Get the low-down on Japanese lunches for picky eaters
Japanese food has been embraced by food lovers the world over. But while most of us are familiar with sushi and tempura served at restaurants, Japanese home cooking is still a grey area. That’s a shame, especially since Japan boasts some of the healthiest food habits in the world.
Cooking for children is no exception, with Japanese housewives taking extra time to prepare healthy meals for their children. Assembling a bento box can be as simple as using up leftovers from the night before, or as creative as cutting vegetables into shapes that recall animals and cartoon characters.
In this post, we want to take a closer look at the bento box, or packed lunch, a staple lunch idea that makes healthy food fun to prepare – and eat!
Winning them over with…veggies?!
The beauty of the bento is in its compartments; each section can be filled with different food groups to create balanced and colorful meals. Traditional Japanese versions normally include rice or noodles, protein in the form of meat, fish, or tofu, and a selection of raw or lightly steamed vegetables.
Kids love to have variety at lunchtime, and offering smaller portions of less popular food items, like broccoli or sprouts, makes them less intimidating. You might also try investing in a knife with a serrated edge to cut kid-pleasing wavy patterns into carrots, cucumbers, or just about anything else.
The steamed or pickled veg that are regular features in bento are not only healthy because they don’t use any cooking oil, but are bright in color thanks to the cooking method. Often, boiling food to death robs it of its flavor and vibrancy – no wonder kids turn up their noses at lifeless greens.
Have fun with shapes and characters
It also pays to be creative with even the simplest food items. Talking to the New York Times, Californian stay-at-home mom Sheri Chen says she makes food look like something her daughter recognizes, “If her boiled egg is shaped like a bunny and it is holding a carrot, she’ll eat it.”
One way to prepare kids for the brave new world of bento boxes is to get them involved in creating lunches on the weekends. You can have all the ingredients sliced and prepared and then assemble the boxes together. On the other hand, you could roll meatballs together or make funny faces with vegetables and fruit. You are the master of your bento – so go ahead and make them the way you want.
Bento is becoming so popular outside of Japan that several entrepreneurial cooks, professional and otherwise, are launching their own e-commerce businesses that deliver bento boxes to adults at work. For housewives around the country, setting up an online lunch business with a provider like 1&1 could turn into a lucrative source of extra income.
And don’t be intimidated by Japanese recipes; you can create amazing bento lunches with the food you’re used to eating. Just remember the focus should be on balance, small portions, and fun. The rest of the bento story is up to you.