I was recently introduced to the idea of bento and immediately fell for them, mostly based on cute-factor. Really, really adorable lunches. And then I started thinking about why I would want to take the time to pack a bento. Are there any real benefits that align with my priorities (other than cuteness, ha ha!) and how I want to spend my time?
Turns out there are. See, one of the things that I hold important is stewardship. Not just of money, though I think we are to be good stewards of money as well. I think it is important to be good stewards of EVERYTHING we are given - our time, our minds, our bodies, our children, our earth... And bento fits right in with at least a couple of those, so I think it's worth a look.
As for being stewards of our bodies and our children, there is a lot to be said for the food we eat and the food we use to nourish our children. Bento encourages a colorful, balanced meal consisting of the 5 food groups. By packing your food in a bento box, you just WANT to incorporate different fruits and vegetables, because, let's face it... a bento box containing a single pbj sandwich just isn't as fun to look at as sandwiches cut into stars surrounded by blueberries and a banana moon. When it comes to adult bento, it's easier to control portion sizes and balanced nutrition when you pack it all into a single box. You can easily see what proportions you have of carbs, fruits, veggies, and protein. Bento encourages balance and moderation.
Because bento boxes are designed to be stuffed full of food (so the food doesn't slosh around and mix with other foods) it is done in a way that uses "neutral" foods (like celery and carrots) to form a barrier between other foods. You might not want your blueberries to juice up your sandwich bread, but place a few carrots as a barrier between them and you've got a problem solved! AND you've got grains, protein (sandwich filling), fruit and vegetables all right there! In a traditional lunch sack, you'd have each item (sandwich, blueberries, carrots) in its own ziplock bag, which just get thrown away. Even if you go for the reusable approach, you'd have 3 separate containers, all in a lunch bag. This way you just have everything in one container, which serves as its own lunch bag. Fewer things to wash (less water used) and fewer things to throw away!
Really it's a great idea. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it until now, but today I picked up a box to use as a bento box, and some silicone baking cups to keep wet foods off of other foods. I still have a few years before I have to send a lunch with Ellie, so maybe I'll have time to perfect the art. In the meantime, I'm excited to give it a try for our weekly picnic lunches after the hikes. It sounds so... fun! =D