Bento goes to school. Packing fun foods for focussed pupils and fab parents


There’s nothing like shopping for school supplies to get the year started off right. And because we’re packing healthier lunches for those kids-a-go-go, it is important to shop for containers which will keep those hot foods hot and those cold foods cold.

One option? Bento.

Bento lunch boxes are Japanese lunch boxes ranging from cute and cuddly to no-nonsense holders of traveling foods (one serving).

Bento originated in the late Kamakura Period of Japan with the advent of cooked, dried rice. As culture became more refined, onigiri (shaped rice patties, usually with a small piece of dried fruit or fish tucked inside) was added. The first ekiben was sold in train stations, perfect for nourishment on the go, and because schools did not provide lunches, students began toting their own.


Standard bento box with insulated, zippered lunch bag. The
chilled bottled water keeps food cold. Picture by Jamie VanEaton

Bento, waning during the Taisho Period due to the scarcity of aluminum for the boxes, made its resurgance in the 1980’s, and has kept its rightful place in many a heart, if not a stomach. If you’ve ever seen them, they are very cute. They usually stack 2-3 tiers high and can be used for individuals or for groups. Collecting the boxes is as addicting as making the bento.

Japanese anime has largely helped bring this mania for cute, small portions to the United States and to other countries.


Bento boxes can be as simple as a plastic storage container. The art is in the presentation and organization.

Because the food portions are very small, cooking takes place for the preparation of the lunch boxes, and foods can be kept cold or warm or served at room temperature. School lunches are fun, but not as healthy as we would like, and because we tend towards lower glycemic load, readers will be seeing your favorite columnist (teeth gleam insertion here) experimenting and having a great time making different foods for the kids. I don’t want them to totally rebel, so I’m combining foods for them as I wean them down to largely healthy food items.


Still, bento! I am so addicted to you! I must have your condiment containers shaped like puppies! I need those little fish-shaped soy bottles! The littlefurikake dispenser! The bands in various colors for my many moods of bento.

I must have the monkey-faced mayonnaise containers. The cute food picks. The paper grass dividers. I’ve never been more excited to try fish sauce, toast my sesame seeds or cook small portions of food for one meal.

If it’s a sickness, don’t call the doctor. I’ll be over here hugging my Sailor Moon lunch towel in the corner and nibbling my fruit cup with Hello Kitty chopsticks.


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