Enter: Bento. (or Obento--choose your poison)
In short, Bento is the artful presentation of a meal, but if you're familiar with the concept you know that it isn't quite that simple. I have been familiar with Bento since the summer I spent in Guam a million years back and saw the Japanese culinary phenomenon firsthand. I didn't really understand the breadth of the phenomenon until much later, when I discovered the obsessive side of Bento. (And, man, people take their Bento very seriously, collecting oodles and globs of Bento supplies, entering contests for the best Bento, and I can only imagine having serious anxiety over your average "sack lunch" meals.)
All obsessions aside, Bento is awesome for many reasons:
1. It is potentially waste-free. Not only will parents save on plastic baggies and paper lunch bags by purchasing reusable bento boxes, but the meal itself is free of wrapping and often made from scratch. (i.e. serious Bento parents don't toss a single-serving twix bar in the lunch for good measure)
2. It is a clever way to encourage hearty and healthy meals. So the philosophy goes: when food looks fun, kids are more likely to eat it. Even if a parent doesn't go all-out Bento crazy and make a freaking aquarium for their child's school lunch, some simple Bento tricks can turn a healthy meal into something colorful and inviting. ("Eat me," basically.)
3. It takes less time to eat. Rather than navigating a half dozen ziploc bags during their 15 minutes of lunch, your children can open their box, survey the food in one take, and eat it all up. As our local paper recently pointed out, kids are being given less and less time to eat their meals at school, which leads to lots of waste and (I would assume) a lot of kids skipping to dessert so they don't have to mess with their 1/2lb peanut butter and jelly sandwich that's been wrapped in a yard of tin foil.
4. It's a way to expend some creative energy while loving your family. If you're anything like me, you worry that parenthood has stripped you of your pazazz. I know, I know, a few attractive Bento lunches won't jump start my music career, but they could remind me that I still have that creativity lurking inside me. And, they will remind my children that I love them at the same time. Seriously, who wouldn't feel like a million bucks when they opened their lunch to find this:
If you're interested in adapting a little bit of the Bento philosophy into feeding your family, you can find some tips, tricks, and advice at the following links.
Locally, you can purchase some basic Bento boxes (like Laptop Lunches) at local favorite Park + Vine. On my next trip to the market, I'll take a closer look at Saigon Market to see what they've got in stock, too. And I'd bet that Jungle Jim's has some interesting Bento supplies, though I haven't been up there in ages...