the next day so I just through those in a zip lock baggie and put them in the fridge for the next morning.
However I'm picky on my fruit. I ALWAYS need to have mine cut XD I usually cut them in the morning and stick mine in the bento last before I put ANYTHING in my bento. I always microwave my food...except for the fruit XD

Since I already have most of my food prepared the night before in plastic containers it makes it easy to microwave each one so i can kill off all of the bacteria that was growing on my food over night.
Its really easy, I just pop the noodles in the microwave, then the rice, then the veggies. Once there all bacteria free then I pack my bento witch takes 10 seconds :3 Then I'm off to school and catching the bus with no worries : )

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I'm making bento for myself, and I'm in highschool, so back-to-school bento is pretty hard for me. Well, back-to-school anything is pretty hard, actually.

I just started bento-ing in the middle of last year's term, so I'm not really used to it yet, but I've learned a few things! I'm a lot more careful about what I eat the night before. My mom usually makes meals, and I'm pretty picky, so I try to make sure I'll like what she cooks and put a little away for my bento. I don't cook a lot for myself, but nowadays, my mom has work, and she asks me to make her bentos some days. So I make bentos for her, to get back into the swing of things. It works better, 'cause she tells me a day or so in advance, so I have to plan. It's a good way to start remembering how food works.

Since I only have one two-tiered bento box, I usually put hot and cold separately. We have a microwave at school, so I can reheat--but I make sure that it's okay if I don't, in case there's a long line. Ugh, having to eat pasta that's supposed to be hot cold. Eeugh. Tummyaches.

Lastly, I try to lay everything out the night before so I'm not in a rush. They're usually refrigerated and in containers, and if I miscalculated, I make a speed dish to make up for room not available. Sometimes, I even put breakfast in my top box and lunch in my lower box, just because I don't eat breakfast very often. I have to catch the bus at 5:50 AM, after all. Doesn't leave much time for pancake nomming.

I didn't make a lot of bento last year, but now that I know how to make rice and onigiri (thanks to you :D) I'm going to incorporate those into mine this year. I know I still have a lot to learn. But for now I'm gonna try and make those bentos at least... a whole first week.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

School is starting soon
My first year away from home
I'll miss Mom's cooking

Somehow, I'll survive
They say there's a nice kitchen
Rice cookers allowed!

Mom teaches me skills
On long afternoons
Sweating over the hot stove

So when autumn comes
And I must leave her behind
A piece comes with me

My fridge is tiny
I'll have to share with my friends
But that's not so bad!

Friendships over food
Cooking together at night
Sharing meals by day

Fall brings a new start
But bento-ing takes me home
Tasting of Mom's love.

Takat
Writing away about my latest 3 week adventure through China at http://katacomb.blogspot.com

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

i just started working in denmark after living in california all my life. it's very expensive to live here so of course i pack my lunch everyday. my favourite bases are brown rice, soba noodles, and danish rye bread. the rest is usually beans or vegetables, occasionally cheese. though i'm korean and i love my country's cuisine, i prefer not to take the smellier dishes for lunch, as i have to deal with patients and doctors very closely. i don't want to spray them with my kimchi breath. (;

i don't have a bento box, i just use one or two small containers. i received the set this past christmas and it's great for storing food in the fridge but maybe not being chucked around in my backpack. i can only pack things that should be mixed up, hehe. but it was a warmly welcomed gift since i had no job for almost a year and no means of buying a real bento (plus there aren't any shops in copenhagen that sell them).

my fiance (the reason i moved to denmark) also works full days but he never packs lunch. i think he's too lazy to be bothered to think about lunch the night before, and he doesn't like me going through a lot of trouble to make meals for him. so he ends up getting a sandwich or croissant, but more often he will not eat anything at all! eating only a croissant (or nothing!) for lunch is very unhealthy; i hope soon he'll peek at my bentos and feel that maybe he would like one too.

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

I pack bentos for myself and my husband, even though I dont leave the house to work. Its easier for me to have my lunch already made in the fridge, and it insures healthier eating! Since I pack lunch at 5 am the night before I poke around the kitchen to see what we have and then I make a list of what to pack. I'm barely functional in the am! All our bento supplies are in one area and they are easy to grab for packing. I'm doing a good job of keeping the essential food items on hand. I've figured out baby carrots are worth the $ for the ease they pack, peeling bags of carrots was getting old fast. Raw brocoli also packs very quickly. Grapes, strawberries, blue berries, rasberries and cherries pack fast as well. The bento encourages a wider variety of fruit then we ate before. I keep nuts, seeds, dried mango, and yogurt covered almonds on hand for shelf stable gap fillers. If I'm prepping food I like to think about doing a bunch at once. Like cutting a whole block of cheese into squares. Cutting up several fruits to make a fruit salad, it makes it very fast to pack a healthy lunch. I'm having fun looking at ways leftovers could be used creativly. For instance i baked a cake that had to be leveled for decorating. I took the top piece of cake and cut out flower shapes with cookie cutters. Two flowers and leftover frosting made an adorable cake that fit into a bento. I made them in advance stuck them in the fridge and pulled the cakes out as needed. The best advice is to not get into a habit, keep thinking about how you can pack a lunch faster and easier while keeping your bento healthy and appealing!

First-ever school lunches

My grandson (who lives with me) starts Grade One this fall, and in the U.S. this means he will be eating lunches at school for the first time. I would love to say that my primary motivation for sending him with bento meals is a healthy-diet goal--I'd get a lot of good-Grandma points for that! But I have to confess that although health is a major factor, the MAIN reason behind my nefarious bento plot is that Picky Eater Syndrome drives me nuts.

From the time my grandson first started solid foods, his mom and I let him taste everything on our plates, from Brussels sprouts to wasabi, to counteract the American belief that kids can't learn adventurous eating. Now, at 7 years old, he enjoys most foods; yesterday in the grocery store, he made a stranger chuckle when he rejoiced, "Sausage! Are we having jambalaya?!"

But a snotty little part of me fears that a daily lunch of the cafeteria's purposely-bland burgers, pizza, and macaroni will make my mini-gourmet into a PB&J-only boy like his friends. I envision him forgetting that green is a tasty color, and that spice is, well, the spice of life. Of course, there's also the possibility that, even if he brings a sack lunch, his PB&J buddies will make "ick" faces if he pulls out salad or asparagus, so the social factor is also on my mind. What's the point of sending healthy, wide-ranging foods with a kid too embarrassed to eat them? Do they give Grandma Demerits for ruining a child's social life?

Enter obento! The cute factor will (I hope) save the day. Since we're already a bento family, I have the basic containers and such, but now that adorable is of major concern, I've had to start shopping in earnest. A couple of amaze-your-friends boxes were in order (including one which indulges the hamburger fantasy), as well as fancy antibacterial dividers and cups. The rest of the gear-shopping list was planned around menu items which 1) the boy likes, and 2) I can glamorize with accessories. Some examples from my back-to-school bento planner:

--Halved cherry tomatoes stuffed with smiling goat cheese
--Spicy Szhechuan noodles with edamame skewers
--Tuna salad inside mini sweet peppers, beautified with a nori grin
--Decoratively-shaped carrot, beet, and jicama slices
--Veggie fried rice pencilled with his name
--Blanched green beans with dip
--And of course, no self-respecting first grade boy should go without his car shaped boiled eggs.

Okay, but here's a problem: After all my efforts to armor him against bad lunch room experiences, he's asked for this drink cup. Any advice?

Re: First-ever school lunches

Ooooh, cherry tomatoes filled w/ goat cheese - love that idea and I have to pick cherry tomatoes out of my garden tomorrow too! Thanks for that idea! :D

Also, I like to fill mini peppers w/ hummus and have also used them to hold snow peas :)

http://anamericaninbento.blogspot.com/

Re: Share your back-to-school bento strategies!

This is a strategy learned the hard way - try out some of your plans on your kids BEFORE they go back to school. I have a five year old son, and I have to make his lunches for school (school provided lunches are normal in the UK we have learned since moving here in January) since we are vegan. Now, I thought I was pretty down with the kids, but it seems that often my idea of what makes an exciting and yummy lunch was not quite what my son thought was a palatable lunch. Which ends up in lots of work on food that is hardly eaten - a waste of time and a waste of food, which is not what we want with bento!

So have fun on the holidays trying out new bento ideas with your kids. See what they like, what they don't like, and perhaps start thinking about way to incorporate some of the flavours or ingredients they don't like into 'formats' they love.

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