Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers: #13

She has a half day tomorrow, so she gets her April bento one day early.

The left side has a bed of Forbidden rice. The figures are made from provolone and cheddar. Her dress is the last bit of watermelon radish. (I'm sorry it's gone and they're out at the farmers markets.) Her face is a piece of red bell pepper and cucumber peal. This side was inspired by this Rainy Day post. I had planned on only making an umbrella and clouds, but sweetPea would have none of that. She wanted to be in the picture, too. The raindrops are little bits of provolone. I liked the sesame seeds in the inspiration box, but she's allergic to them so I made do.

On the right is a spinach salad with cucumber and red bell pepper tulips, orange carrot flowers, and a pineapple sun.

This lunch took me forever. Making the figures didn't take me nearly as much time and simply figuring out how to fit it all in there.I think part of it was because I only have two boxes: The smallest Lock & Lock and the second size up. I love the small one, but sometimes it doesn't give me enough room to work. I thought this one would be as shallow as the first, just increased in length and width. The depth of it makes it difficult. To fill it full enough that it stays tight and things don't move around so much, I've had to put in too much food.

This time I actually stacked several paper towels in the bottom. Then I layered some large romaine lettuce leaves to keep the food she'll eat off the paper towels. I figure I'll give the romaine to the chickens when she gets home. They chase each other around for green stuff.

So if anyone in the bento world has a favorite box they'd like to clue me in on, I'd be grateful. There are so many to choose from and it's hard to tell what will work for a small tummy.

Here are some closeups, although I didn't realize how out of focus one of them was.

The Verdict: This one was a hit at school. Apparently her teacher walked her around to the different classrooms so the kids could see it. I bet a lot of parents are cursing me right now. "Pea brings cheese shaped like a girl and vegetables shaped like flowers in her lunch!" 

She ate the cheese, the carrots, the cucumbers, the bell peppers, the radish, and the pineapple. She had a little bit of rice left and most of the spinach. I wonder if she's just getting tired of seeing the spinach? I think I'll switch back to romaine. .She seemed to eat more of that. 

One disadvantage to having everything sent back home is that often she forgets to put the tops back on things. She didn't use all of her dressing, nor did she drink all of her milk. So her containers were swimming in a sea of milky dressing. Mmmmmm-mmmm, good! 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Apple Tree: #12

Last week, I received a surprise delivery. A friend had seen some photos of the new lunches I've been creating for sweePea. She saw some little fruit-shaped metal cutters (sold as pie decorating cutters) and had them sent to me. As soon as Pea saw them, she immediately wanted me to create an apple tree bento. Now, I think I can do better. She also critiqued this one and said she meant she wanted a tree with an actual trunk. 

The box contains broccoli, apples, cornbread and a few red grapes hiding in the back. I'm having a little difficulty figuring out how to tightly pack the boxes, but I figure that'll come with practice. I soaked the apples in a citric acid solution for a while. I'll update later with the results.

The Verdict: She said all the apples except the one without peal held up nicely. It turned brown, but she ate it anyway. She usually eats more of the broccoli than she did in this box. Her school policy is for the kids to take home everything they brought in the lunch so parents will know exactly what the kids are eating. So this one came home with lots of little broccoli leavings. She clearly spent a fair amount of time nibbling off only the tips of the little florets.

Rainbow: #11

sweetPea saw some of the rainbow bentos from around St. Patrick's Day and said she wanted one. It has strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, blueberries and red grapes. I also stuck in a gold wrapped chocolate coin and some milk. 

The Verdict: I think she ate her way up. She had a few cantaloupe pieces and strawberry bits left. It was also lacking in the protein department so she wanted a more substantial snack than usual when she got home. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Starry Night: #10

This one was made yesterday. It has Forbidden rice (bought from Whole Foods) with jicama stars and moon on the right; strawberries, red grapes, carrot, & jicama stars on the left.

This was the first time I took the photo outside. It made a huge difference in how the jicama looks. See? It really is white and not yellow. Now if only I'd framed it correctly. Oh, well. Baby steps.

The Verdict: She said the rice was a little dry so she added milk. Then it tasted "just like rice pudding." She ate every bite of this bento. I think there were a few black rice bits on the lid, but that was about it.

Spring Bunny: #9

The bunny is made with rice, watermelon radish, and nori details. His ears are jicama and radish. The salad is kale with carrot flowers and fried tofu butterflies. I had to smush his ears down and make him lop-eared in order to get the cover to close.

The Verdict: She ate the bunny, the watermelon radish, and the carrots. She turned her nose up at the tofu and said she didn't have time to eat the leaves. (In case you haven't figured it out, she calls anything green and leafy "leaves".)

Happy St. Patrick's Day: #8

Here she has a watermelon radish, cucumber, and cheese leprechaun. The fruit is blueberries with a kiwi shamrock. I also tucked in some broccoli and cauliflower. There's some spinach under there somewhere. She has a pot of gold chocolate for dessert.

The Verdict: I used the bigger Lock & Lock again. No way could she finish all this. Not only that, but the little pieces didn't stay put. I think her lunch box got shuffled around a bit when other kids were getting out their lunches. She said it got dumped upside down. Oh, well.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb: #7

This was the most complicated bento I'd ever attempted. It consists of a spinach salad with a provolone and cheddar lion. The lamb is made of rice with watermelon radish face and ears. The details are cucumber peals.

This one took me a while to do, but it still only ended up taking about 20 minutes or so. I think people have this misconception that fancying up a kid's lunch takes an inordinate amount of effort. I think it would have taken even less time, but I don't have nori punches for making little facial details. I was using plain old kitchen shears.

The Verdict: This was a big hit for the cuteness factor. In fact, her teacher took a photo of this lunch and had her walk around and show not only her class, but the class next door. I was very flattered. She ate most everything, but I gave her permission to skip the big cabbage leaf I was using as a backdrop for the lamb. Before I told her that, she was attempting to eat the gigantic leaves in the background. "I chewed and chewed, but it just wouldn't slip down ." Poor little thing.

I know it isn't professional quality, but here are some closeups:

Irish Flag: #6

Green broccoli, white cauliflower, and orange carrots make up this Irish flag. She wasn't thrilled with the cauliflower, but she ate the rest.

This was created the Monday of St. Patrick's Day week. I didn't just randomly decide to make an Irish flag.

I always send ranch dressing and milk with these, even if I forget to note it.

Flower Garden: #5

Purple cabbage slaw, carrot sticks, broccoli, red bell pepper flower, pineapple chunks and blueberries.

I can't remember what she ate out of this one, but it's in the larger box so I think she left some things. I made this one right after Mardi Gras with the leftover purple cabbage I needed for that box.

Happy Mardi Gras: #4

Spinach salad with a cheese and purple cabbage mask, pineapple and blueberries, part of her "mini" King Cake. I tried to make the cake small enough to fit in the box, but it kept rising while it baked. So she got about half of it.

The Verdict: This is in a Lock & Lock box that is a size up from the small one I used in the previous posts. It was a little too big for her. She ate most of it, but left a fair amount of her "leaves".

Snowflake Bento: #3

Cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, kettle corn, jicama, and blueberries. Not pictured are milk and a Samoa Girl Scout cookie.

Verdict: She ate all of it.

Spring Garden Bento: #2

The butterflies are jicama, the sun is made from cheddar and provolone, the pink flowers are watermelon radishes, the tulips are red bell peppers. At the bottom is broccoli. It's all on a bed or romaine lettuce. I also included ranch dressing, rice pudding, and milk in separate containers.

The verdict: sweetPea ate everything in this box except the broccoli "stems". She wasn't able to eat all her rice pudding, which is fine. When I started making these bentos I had an unrealistic sense of her tummy size.

Why I am starting this blog (and why I love Bento)

I like to make things. When I make things, I like to make them look aesthetically pleasing. At the risk of opening myself up to ridicule from my friends and acquaintances, I'd like to keep track of what I'm creating for my daughter's lunch.

It wasn't too long ago that I didn't even know what Bento meant. I'm not sure how I stumbled onto it. I've followed the Vegan Lunch Box blog for a while to get ideas since as a family we're mostly vegetarian (some fish makes it's way in there sometimes). My daughter is completely vegetarian.

I love to read about food and nutrition. (I know, weird hobby, but whatever.) I grow a square foot garden and keep backyard chickens. I'm concerned about how obese and unhealthy our country is becoming. At the beginning of this year, I also started following the Fed Up With Lunch blog. Some of the food that makes its way onto kids trays is really deplorable. It shored up my resolve to make sure that my daughter wouldn't walk that path.

It was at that point that I realized the larger world of Bento out in the interwebs. I looked at all the beautiful photos and wondered if I could do something like that. I started very small. I often make what we call "Big Salad" for dinner, but our 5yo, here to be known as sweetPea, was fairly disinterested in that. I asked her if she would be willing to eat it if I made some pretty flower shapes. Now she's always liked carrots, so this wasn't a huge leap.

I didn't have many metal cookie cutters at the time so I took the edge of a small cutter used to make snowflakes and cut pieces out of carrot rounds. I ended up with vaguely flower shaped carrots. To my surprise, she ate the entire salad - leaves and all!

She was never a huge eater, partially from pickiness and partly due to reflux. Once we got her reflux under control and I started became emboldened by my creativity, she began actually finishing her lunch.

My very first attempt at a Bento lunch was for Valentine's Day.

It's a small salad with hearts cut out of Watermelon radishes, carrots, and beets. The top container is filled with strawberries, blackberries, and a homemade tart. I packed salad dressing and milk separately. She was so excited for her friends to see it. She ate every single bite.