A bento is basically a Japanese lunch box. For the past year I've been making bentos for Etta's school lunch but they tended to be the same thing over and over. Salmon or wakame onigiri (rice balls, sometimes different shapes) or rice with furikake or salmon on top. On the side I'd include several steamed veggies, a sausage, and sometimes a few pieces of fruit. It was pretty darn boring but Etta loved knowing exactly what she was getting daily and would eat it all.
Now that Etta actually speaks Japanese (yes, better than me for the most part) she's been asking for specific things in her lunch box. "Yakisoba tabetai." (I want to eat yakisoba). So, I went on Amazon.com and checked to see if there was a bento cookbook in English. I was amazed to find one that was originally a Japanese bento cookbook that was translated into English. To top it off, it got great reviews. I ordered it (accidentally twice) and got it on our trip to Yokota last week. You should have seen the girls pouring over the pictures in the book picking out ones they wanted to eat. I had to give them strips of paper to mark each page with something yummy looking. Etta switched into Japanese saying, "Ooshii so!" (looks delicious), "tabetai!" (I want to eat), "Yaritai!" (I want) It was great seeing so much enthusiasm for stuff that she typically wouldn't try. Let me just say this has become a daily ritual in the house now. They both look at the pictures and pick up what they want me to make the following day. I let them take turns picking out the menu.
Here are the bentos I made this week:
Monday: Etta was adamant about this being the first menu. Ok, these are supposed to look like flowers but are hard boiled quail eggs that have been soaked in dye then trimmed. I changed up the stems and leaves with green beans and edamame instead of the sweet peas (Etta doesn't like them). I skewered cheese with a butterfly cut out of cucumber (Etta and Chloe both ate them!). A sausage that looks like an octopus, side of broccoli and grapes.
Tuesday: The big thing for this day was the sausage with egg. One sausage slit in half lengthwise, scored and wrapped into a circle, then crack a quail egg in the center and cook (I covered it because I didn't want any runny yolk). The girls both loved them. Little sandwiches with a heart cut out, steamed veggies, Anpanman potato, and kiwi.
Wednesday: Little boy and girl onigiri with salmon in the middle, a hard boiled quail egg cut out and designed to look like a little chick, the sausage was supposed to be a beetle but I couldn't get the antennae to stay upright so later on I stuck them on like dog ears, steamed veggies, and cherries.
Thursday: Rice covered in cut outs of cheese, turkey lunch meat, and cucumber (the cucumber didn't go over well that day, next time it will be carrot), steamed veggies, a sausage that looks like a crab, fried dim sum, and little strawberries.
Friday: I did the melon ball skewers and the egg shaped hearts the night before to make it easier on me in the morning. I did the Japanese rolled egg then cut them on the diagonal and made them look like hearts with a skewer. They also had a octopus looking sausage, steamed veggies, and rice covered with salmon, finely scrambled eggs (yes, eggs are popular here in Japan) and veggie furikake. I'm not sure how well everything went over since she hasn't gotten home yet, but I'm sure she ate most of it. Her lunch was really heavy today so I don't expect her to have eaten it all.
Etta has been an extremely picky eater the past year and I'm hoping that her new found enjoyment of picking out the bento menu will help her open up on trying new things. Now I can completely understand why so many Japanese kids will eat whatever is in front of them, it's usually made to look pleasing to the eyes. I feel so much better about offering her healthy foods too for lunch, especially since she eats it!
Here's the cookbook if you are interested in it, Kawaii Bento Boxes: Cute and Convenient Japanese Meals on the Go.