So many things go into a child’s baon. It can have sandwiches, rice, pasta, fruits, ulam and other treats. But a lunchbox can mean so much more than a break time meal. It is also love that can be enjoyed.
In the past, the best thing about snack time was the lunchbox that kids carry. It bore the child’s favorite cartoon characters and colors. Things have changed. Parents are obsessed with what the food inside looks like.
Bento boxes have gained a huge following, inspired by the aesthetic of Japanese bento and the accessibility of cheap accessories from Japanese stores and online stores. A bento is a lunchbox containing a single portion of a balanced meal. It typically contains rice, protein, vegetables and fruits.
It takes a lot of time, creativity and planning to prepare. Even those who have prepared a lot of bento boxes in the past will tell you that it can take between 15 minutes to two hours to finish designing their bentos.
“My daughter is a picky and slow eater. She would normally finish a meal in more than an hour and sometimes we still need to remind her to keep on eating. When I learned about bento boxes, it helped,” said Shobe Licup delos Santos, mother of a 6-year-old.
Having a picky eater is also the reason why Jinky del Rosario started her bento journey. What she loved most about it is that her 11-year-old child is always excited to open her box. Even her child’s classmates await what the baon for the day is. Del Rosario takes her time preparing them, too, sometimes spending up to one hour for preparation.
Elaine Binalon started her bento journey for her Grades 1 and 4 children. She started preparing them because it’s cheaper than buying their snacks from the canteen.
“I am also sure that the meals that they are getting are safe because I prepared it myself. My kids are happy and excited because of this. It’s like they’re opening gifts,” Binalon said.
Babette Ocampo (@bentobette on Instagram) has created over a thousand designs for her daughter, Debbie, 9, who is in Grade 4.
“I want my daughter to bring my love with her to school. It was a way to cope with my separation anxiety when she started schooling. Now that I’ve been doing bento for five years, it has become my passion,” Ocampo said.
The Ocampos lived in Japan for three years which was enough time to nurture a love for Japanese culture. Bento artists impressed her so much that she decided to give it a try.
This is also why most people do it: They see other people proudly posting photos of their beautifully arranged food and they get inspired.
Delos Santos said that bento boxes allow her to send a variety of nutritious foods to her child. She plans her daughter’s meals according to her schedule. If it’s a face-to-face class, her baon is usually heavier. This includes a sandwich, cookies or biscuits, nuts, fruits, yogurt, juices and sweets.
“I choose from the foods that she likes and I also put foods that she doesn’t like, for exposure,” Delos Santos said.
Binalon also includes food that her children normally don’t eat, like vegetables. She allows them to choose what they want. They go with her to do their grocery; however, she limits the junk food.
“Bento boxes really helped a lot. Even vegetables look inviting if they are arranged beautifully. It’s difficult to send them food that they don’t like all the time because they might end up not eating their baon. Sasama pa loob ko kapag hindi kinain,” Binalon said.
Their advice for those who want to give bento boxes a try? Keep it simple.
“Start with a basic design. Don’t pressure yourself into creating complicated ones at the beginning. Do what you can do. Whatever design you prepare, your children will appreciate it and they will eat more because of it,” Del Rosario said.
Delos Santos said that parents don’t need to buy all bento tools out in the market. Just a few tools at first should be enough. But first, get a lunchbox that matches your child’s eating capacity.
Ocampo said colorful food picks, silicone baran or lunchbox dividers, and silicone food cups can help them achieve a more interesting baon. She added that bento doesn’t always have to be complicated and expensive.
“As long as you pack it with love, I believe your kids will appreciate it,” she said.
The important thing is to enjoy the journey, according to Binalon. Kids will eat it because it’s made with love. INQ