Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bento...well kinda ;o)

I am a stay at home mom of two crazy but loveable monkeys currently ages 5 and 3. Now before we go on I am not a crazy over achiever. I do not care if you choose to send lunchables every day for your child, buy them the cafeteria food, or send plain old PB&J every single day. My goal is and has been to get my kid to eat, and then work on something not too terribly unhealthy. So don't judge me, I won't be judging you, in fact any and all tips are appreciated as I am learning as I go.

Our journey has evolved each year since Green Monkey Boy started going to mother's day out when he was 2. It was just 2 days a week for 4 1/2 hours a day, so I sent peanut butter and jelly, cut in half, maybe diagonally if I felt fancy LOL, a baggie of fruit, a sippy of juice, and a cute note with a sticker on his napkins even though he was far from being able to read. About halfway through the year he HATED PB&J, and developed a hatred of crust. Oh great, now I have to be THAT mom, cutting crusts off my picky kid's sandwich. After watching at least half if not more of his lunch come back every day and get thrown away I started asking him more and more questions to see if there was anything I could do to get him to eat lunch.

The next year I evolved again. I kept the napkin notes, just something I picked up from my mom who always drew a fantastic cartoon on our lunch napkins with an encouraging message. I can't draw so they get the love notes but I buy character stickers :o). For sandwiches I bought a few sandwich cutters, trains, dinosaurs, and bats. Kill 2 birds with one stone right? Gets rid of the crust and makes it more fun. That worked for a little bit but then Green Monkey gave up peanut butter so now he would only eat jelly toast, every day, even on whole wheat bread and a good jelly still not covering those food groups. Then he discovered ranch made some veggies ok and we ran with it.

The next  year we added to our sandwich cutter collection with a Millennium falcon and a Tie fighter and I figured out cookie cutters work too so I added in holiday shapes. Sadly only little Blue Monkey wanted the trains and dinosaurs so each picked from his 3 favorites every morning. Still stuck on jelly toast for Green Monkey, at least he would eat real fruit and real vegetables. Kept the napkin notes and stickers. I think I entertained his teachers more than him with those, but it made me feel good to tuck them in there so I did it. By this year I had 2 monkeys in MDO. So double the lunch making, but hey that's only 4 lunches a week so not too overwhelming. The little Blue Monkey of course adopted big Green Monkey's picky-ness, and started off with crust-less shaped sandwiches, lucky kid.

Which brings us to this year. Green Monkey has entered the matrix, public school, Kindergarten! I have been watching a friend create these adorable bento lunches every day for her son, themed with a book they read every morning before school.  You should check out her blog (Keitha's Chaos) too, even the  book authors have been in awe of her lunch art. Once you see her stuff there's a whole circle of bento lunch artists that link to each other so prepare yourself for a Pinterest kind of afternoon. I however am a noob. My goal is to get my picky eater to try new food, eat a reasonably balanced lunch, and have some fun in the morning. So every night before he goes to read bedtime stories with Daddy and little Blue monkey, I ask him what kind of sandwich he would like (jelly toast usually wins but occasional ham or turkey), what kind of fruit, and what kind of vegetable he is willing to eat. I also ask him this at the beginning of each week so we have the favorites on hand and don't have to run out to the grocery store for some random request. Next I ask him who or what he would like to see in his lunch. While the boys get tucked in I chop, peel, prep whatever won't go bad in the fridge over night, usually fruit and veggies, sometimes meat and cheese, bread is always saved for morning so it doesn't get gross. So by morning I have my picture in my head, some prep done, the coffee brewing ( I prep that the night before too so I don't make fabulous steamed water), and 1 hour to make lunch while also orchestrating the morning routine. It took 3 days for Green Monkey to find the snooze function on his alarm clock, we are NOT morning people. I will say, once up, we do quite well with time management. His clothes are laid out the night before and he dresses after he eats, no arguing, just simple easy routine.

Ok so first week of school I started with something tried and true the Millennium Falcon jelly toast. I played with the apples but not really sure what I was making a smiley face maybe? Definitely over shot the ranch, but the separate compartments made that ok. I was focused on the cute Pinterest ideas for his first day not his lunch. I  made a hershy kiss and hug pencil for his treat, Star Wars postcard for his note, and gave his teacher a helping hand soap in case they needed a room mom. Then of course were all the 1st day photo ops and getting the whole family ready in time to walk him in the first day.

 Day 2 I got braver and went for an under the sea theme. Our grocery store carries the goldfish bread so why not? The orange octopus was easy just cut the bottom skin like pizza slices about halfway up then peel each triangle up, draw on a face. The "sea cucumber" is just slices with a face and 1 cut into fins. Another Pinterest moment for the snack note and tried my hand at drawing...you now know why the previous notes were stickers :o).

Day 3 - Green Monkey gets involved beyond ingredients and picks his first theme. I want Batman 2 Xbox game. Oh sure coming right up, wait what? So I looked at his controller, the game system, the box, hmm. Then it hits me we have Hershey kisses (remember that 1st day of school pencil), fruit twists which when unraveled look just like cables, and there were M&Ms in our trail mix. So to incorporate Batman I just cut the top apples to look like B and M, then used edible markers to draw bat signals on babybel cheese and stacked them with ham and whole wheat Ritz crackers. So Green monkey has to get on the bus because he has been dying to ride it since he first saw one, but that means his lunch is done in his bag by 7am, they eat at 11:15am, so how do I keep this from being gross? I freeze his juice box. By lunch time it's perfect and his lunch is refrigerator cold. Now we tried this with chocolate milk (his favorite drink ever) but it didn't thaw in time. So if you want a disposable ice pack stick to juice. Oh and here you can see my typical napkin sticker type notes. Most days he gets a paper note taped to his snack baggie though.

Day 4 I know what you're thinking I don't sleep and I spend hours carving food while my family sleeps, nope thinking is the longest effort and that is done the day before or wherever inspiration hits. So I found a set of 101 cookie cutters by Wilton at Walmart for $10 so that gave me tons of options, and don't just look at the shape look at what you could do to it. For example I took an open face sandwich cut one side with the award shape and only spread jelly far enough to look like and arm and 2 fingers then shredded a piece of string cheese for webs. Simple oval for the head and left over pieces of toast for shoulders. Crackers with swiss cheese and turkey webbing, apple slices S and M, and a cucumber spider.

Stay tuned for week 2 we took him lunch Friday so we could have a family picnic and meet some of his new friends. After getting what he asked for that morning he was disappointed he couldn't go through the hot food line. So our new Friday deal is he gets to buy his lunch on Fridays if he gets green days (good behavior) all week, and me and little blue monkey bring our lunch to come eat with him. For now I must rest because I still haven't been able to hire house elves to do all this for me  and 6am comes quickly. Night!


  1. I love your descriptions! Your lunches are so cute! Glad you are having fun with it.

  2. Eileen,
    Everyday I look forward to your lunch pics... love the ideas, the creativity, and how much fun it is...
    one question... what kind of lunch box do the boys have that the gladware container fits in?

  3. I love seeing your lunches! I'm following you and look forward to some lunch time inspiration!
    One question, what are the dimensions of the container you are using? I have been browsing amazon a little bit looking at bento-style lunch boxes. I am trying to find one small enough to fit in a standard lunch box and still be able to use a regular ice pack too. (That dosen't cost $$$.) I have seen people use silicone cupcake holders to separate the food, but I know they would end up in the trash can...

  4. Thanks! It is a lot of fun.

    They are both standard lunch boxes from Lands End one is the fold over/velcro closure kind and the other is the rectangle that zips. I'm using the divided rectangle containers by ziplock and get them at Target for a couple bucks per pair, http://www.target.com/p/ziploc-divided-container-rectangle-2-ea/-/A-12970750. Each lunch box can fit with a small juice box sized icepack and a frozen juice box or single milk box we like the ones by Horizon. Lunch is in his bag by 7am and he eats at 11:15 and it is all still cold. While the real bento boxes are cute I didn't trust my kids to bring home the separte lids and at a buck a piece if they mess up and leave one behind I'm ok with it. Each section seals well so no spilling even of salad dressing.