Summers always go by too quickly, and now that fall is here you might be busy looking for fun and healthy school lunch ideas for your kids. Why not try packing a traditional Japanese lunch. You may have heard the Japanese word, “bento” – it means boxed lunch. Japanese people LOVE bento – we even travel by train to get local special bento at major train stations. This bento sold at stations is specifically called “ekiben” (eki = station; ben = shortened word for bento).
When you travel to Japan, make sure to try a few ekiben! And of course, you have to eat it while you’re on the Shinkansen, a bullet train. Bento is all you smell while you’re on those trains…
History of Japanese Bento
How did the Japanese end up loving boxes of bento so much? Here’s a little history. Bento became popular around the 17th century when Japanese people started eating three meals a day. It also became popular to eat bento during the intermission of the long Kabuki performance, or during sumo tournaments.
Today, bento is what Japanese people make for their children’s lunch, or for their husbands, wives, a girlfriend or a boyfriend … yes, it’s love squeezed into a box.
And it’s what I, a Japanese native living in the suburbs outside Boston, make for my kids, every weekday, and sometimes for my husband too!
Here are some pictures from my small bento blog – http://masakosbento.weebly.com/
My bento, as colorful as it might look, is not really elaborate – because, as you can see from the pictures, it’s simple and healthy lunch food – egg, broccoli, baby carrots, deli meat and a simple sushi roll (Inarizushi – seasoned rice stuffed into a tofu pouch), all arranged in a compartmented bento box.
Kyaraben – Character Bento
My Japanese friend, Miyuki, in Boston, made really special lunches for her sons when they were in daycare and kindergarten. She doesn’t just make Japanese bento – She makes Kyaraben, or “character bento.” It’s an elaborately themed lunch box! I know – her kids are so lucky!
Why Make Bento Lunch Boxes?
The important reasons why I make Japanese bento for kids:
- Less trash on earth – box and utensils are reusable.
- To pack everything in one box helps me figure out what else I could add, what’s missing, carb/ vitamin/ protein? And you really know what’s in your kid’s lunch – it could easily be organic, no additives, or in my case, minimal additives.
- Saves money! And last but not least,
- My kids prefer a homemade meal. The cafeteria pizza, according to my daughter, is rubbery. Bento is my way of sending a little love to my children and family during the day.
Are you inspired to get more ideas for these fun, healthier lunches for your family?
The Internet is full of ideas. Try searching for kids — kawaii bento (kawaii means cute). Of course, for more simple looking ones, you can search for images with “easy bento,” or “simple bento.”
I hope you enjoyed this little Japanese bento story. School has started. I am going to make one extra bento, for myself, to enjoy in a quiet house.