I’m a mom who packs lunch. What’s important to a mom? Nutrition and speed: I want to feed my family nutritious food, but spending a lot of time on every meal isn’t feasible. I strive to achieve balance between the two — losing this battle would either have me waking up hours before everyone else to cook lunch, or reaching for a Lunchable processed lunch (the face of the enemy).
Spending an hour preparing a weekday lunch is only going to happen in my house if it’s a special occasion like a birthday or holiday — I spend my morning getting myself and a preschooler ready to go out. Although ornate lunches shaped like cartoon characters and whimsical shapes are artistic and intriguing, I know my limits. I would burn out if I tried to do that every day. For me it’s got to be sustainable over the long run, which is why I make speed bentos.
How did I arrive at this point? I lived in Japan as an expat for nine years and am fluent in Japanese, but didn’t pay much attention to the whole lunch-packing (”bento”) culture there until my husband was misdiagnosed with a food intolerance that ruled out restaurant meals. Back in San Francisco, I decided to send him to work with delicious lunches that would make him feel like he was eating better than his colleagues who were going out to eat. A trip to the local Japanese-language bookstore turned up bento cookbooks that I started studying,
especially the creative packing tips and techniques that could be adapted to our normal diet. My husband has since been “undiagnosed” with the food intolerance, but then I found myself carting around a diaper bag stuffed full of little Tupperware containers for my toddler son (”Bug”), or leaving the playground early to go get lunch. Time to pull out those bento boxes again so we can spend more fun time out and about!
So now I’m learning to think on my feet when I look at the refrigerator in the morning. Where I used to see either uninspiring food or time-consuming meals, I can now see quick lunches taking shape. I have fast lunch items in the freezer and fridge, and speedy prep techniques at my fingertips. Let me tell you about some of the speed techniques I’ve picked up from reading Japanese packed lunch cookbooks.
Use your leftovers! Don’t hesitate to pack food left over from dinner! Leftovers can be your weapons against boring lunches — maximize payout for the time you already put into dinner by making a little extra food. Granted, eating the same thing again can get boring, so look at your leftovers creatively and find ways to give them a makeover. . . .
Pre-pack lunches when possible. If you find yourself with dinner leftovers, get a head start on the next day’s lunch by packing up some of the meal directly into your lunch container (Tupperware, Laptop Lunchbox, bento box, thermos, etc.) when cleaning up the evening meal. This way you have most of the next morning’s work done already, and lunch will be ready with only minimal preparation like cutting up some fruit.
Find more on the Lunch In a Box website. I've been inspired by the idea of Bento boxes, and by this author's outside-the-box thinking (no pun intended) on what can go into a packed lunch. Bento boxes are a win-win in the quest for greener living because a) there are no plastic or paper bags to throw away, and b) your child's lunch can stay in the box and be saved for later, instead of thrown away at school. Gotta love less waste!
I took a trip to our local Asian supermarket and found some Bento boxes I really like, and this is a picture of my first foray with the Bento. They can be stacked on top of each other, and they are the perfect solution for parks, playgroup, and picnics. My kids like them so much that they ask to eat out of them even at home. And if you have picky eaters like I do, the Bento box keeps everything seperate, with no foods or sauces intermingling and causing a finicky toddler to turn her head.