Tag Archives: bento

Bento updates: packing the Planetbox Shuttle

For as long as I could remember, I’d been eying the Planetbox. For the unacquainted, it’s this ingenious stainless steel bento-style lunchbox. The genius is in the shape and sizes of the compartments and the way the lid snaps on to keep everything in its place:

Look at that cute little square for treats!

Alas, I would balk at the price. $40 for the box, upwards of $60 if you include the carry bag and accessories like sauce containers. Our set of dining chairs was cheaper than that! So onto my dream wishlist it would go.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to test-drive one of their newest versions. The Shuttle (basic set starts at $34.95) is much smaller in scale, meant for snacks or a sandwich and a side:

I knew right away that it would be perfect for packing a kindergarten lunch. When it arrived, I was kicking myself for not springing for one sooner. It’s nice. Really nice. Thick, heavy-duty stainless steel built to withstand years of use make you realize the cost is worth it. I used the shuttle every day last week to see how versatile it is. I’m used to one or two more  compartments, but there’s plenty of room to fit the same contents a bulkier bento would thanks to how much space the lid creates when closed, if that makes sense. I could stack three sandwiches in the main compartment.

The challenge is in maximizing space and keeping everything separate that should be. Large silicone muffin cups and these IKEA baking cups fit perfectly height-wise. It really is the perfect size for a kindergartener’s appetite, especially when he has 10-20 minutes to eat. It also fits nicely into the LL Bean lunchbox we use with room to stack a juice box or other containers on top.

The only drawback is that it can be tricky to pack with vertical space in mind. So, Planetbox has a meal-planning page on their website where you can create an account and browse a gallery of what other people are packing. You can also build a meal, filling compartments with pre-selected images of food that you can ultimately save and use as a visual guide for later. Again: genius.

Here are my the-sun-isn’t-even-up-yet pictures of meals last week: browse more on Instagram.

planetboxcandycane

planetboxornaments

planetboxpasta

planetboxsnowman

planetboxpenguin

planetboxsandwch

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Bento Updates

Like I shared in this post, I started making bentos to give my picky eater incentive to eat a decent lunch during school. I’m a fantastic starter, but a not-so-great finisher, so I’m probably the one who’s most surprised that I’ve kept it up this long.

I started out following a few blogs, but I find the most inspiration on instagram for the instant ogling gratification. I especially like the instagrammers who don’t have SLRs and post grainy, off-centered iPhone pics instead. It just feels more intimate and real-life. I can practically hear their 6-year-olds yelling that they can’t find their homework or need matching socks.

These lunchbox masters are worth the follow:
weelicious
becoming a bentoholic
bento for kids
lunchbox dad
bento nation
beans bags
creative fun food
antsbento
happy bento

Now that I’m mildly obsessed, I’ve picked up a few pearls of wisdom along the way:

1. Pack it in. One morning, after I snapped a picture of a just-packed lunch, my kindergartener announced, “Mommy, sometimes the food bounces around.” Whoops. While aesthetics are nice, practicality is better. I go for smaller containers packed tightly, or containers with sections that get their own “seal”.

2. Work with your budget. Some of the tools and containers out there are adorable. A $5 set of picks here and a $10 set of silicone cups there, though, and it adds up. While I love the look of a lot of these products,  I stick to the food itself. If you have the money to spend, though, go crazy.

3. Stealing is totally ok. As in, stealing ideas. So much of social media is about inspiration anyway, and kudos to you if you can translate that into real life vs. pinning it on your “GOTTA DO THIS” Pinterest board and walking away. Giving credit where credit is due, though, is basic good manners.

4. People will judge you. A couple well-placed sandwiches is fine. But once you whip out divided containers or take a cookie cutter to a cheese slice, you become one of “those” moms. Your legitimate, rational reasons for doing it in the first place fall on deaf ears. To keep at least a few mom friends, it’s best to post a lot of pictures of your messy home.

5. By that same token, bento bloggers are a sensitive bunch. Much like the apples upon which we craft checkerboard patterns, we have thin skin. Any hint of sarcasm about our creations leaves us reeling. But not to worry; it becomes fodder for the next day’s panda-shaped pancakes.

A few of our most recent lunches. (For the rest, follow me on Instagram.) I don’t blog exclusively about bentos so pardon the quality of these photos. I’d do a better job with them, but, well, I’m too busy trying to find matching socks.

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Bento School Lunches

**Hi there. I’ve moved and have been blogging at howaboutcookie.com with lots of new school lunch and food art ideas. See you there!**

I’ve always admired bento bloggers and the lunches they’d whip up for their little eaters. I never thought I’d become one of them, though. I mean, the time it takes to craft panda-shaped patties or Angry Birds out of babybel cheese? No thanks. I’d rather sleep in. Plus, I don’t cook. Some of these bentos I see online are like mini Top Chef dishes. I cook enough to get by, but I’ve really only got 5 good dishes under my belt, and anything beyond dice-sautee-serve and I feel myself getting sleepy.

This year though, I caved. With my 5-year-old starting kindergarten, I knew I’d need to give the guy some incentive to finish–at least mostly–his lunch. He’s a notoriously slow, selective (trying to wean myself from labeling him “picky”) eater. And being in school for seven hours with strange new people would be hard on anyone. I wanted him to have something to look forward to, a piece of home to soothe the homesickness, and a fun way to hopefully change his relationship with food.

So after scouring the internets for ideas, I started putting bentos together for him and for my 3rd grader. After the first few days I realized that there’s no turning back. First, the bar has been raised. Now that the boys think their lunches are cool, I can’t go back to pb&j in a plastic baggie. Second, making these is actually kinda fun. I get to play with their food, and there’s this weirdly immense satisfaction in figuring out how to pack everything so it all fits or choosing complementary colors. There are a lot of things about parenting that I feel a little crazy about, things I probably should have under control but I don’t. Being able to feed the kids and show them my love in this small way feels like a mommy win.

So feel free to follow me on Instagram, where I post daily pics of their lunches.

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And browse some bento blogs for inspiration:

happy little bento
wendolonia
following in my shoes
bent on better lunches
a boy and his lunch
bento zen

bento monsters

Those last two are pretty ridiculous. As in ridiculously jaw-dropping. Those are just pure eye candy. I scroll through their Hello Kitty-shaped pizzas and cheese-and-nori matryoshka dolls and stuff my face with kettle corn as if it were movie night.

A lot of it, I realize, has to do with having the right tools. Products that seem to be the “best” and favored by bloggers:

1. Lunchbots, particularly the ones with built-in dividers, like the Trio.

in action via bentonbetterlunches:

2. Easy Lunchboxes (which look a lot like what I use. I use the cheap ziploc version but plan to upgrade soon):

in action via following in my shoes:


3. Ecolunchbox, particularly the three-in-one tiffin-style set:

in action via happy little bento:

4. Silicone muffin cups. Keeps everything neat and tidy, and the squishability makes them versatile. Target has them right now in their dollar spot, a 2-pack for $1.

5. All kinds of cute accessories, mainly found on the browsing black hole that is allthingsforsale:

So. Are these time-consuming? Yes and no. If I’m smart and cut up a week’s worth of veggies, I feel like an unstoppable one-woman machine. If I don’t plan ahead, I have to start these things at 6am and I want to tear my hair out. We’ll see how long I last, but I’d like to stick with it the entire school year.

Famous last words, right? I still don’t cook so this should get interesting.

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we survived the first week of kindergarten

It’s actually the end of the second week of kindergarten, but I suppose that fact  #1. allows for some poetic license #2. reveals just how long it takes to survive the first week of kindergarten.

Mister loves it. Everything about it. The teacher, the teacher’s assistant, his new friends, arts and crafts time, learning the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin, bringing his own lunchbox, his cool new pair of shoes, and even — gasp —  homework.

And I love it. I love the gap-toothed grin that greets me when I come home from work, the pint-sized swagger in his step, the structure and environment in which I can see him thriving daily. He reports on how responsibly he did his job (the kids are given different responsibilities and his this week was sweeping floors) and how he exercised self-discipline (no yellow or red lights for bad behavior). Who knew that kindergarten would be the first steps to manhood?

Surprisingly, neither of us cried that first day. Mister was a little scared, but he toughed it out and put on his best big-boy face. When the first bell rang, teachers had to shoo parents out of the way to clear an entry path into the building. The kindergarteners were first and lined up dutifully. I will never forget the image of Mister clutching the straps of his too-big backpack and jutting his chin out to keep his nerves at bay. ( Mommy was not fooled.) Then seeing his little head bob up and down, up the ramp, through the massive double doors, and into a brand new adventure of life.

Riding on the coattails of this adrenaline rush, I told myself I’d pack lunch for Mister as often as possible. Below: ham sandwich shaped by this Dinosaur sandwich cutter ; raspberries and grapes, pretzel chips and cheese cubes, and carrot sticks crammed into this bento-style Ziploc tupperware .

And just because I can: (As another mom wisely put it, I only have so many years before I cripple his social life with such things…)

And a peek at what kindergarteners do all day:

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Filed under boys boys boys, chicago, development, family, parenting