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Bento boxes for kids' lunches

January 23, 2009 |  4:36 pm

Photo A few weeks ago, I wrote a lunchbox story about ways to jazz up your packed meal. One thing I didn't mention was something I've discovered while packing lunches for my two kids: bento boxes. Lunch in a bento box is a Japanese tradition (both at home and in restaurants), and depending on the time you spend and the kind of bento box you have -- some are very ornate -- it can be a real art form.  But what I like the most about bento boxes, aside from how pretty they make things look with relatively little effort, is that they're green. No product packaging, no Baggies, no tin foil. (Okay, so I wrapped the chocolate-dipped madeleines, but I ran out of room!)

I pack very simple bento boxes, with plain containers I found at Mitsuwa Marketplace. They're dishwasher and microwave safe, and -- most important -- they come with secure lids that clip down to prevent spilling. These have dividers too; more elaborate bento boxes have even more compartments. I use cupcake papers to keep things organized (most kids do not appreciate their food migrating) and try and use as little of those as possible. I pack little chopsticks, and pick up the free soy sauce packets at the Japanese market. The sushi I make myself, since Sophie only wants rice in hers, but you can buy inexpensive vegetable sushi (and even precooked rice) in the market coolers if you're in a hurry. For kids who aren't Japanese food fans, the boxes are great for housing bread and cheese, fruit, little sandwiches or anything else you can think of. And they stack very nicely into most lunchboxes or bags. Best of all, my kids think the boxes are so much fun that they often volunteer to make their lunches themselves. 

Bento boxes, about $6 at Mitsuwa Marketplace; 3760 Centinela Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 398-2113, and five other Los Angeles and Orange County locations. Note that the Little Tokyo store is closing Sunday. Bento boxes are also widely available at other Japanese groceries and shops. 

-- Amy Scattergood

Photo by Amy Scattergood