How I Bento

18 Aug

We bento bloggers hear it all the time:

Your lunches are nice and all but who has the time?

If you’ve ever wanted to get into bento style lunch packing but didn’t think you could do it because it took too long, this super lengthy post is for you!

First of all, I hear ya. I do.

Mornings are tough. Children need to be fed and wrangled into their clothes, teeth need brushing, faces need washing, hair needs combing, homework needs to be rounded up, shoes need to be tied, and you still have to make yourself look somewhat presentable in that process and get everyone out the door on time. Who has time to mess with cutesy lunches?

Got it.

Let’s commiserate for a bit, shall we?

My son had to be out the door no later than 5:50 last year. There’s no way I’m putting together any type of lunch that early in the morning. And my precious little lady is an absolute monster in the morning. I love the kid, but there’s no sugar-coating it. She’s grouchy and slow and uninterested in doing anything that will get us out the door on time. Morning person?

Yeah, not so much.

Wanna know how I save time in the morning? Three words: Yoga/Activewear pants. Totally acceptable car circle/drop off at classroom door attire. No squeezing myself into jeans that are too tight because I accidentally dried them (again!) and then having to do that awkward “drop it as if it were hot” stretch for several minutes to get them to button properly.

Seriously, if you’re a SAHM and you haven’t yet discovered the comfort and ease of these pants, reexamine your life and look into that. And if you’re that Mom in the car circle that’s still wearing her pajama pants, I get it girl – no judgement.

Another way that I save time in the morning is by not making lunches in the morning. I make them the night before whenever possible and put them in the fridge so they’re ready to go.

But I don’t have time at night.

I wasn’t always a happy housewife. Just a few short years ago I worked a really demanding full-time job that required my presence 10-11 hours a day on many occasions. Factor in a forty minute commute each way, a husband who was literally walking out the door to work as I was walking in, homework, dinner, showers, stories, clean up and well, I think I’ve made my point.

But lunches still had to be made. They also had to be mostly healthy and waste free so streamlining became a necessity.

After a bit of trial and error, I finally figured out a method that works for me.

It all starts as soon as I get home from the store.

One of the first things that I do once all of the groceries are put away is prep my produce. This means quickly soaking it in a large bowl filled with cold water and a splash of vinegar, rinsing, draining, drying, cutting, and storing for grab-and-go ease.

While the produce soaks for a couple of minutes, I organize all of the meats, cheeses, yogurt, and other lunch-packing essentials into two handy baskets in my refrigerator or on their designated shelf in my pantry.

It would probably be easier if I just showed you the inside of my refrigerator:

Almost everything that I need to pack lunches gets prepped and put into one of those baskets on that middle shelf. When it’s time to make lunch, I just pull out one or both of those baskets and I have everything I need in one place, right in front of me.

No digging around the fridge, knocking things over, or moving ten things to get to the one thing that I need. The pantry is organized the same way.

Here’s what the inside of those baskets looks like today:

Side note: Normally, the basket on the right contains prepped fruit, veggies, nuts, yogurt, etc., but I went a little nuts in Target today and had a must-buy-all-the-yogurts moment. So I bought all the yogurts.

Another thing that I like to do when I have a few extra minutes is to use my cutters to cut a few shapes out of meat and/or cheese. Then I just put them into a container so that they’re ready to go when I am. Just add some crackers and you’ve got a much healthier alternative to Lunchables.

If you have some time on the weekend go ahead and make up several sandwiches in advance. If you want to spruce them up with cute cutters, go for it! Then just wrap them up tight and put them in the freezer. Put one in the lunchbox in the morning and it will be thawed and ready by lunchtime. This method works especially well with pb&j’s.

Leftovers can be time savers when it comes to packing lunches. Invest in a good thermos. We used the Thermos FUNtainer food jar last year and we highly recommended it.

If your child brings a water bottle, fill it at night and leave it in the refrigerator.

If I have to make lunch in the morning, I can still save time by keeping the food simple and relying on some cute picks or baran to make it cute. Before I go to bed, I pull out all of the bento accessories that I plan on using in that lunch and place them in the lunch container where they will go once the food is added. I leave the whole thing on the counter so it’s ready to go in the morning.

But what about all the money you spend on bento accessories, doesn’t it get expensive?

It doesn’t have to be. Arts and crafts and baking supply stores sell inexpensive cutters and cupcake toppers of all shapes and sizes and often have coupons available to save you money.

You can also use things in your own kitchen as cutters. Straws, juice glasses, dough presses and jar lids all make good cutters. Sauce jars and wine bottles are great for rolling out bread for sandwich sushi, and graduated cookie cutters can be used to make sealed sandwiches as Ming from (who makes the most beautiful bentos ever) demonstrates here.

Cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, granola bars, fruit leather, and even a rolled up napkin can serve as baran and keep food separated.

To make your own cute picks, just add some cute stickers to toothpicks. Puffy stickers are particularly great for this.

My friend Keith of Oh!Bento came up with a great idea for using those little Crocs shoe charms to make picks. Such a clever idea. Check it out here.

There’s no reason that you can’t send your babies off to school with fun, creative, healthy, and waste-free lunches (if you want to) while still maintaining your sanity and getting out the door on time.

Trust me, I’m the most incoherent, uncoordinated, grouchy, grumbly mess you’ve ever seen in the morning. If I can do it, so can you.

Packing bento style lunches doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. It all comes down to planning, prep, and organization:

  • Plan lunches ahead.
  • Prep all produce as soon as you bring it home. Washing, cutting, and storing can all be done in advance.
  • Cut fun shapes out of meat, cheese, and veggies in advance so they’re ready when you are.
  • Organize your lunch ingredients so that you can easily find what you need.
  • Make several sandwiches in advance and store in the freezer.
  • Pack leftovers.
  • Whenever possible, make the entire lunch at night and toss in the fridge.
  • Fill your child’s water bottle at night and leave it in the refrigerator.
  • Find coupons or wait for sales and grab some inexpensive cutters and cupcake toppers to make lunch cute.
  • Use things from your own kitchen as cutters, rollers, and baran.
  • Make your own picks.

It’s a new school year. There’s no reason that you can’t bento if you want to!


4 Responses to “How I Bento”

  1. Jackie August 19, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    Brilliant write up, thank you for sharing your prepping tips- I love the baskets in the fridge


  2. Oh!Bento UK August 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Such a great post!!!

    And thank you for the link 🙂

    I do have a tutorial if you’d like it 🙂


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