On Monday I posted an interview with Marnie Hanel about her bento lunch box book. As part of the “research” for that post, we had to try it out. I recruited a ParentData team member who has a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old. I agreed to experiment with my 7-year-old (the 11-year-old declined to participate).
The challenge was to produce five(ish) days of meals, document them in pictures, and report on the eating of the food. Let’s see how we did…
I think there are two issues. First, performance anxiety. Because of the pandemic and the ages of my kids, very little of my parenting has been on display for anyone who doesn’t live in my home. So preschool lunches basically feel like the first homework I’m turning in to someone else to grade. (Obviously, there are no grades and this is in my head.) The second issue is a dislike of tedium, especially as it relates to cutting up strawberries.
But I was excited to give the book a try. At the very least, I thought, the meal suggestions would relieve one part of the lunch process — coming up with ideas for what to pack to begin with.
But first, the positives: I., 3, and A., 2, both loved this! Lately I. has been obsessed with “the story of how the asteroid made the dinosaurs go extinct,” so we captured that in meal form. A. is a more cuddly type who loves hearts and teddy bears and flowers, so that is what she got. Overall, this is a pretty basic lunch (carrots, cheese, ham sandwich, snack), but it still felt special.
Now the fail: I got so wrapped up in amusing myself with the styling that I forgot that the school doesn’t allow popcorn (choking hazard), so that part of their lunch was taken away. The kids ate everything else.
Bonus fail: red food coloring doesn’t make popcorn pink. It makes it look bloody.
This mini pizza got eaten, but I’d judge it only a moderate success (the cookie pie was completely consumed). Making a pizza was some work (we have a great toaster oven, but still), and Finn said it was “a little wet.”
The kids ate everything (and I ate the carrot cutouts), but I re-learned the lesson about food coloring being a bad idea when they both came home with green hands and faces from their “wormy” apples.
Once A. woke up, I was inspired to try to get her to eat something by borrowing a bit of Lunchbox spirit for her breakfast.
With these pancakes, food coloring redeemed itself. But the real winner is candy eyes, which make every food more amusing. A. ate one pancake, the middle one, which was modeled after Stumpkin.
Anyway! This meal is reflective of where we have gotten to. It was some leftover chicken and pasta bake, some fruit on sticks, and a cookie. He ate way more than he used to, it was not hard to produce, and he was happy.
Going forward, I’m not sure how much we’ll use the specific lunches in the book — although Finn has it on his shelf, and I suspect ideas will percolate up. But we will definitely keep using the bento, and I think I got some important lessons here: Food on sticks is fun. Seeing the variety all at once and having multiple things to eat is fun. Giving Finn more input into the process may also have been helpful.
The other big change is I bought myself a bento salad box, which I highly recommend. So now I can stack all my tiny snacks together. Adorable.
We’re going to keep using the tools to throw at least a little spice into every lunch. And I might even make myself some bloody-looking popcorn every now and again.
Update: I got a note from I.’s teacher several days after this experiment to let me know that she hadn’t eaten any of her lunch (except for her raspberries) in days. It looks like fun lunch needs to come back in force.