We pack picnic lunches a lot. We love to get outside and eating outside affords us more active time- plus no mess for me to clean up at home! My son goes to school in the afternoons so when we want to maximize our time out in the morning we pack lunch so we don't have to waste time driving home to make lunch. I hate to be that person that says, "I did this before everyone else", but I did. I'm not referring to picnic lunches, no, of course they've been around forever, but my interest in Japanese bento style lunch and alternative reusable lunch containers is one that I've had for a long time. In college I worked at a day care at Harvard that had many Japanese children whose parents were here studying. The children from Japan had lunches that were packed very differently from the American children. I had bento style meals before at restaurants and loved the concept, so I wanted to start packing lunch differently. Back then the resources about bento/obento were few and far between. The style can be loosely interpreted, the definition of obento being "A Japanese meal that is packed in a partitioned lacquered box". I searched online for information on methods of preparing food and containers to put it in and I didn't find much. I found many images with captions in Japanese of intricately prepared lunches, but then I finally found something in English- a blog post from an American mom living in Japan about sending her child to school with bento lunch after she was told that her American style lunches she was sending were inadequate and the other children were making fun of her daughter. She got with the program pretty quickly and learned how to make a "proper" lunch for her daughter- it was very entertaining and a little bit educational.
The first breakthrough in "American bento" I saw was the Laptop Lunches lunchbox system (www.laptoplunches.com). At that time I was teaching at a school that wasn't located near any food venues, so everybody packed their lunches all the time. I bought a Laptop Lunchbox for myself and had a great time packing lunches- having the individual containers forced me to think about bringing various food groups which made my lunch more interesting and healthier. When my first son came along and I had to pack lunch for him I bought him a Laptop Lunchbox as well. I live near a huge Chinese supermarket where I bought a cool tool to turn his turkey hot dogs into octopi (a popular thing for kids' bento lunches) and got my hands on seaweed to make faces on the food in his lunch, which I found fun and cute, but I don't know if he cared! There were some downsides to the Laptop Lunch system- sooo many pieces. When there were two of us it became a little overwhelming, let alone packing lunch for a family that has now grown to four people.
In recent years there has been an American bento revolution. There are almost too many products to choose from now, and I wouldn't have a problem finding a blog about bento these days, they are numerous. Recently I settled on a new product. Since there are now three of us to pack for (and four when we're out with my husband) I needed something simple. Enter...EasyLunchboxes! (http://www.easylunchboxes.com/)
This is not a paid advertisement! I just like these a lot. They might just seem like glorified plastic containers, but they are versatile, simple and compact. I can pack lunch and be out the door in no time. You can stack three of these containers in their cooler (picture at the top of this post in green) which is perfect for us, and the system is really affordable.
Here are our lunches packed for a morning at the beach:
We also use them for meals on the go when we're traveling. They are great for the kids to hold on their laps in the car and they're easy to store. Do your kids like Lunchables? Do you like their convenience but want something more nutritious?
Make you own:
Or if you need a super quick lunch, pack the old reliable sandwich:
Stick it in the cooler with an ice pack and you're set to go. These containers will also fit in other lunchboxes.
When we have hot lunch we pack them in Thermos brand lunch containers like this:
Great on a chilly/snowy day! We love a picnic any time of the year. What is your favorite way to pack lunch?