Introduction: How to Make a Bento Box (Japanese Lunch Box) for a Toddler
A Bento Box is a traditional Japanese lunch box. Bento boxes can contain any number of food items and types. Traditional Bento lunch boxes are filled with a 4:3:2:1 serving ratio; 4 rice, 3 Meat, 2 Veggies (pickled vegetables usually. They don't have to be dill pickles but you can use them if you like.) , 1 desert. The items and arrangement in a Bento is dependent on the function and sometimes on a theme. In Japan Bentos are very elaborate and are works of edible art. They even have contests for creativity and taste. Types of Bentos are also dependent on they type of vessel or "lunch box" you chose to put them in. I have chosen a Tiny Chuck E. Cheese tin (Metal lunch box) that my daughter received at her first birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. You can use a traditional Bento box (They can be purchased online or at Asian Markets), or any storage container with a lid. Think of a theme if you like, such as cartoon characters, sports, or nature to name a few. I will be creating my Bento for my toddler.
Step 1: Step One (Gathering Materials)
First of all you will need a box/container for your Bento. I have chosen the tiny Chuck E. Cheese Tin of my daughters. Also I am using tiny little storage cups with lids that fit perfectly within her tin. ( I bought them 10 for a $1.00 at the dollar store). Gerber makes a t.v. like dinner for toddlers that is microwavable, the little plastic dish is durable and I have even cleaned it in the dish washer. This little "tray" is great for a toddler sized Bento.
Your materials will depend on what kinds of food you want in your Bento. I chose Toddler safe items that are my daughter's favorites. I will list the items I used, but you may substitute your own. Everything I used can be purchased at Walmart and most grocery stores. You can include items that aren't asian if you like, anything that will fit in the Bento. Such as little sandwiches or even left- overs.
Match book Carrots
Multi grain Cheerios
Long Grain Rice
Imitation Crab legs
Athens Mini Fillo Shells
You will also need to gather all your cooking utensils and appliances you will need to prepare these items properly.
Step 2: Cooking and Food Preperation
Cook all items that need to be cooked. Traditionally a lot of Japanese food like fish is eaten raw, I wouldn't recommend that for a toddler or pregnant woman. I prefer to cook all meats if they have not been previously cooked before being packaged, such as shrimp, fish, imitation crab. While these items are cooking you can prepare (wash and cut up) any vegetables or other items you are using. I boiled my rice in one pot and boiled my eggs in another, while microwaving five small pieces of shrimp in a cup of water. The shrimp is pre-cooked but I keep mine in the freezer so I needed to melt the ice. While everything is cooking I washed and cut up my veggies that needed cutting.
Step 3: Assembly and Presentation
I placed my four tiny storage cups into the tin after taking the lids off. I assembled different objects in each cup.
First Cup - Meat
Sticky rice (bottom layer)
Sliced Imitation crab ( A few pieces sprinkled on top of rice)
Tiny pieces of Shrimp (placed around the crab)
I used a tiny metal cookie cutter to "cut" a bunny out of my boiled egg, after it had cooled and been shelled. You can accomplish this by holding the peeled egg in your hand and gently pressing down with the tiny cookie cutter. Shaped eggs and rice (Onigiri) are one way that Japanese Bento artists prepare creative Bentos.
Second Cup - Meat
Bottom layer is a sprinkling of Rice Noodles
On top of that is the Pastry Shell
I filled the pastry shell with tiny pieces of Shrimp
Third Cup - Veggies
Alfalfa Sprouts (bottom layer)
Top layer is Sweet Peas and Match Book Carrots
"Fourth Cup - Desert"
Multi Grain Cheerios (bottom layer)
Top layer is banana slices and the tiniest gummy bears I have ever seen.
I included on top of the closed containers a fork, a spoon, a napkin (You could fold this into Origame for a cool Japanese twist) and a set of "practice" chops sticks, I cut them down so they would fit. Take the sleve of the chops sticks and fold it small. Place this little wad of paper between the chops sticks and add a rubber band or hair tie at the top (opposite of the part you eat with) and viola you have practice chop sticks for beginers.) You could also include spices in little containers or soy sauce, tooth picks, a breath mint or gum. You can place all sorts of creative and useful objects in a Bento if you can find the room for them.