Oct 11

Bento Buddy: Taking Back Lunch One Bento At a Time

in Bento Buddy

180 days—the typical number of days our children attend school each year in the US, and therefore, also the approximate number of lunches they will eat away from home each year.  That means that school lunch makes up approximately 16% of our children’s nutritional intake each year.

School Lunch infographic

How much of our time spent meal planning is dedicated to thinking about what our kids are eating for lunch at school?

My own experience with preparing school lunches began a couple of years ago when Squirrel started preschool.  Her favorite food is onigiri (Japanese rice balls), and so when she started taking a lunch to preschool, I started making onigiri to include in them, and it made sense for me to start learning to pack a whole bento for them to go into.  (A bento is a Japanese boxed lunch or meal, and a concept that I fell in love with while living in Japan.)  But as time has passed, life has gotten busier, and she has grown bigger, I have gotten into a rut, and the time I spend thinking about what goes into her bento has decreased.  I was recently talking to my friend Noriko, who has been experiencing the same problem, and she suggested that we start sending each other pictures of the bento we pack for our daughters, to help keep each other honest, and to help inspire each other.  We started posting our photos on Instagram, with the hashtag #bentobuddy as an easy way of cataloging our efforts.  I still have many areas where I can improve, but the project has definitely helped me make small changes and to be a bit more excited about the school lunch process.


In addition, the project has reminded me that making my daughter’s lunch each day for school is more than just a chore—it’s something I do because I love her and because I care about what she puts into her body each day.  Harumi Kurihara wrote, in her book Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking, “I feel that making a bento is something rather special, it is almost like a little love letter that is opened when someone is away from home.  It reminds you of home, of the person who made it for you.  It is more than just food!”

I know that Noriko and I aren’t alone.  I’ve talked to many friends who have gotten into ruts, or who dread the daily chore of packing their kids’ lunches.  Knowing that, I have a pretty good guess that there are many of you experiencing similar issues, and so I’m starting a new series here on La Fuji Mama called Bento Buddy.  I’ll be talking about basics, sharing tips and tricks, talking about supplies, and sharing recipes.  Oh, and of course I’ll be including some giveaways!  (Hint: check back tomorrow . . . .)

Bento Buddy

But for this series to be a success, I need you to participate!  This series is all about motivating each other and bringing lots of ideas to the table.  If you’re on Instagram or Twitter, start sharing pictures of the bento you prepare, and make sure to use the hashtag #bentobuddy.  I’ve also started a Bento Buddy Flickr group, so please join and share your pictures there as well if you’re on Flickr.  If you don’t have kids, but you’re packing a lunch for yourself or someone else to take to work, or for some other reason, we need you too!

Why pack a bento instead of an ordinary packed lunch?

  1. Even a simple bento can be visually appealing.
  2. Bento box compartments help with portion control.
  3. Bento boxes are reusable, which helps reduce waste! (According to the EPA, the typical child generates 67 pounds of trash from school lunch packaging each year, which adds up to over 40,000 pounds for one average-size middle school per year!)
  4. Packing a bento can help save money. (See the comparison done by Waste Free Lunches between a regular packed lunch and a reusable lunch.)
  5. It’s more than just food!  Remind yourself, and the person you’re preparing the bento for, that you care for them!

Let’s help each other take back school lunch with the buddy system!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Bee October 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Love this new series!!! Can’t wait to read more and learn how to make cutesy bento boxes.


love ichigo October 12, 2012 at 1:59 am

What a fantastic idea! Your bento with the boiled eggs one looks like a face. What a fun and cute lunch! My mom used to make mine, my sister’s and brother’s school bento in japan for at least 14 years. I love her for that! She used to make letters with Nori on rice. Words like Happy and Love written Nor I was a little note from my mom. My friends were jealous of my o-bento :-)


Nolwenn October 12, 2012 at 9:06 am

This will be so motivating for me, to share AND to see what other moms prepare for their kids.
It sometimes feel like a chore, for sure. At my home, we try to think of the lunch the day before, and I cook what I can the night before so I just have to «assemble» in the morning (the less stressed out about getting everything and everyone ready on time, the better for sure !).
Do both your girls now go to school and have a bento for lunch ? if yes, do you prepare the same meal for both ?


Linda | The Urban Mrs October 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I always bring my lunch from home so I can control my intake and quality that I have, other than saving money. From time to time, lunch (from leftover dinner) has look more appealing since it’s the same menu that I had the day before. Hence, I love this idea. Not only boost my creativity, but I also now have people/ a support group.


Iryna B. October 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Fantastic! I just received Hello Kitty bento box for my kid – a gift from my friend in Japan. I will try to make something yummy. What would you recommend to start with for not accustom to Japanese food child?


Melanie (Kimono Reincarnate) October 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I love that idea of a bento being a “love letter that is opened when someone is away from home” it puts the packing lunches into a whole new perspective.


Jayne November 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Hey Rachael, I was so inspired by your post that I wrote about our way of bringing lunch to work too. It’s scheduled to be published on the 13th of Nov. Thanks for encouraging more people to take lunch more seriously. I just as strongly about it as well.


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