Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bento Mom

Back to school after the long Christmas break is usually an effort for me... back to waking up early to help the kids get ready for school, back to helping the youngest one with his lessons, and back to thinking of what to prepare for their lunch baon.

But for one of my mommy friends, back to school means that she is back as the resident cool mom, as far as her kids and their lunch-mates are concerned.  You see since the last quarter of 2012, she has been churning out one creative bento lunch after another.  Her kids have been the star of the school cafeteria, and even the lunch teachers have been looking forward to the daily bento creations.
I have known Che for as long as my youngest has started pre-nursery.  We started out as co-parents and started talking, along with the rest of the other moms, as we waited for our kids to get dismissed. When our kids moved on to different big schools, we kept in touch with occasional breakfast dates, and our group's annual dice game and Christmas party.  

This mom is as gorgeous as her bento box creations.  And of course, her "hard work" pays off as she sees her kids' lunch box wiped clean at the end of the day.  To complete her happiness, the creative bento lunches have also encouraged her daughters to try a wide variety of foods that they would otherwise have turned their noses up: fresh lettuce, uncooked carrots, cucumber slices that serve as garnish for the bentos are now being eaten - without any fuss.  And that, for her, makes all the effort worth it!

Here are some samples of her creations, there are a lot more posted  on her Facebook wall.
And one of my favorites... the Japanese girls.

Here is a short Q & A with Che:
1) How long have you been doing bento lunches? What made you start in the first place?
 - I started doing bento lunches just recently, sometime September this year. I was prompted to try it when I saw a post from my friend in Cebu who was creating bento lunches for her kids. They were really cute and healthy. So I told myself, maybe I can do it for the kids too.

2.) How long is your prep time? How does the entire process go? Any tips to speed things up?
 - It takes me about an hour and a half to make two sets. A longer time would be ideal so you can enjoy making it. Haha! I start at 4AM and I end or have to end at 5:30 since I have to wake the kids up and give my little one a bath. I usually begin by steaming the rice early. While it is in the cooker, I cook all the other food like the meat and the veggies. I also boil the carrots and fry the eggs, which I mostly use to decorate my bento. When the rice is cooked and cooled, I mould them using a rice mould or with a cling film in whatever animal or character I have for my design.  

- To speed things up, I usually boil the eggs the night before if I need them for the bento. I just warm them on top of my steaming rice in the morning. Sometimes, I pre-cut hard designs at night and stick them on cling film like the ninja’s bangs in one of my bentos. I called that one a challenge because I used tomato skin for the bangs, and it was very difficult to cut. Also, a well-planned design should be ready at night. I draw my designs at night and label everything as to what I’m going to use for each part. If I’m not sure how it looks, I sometimes colour my design. So come morning, I know exactly what to do and what I need for my bento.  

3.) Where do you find inspiration for your intricately designed bentos?  
- There are dozens of bento makers on the internet. I get inspiration from them. I also get ideas from the kid’s toys, books and other stuff. When I’m out and I see something cute, it automatically becomes a part of my bento list. J I am always on the lookout for ideas. Everything becomes an inspiration.  

4.) What are the essential props and where do you get them? 
- The most common bento items that are needed are lunchboxes of different shapes and sizes, rice mould, food cutters, dish cups, and food picks. Locally, I get them from Japanese stores like Daiso, Japan Home and Saizen. But since there isn’t much bento supplies found here in the Philippines, I bought a few online from Bento sites.  

5.) What kind of food do you include in your bento? Is the food temp still a concern for you/your kids? Do they take their food hot/warm/cold? 
- There are a variety of foods that can be included in a bento. Mine consists of some part meat like tender cuts of chicken, beef and pork , seafood like shrimps and fish, vegetables ( beans, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, etc.), pasta ( not tomato based ), egg, fruits and a little sweet treat. The kids take their food in room temperature. Since I make it very early in the morning, the heat doesn’t last till lunchtime. It’s a good thing that the kids are already used to taking their lunch in this temp even before I started doing bento lunches. Actually, bento lunches can be heated on a microwave oven but the school canteen has no provision for that.  

6.) Are your kids the envy of the lunch room? How do they show their appreciation?
 - Haha! Yeah, they are already the talk of the school canteen. J Some teachers take photos of their lunch box. Even if it’s not my schedule to make bento lunch, the kids ask if I could make again the following day because their teacher will take some photos. The kids love their bento lunches and they show me their appreciation by “trying” to finish it. And I can see also that they are more open now to trying out new food. They make me happy when they say they’ve finished their veggies or even simply by trying out a slice of carrot. My daughter learned to eat fresh lettuce too, even if I just used it for lining the lunchbox. Kidding aside, they remember to bring back my decorative props and not give it out to their friends. Haha!

Che, this post serves as a reminder that Iam waiting for your tutorial on DIY Bento Lunch.

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