BENTO for the rest of us (alternately, My Bento Philosophy)

If you google “Bento”, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by what pops up.   Seriously, I’ll wait while you peruse the Bento images.  If you do a search on YouTube, the results are even more complicated.

The things some people do with their kids’ lunches are amazing.  Mermaids with hair made of ramen and tails made of shrimp.  Perfect replicas of SpongeBob made of cheese.  Teddy bears made of rice.  It’s fascinating—so I totally get it when people say that Bento packing is overwhelming and they’ll stick with plastic bags, thank you.

I get it.  But you know what?  There are bentos for the rest of us.  Those of us who aren’t able to recreate Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night with pasta can still make visually appealing meals that nourish our kids. 

Long ago, after watching my father-in-law scarf down some treat that I’d taken my time with, I swore, NEVER AGAIN.  Never again would the “making” of one individual item take more time it takes to consume said item.  And more or less, I stick to this principle.   I am still learning to keep things simple (and surprisingly, the simple things are usually more pleasing).

Ultimately, the bento boxes that I pack are a means to an end.  Elliott has to go to school. She needs to eat.   Her school does not have school lunches, so I have to pack a lunch.  Thanks to bento boxes, rather than having to shop specifically for lunch items, I can just shop like normal and incorporate whatever’s in the fridge into a cute, portable box.  This makes Momma happy—and somehow, the process becomes enjoyable for me.

Box. Food. Transport.

See? That’s how simple it is. That’s essentially all a bento is. Guilt is optional.

No need to get swept up in thinking you have to be an artist.  No need to hate on the ones who do it well.  A lot of comments I hear about Bento is that “those people have too much time on their hands”, or “I could never do that, so why try?”  Sure, some folks are awesome bento-packers, but that doesn’t make you less awesome—and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t try the concept.  I have a few boxes and few fun accessories to keep visual appeal; ultimately the main point of lunch-packing  for every parent is nourishment for their kids.

I’m a firm believer that perfectionism impedes progress.  In fact, I hear those words cross my lips frequently.  Don’t let the Olaf-replicas formed out of rice hold you back. 

At the end of the day, you can buy a fun box and fill it with food that nourishes your familyBam. Mission accomplished.

(You've got this!)

For inspiration for fun yet SIMPLE bentos, check out some of these sites:


Aldi Food Finds.

I have a love/hate relationship with Aldi.  On one hand, I just adore their growing selection and their prices, but then again, I despise the lack of consistency of what they have in stock and the fact that I feel uneasy buying many things there (like meat, for instance).  Their produce tends to be hit-or-miss, as well--which either leaves me feeling amazing for the deals and quality I've stumbled upon, or it leaves me with another stop to make to shop for produce.  Yeah, #firstworldproblems, I know, I know.

My Aldi hangups certainly are not deal-breakers, though--I shop there at least once a month.  It's the most affordable place locally to buy eggs, kefir, and canned pantry staples.

I thought touday I'd share some of my favorite recent Aldi finds.

Happy Farms spreadable cheese wedges - yes, it's a processed cheese product (yes, real cheese is better), just like the Laughing Cow wedges.  The ingredient list is almost identical--but the price is drastically different.  While Publix charges $3.49 for Laughing Cow wedges, Aldi charges $1.29 for this seemingly identical product.  Sweeeet.  For the record, I'd never pay $3.49 for the 6 cheese wedges, but I'm happy to keep some of the knock-off version in my fridge.

Lunch Mate Uncured Black Forest Ham, 7 oz.  The comparable product in a regular grocery store would be Applegate Farms Black Forest Ham, also 7 oz.  While the Publix price on the Applegate packages of lunch meat is $4.99, Aldi charges only $3.29 for the same weight, and the quality is identical in my opinion.  I  make every effort to buy uncured meats for my family in order to avoid the sodium nitrates/nitrites.  I'm not always successful, but Aldi having a low-cost alternative to Applegate Farms lunch meat is definitely a step in the right direction.

Cocoa Almonds, 12 oz.  I love snacking on almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds and Aldi has been a great place to stock up on those items.  Their prices run consistently 30-40% less than most grocery stores.  This bag of almonds is $4.99 at Aldi, whereas comparable sized cocoa almonds run about $6.99 elsewhere.  There's a bonus here, though--the ingredient list is BETTER at Aldi.  Just almonds, cocoa powder, sugar and oil.  The major brand cocoa almonds contain sucralose (Splenda) and a longer ingredient list.  This, my friends, is a win.

So, what are your thoughts about Aldi?  Any successes for your family?

Small successes and simple lunches.


Banana-buttermilk muffin, cottage cheese, honeydew, crackers with peanut butter, carrot sticks.
Chicken salad croissant, fruit, cheese wedge and crackers.
Chicken salad croissant, fruit, cukes and hummus.
Apples, carrots and cucumber slices, crackers with P.B. and cream cheese for spreading.

I think kids in just about every part of the U.S. are back to school now since Labor Day has come and gone--so welcome back to the school routine.

I have to admit that though I love the routine of school, our mornings are often pretty stressful.  One of the things that's proven to be most difficult is breakfast.  While they claim to wake up ravenous, my kids seem to just pick at their breakfasts.  I've had a bit of success in two ways with our new school routine--first of all, breakfast is now the last thing we do before we leave the house.  I used to give the girls their breakfast immediately upon waking--but now we're getting dressed, including shoes, getting hair done, etc. and then having breakfast last.  This shift has been hugely successful.  The second thing is muffins.  I've been keeping homemade muffins around--and it makes breakfast a breeze.  A muffin is easy to pair with yogurt, fruit, or hard boiled eggs for a yummy, homemade and quick breakfast.  Those two things are worth mentioning as successful around here--what's working for you?

First grade, week two!

Elliott is taking a more active role in expressing her lunchtime desires this year--it's almost as if she just now had the realization that she could make specific requests!  She really likes the "homemade lunchables" concept, though I think she sometimes wishes I'd just buy the packaged stuff for her. Kids.

Lunches this week:
Tuna salad and crackers, rainbow fruit and veggie box.
DIY lunchable, veggies and leftover caramelized peaches and apples.
Crackers, pepperoni and cheddar chunks, veggies and lentil hummus, blueberries.
Leftover buttermilk mashed potatoes, grapes and blueberries, veggies and spinach dip.

Elliott's librarian asked me (hey Ms. Darlene!) "Does she really eat that?"  The answer is yes!  She doesn't always eat all of it, and some things are refused (this week, it was the spinach dip--little sis loves it, big sis hates it!) but more or less, this is what she eats.

So, what's in your lunchbox?

First Week of First Grade - Bento packing is baaaaack!

Unintentionally, I took the entire summer off!  I guess I don't have a whole lot to say when I'm not packing lunches.  Oh, who am I kidding, I always have too much to say.

I can't believe my Elliott is now in first grade.  She was not excited to go back to school, but she really enjoyed her first week and her outlook is now a bit more optimistic.  Yay! Ain't nothing more discouraging than a kiddo who isn't looking forward to first grade...I mean, she has A LOT of years ahead!

On to lunches.  

Mickey Mouse English muffin pizza, strawberries, grapes, veggies.
Oranges, carrots, peaches, Wheat Thins, pepperoni, ham & muenster.
PB& celery, watermelon, oranges, cream cheese and raspberry jam pinwheels.
Rainbow fruit & veg, organic white cheddar puffs, salami, Triscuits and a cheese wedge.

What are your kiddos begging for in their lunches?  Elliott was thrilled with the English muffin pizzas and the organic cheese puffs (an Aldi knock-off of Pirate's Booty).  


Bentos for the last week of school.

Just because school's out doesn't mean I'm done with bento-packing.  I'm hypothesizing that our bentos will come along on many picnics and beach days, and that I'll often pack lunches ahead at night so that there are fewer things to do during the day.  There's nothing worse to kids than swimming and having to come in, shivering in the A/C and waiting while Mom preps lunch.  Hopefully a grab-and-go lunch packed the night before means that I can be a more fun Mom this summer (you know, hypothetically).

For now, I'm sharing the lunches from the last week of school.  Elliott is beside herself enthusiastic that school is no longer in session.  Monday alone, we swam 3 different times.  Need I explain her enthusiasm?

Muenster, honeydew, crackers, ham, Biscoff cookie.
Grilled turkey and cheese, carrot sticks, carrot sticks, kiwi, cheese stick.
Salami and ham, muenster, grapes, crackers.
Cole slaw, cucumber chunk, raspberries, hot dog (mother of the year, I know, I know).

Worth noting is that I try to make sure all of our deli meats are free of sodium nitrates/nitrites.  All of the meats you see in this photo are exactly that, even the hot dog.  Yeah, I realize that it's still a hot dog, but hopefully the lack of additives makes it more of a win. ; )

Last week in Bento.

The Goodbyn small meal containers have definitely surpassed the Goodbyn Bynto as my favorite.  I like that I can pack them to the brim and they come home empty, as if it contains exactly the right amount of food for my hungry 5-year-old.

Cheese stick, ham chunks, pretzels, honeydew.
Egg salad, Triscuits, hummus-stuffed pepper, kiwi, blackberries.
Blackberries, chips, homemade Catalina dressing and taco salad leftovers.

My kiddos have been enjoying berries and nuts a lot for snack lately, and I count it a huge snacking success.  The Goodbyn snack containers (and small meal containers) are on clearance on the company website, so stock up before they're gone--I promise you won't regret it.  (And no, Goodbyn doesn't sponsor my posts, I really just love their colorful and functional containers.)

Pictured in the snack containers is:
Pepitas & blackberries.
Raspberries and sunflower seeds.
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