So, school’s back in swing. The good news: Routine! Structure! For all of us! The bad news: school lunches. Merrie’s school is one of the few that doesn’t have a cafeteria; if she’s going to eat — and a kid with her energy needs to eat, needs to eat all the time — I must pack her off with a lunchbox filled with food.Easy, right? Sandwiches! Of course: Sandwiches! Who doesn’t love a good PB&J? Well, my kid doesn’t. She may be the hungriest kid on the planet, but she doesn’t eat any sandwich, never has. (I don’t understand it; what kid doesn’t like sandwiches???). What I inevitably wind up doing is packing her off with many storage dishes full of small eats. One container might have some rolled-up turkey. Another has watermelon slices. Another is filled with some crackers, or popcorn. Another, some hunks of cheese. Another, cookies.That’s why I was tickled when someone sent me a link to Laptop Lunches, a company that makes kid-friendly bento boxes. They’re lunch boxes with many different containers — and they’re not just for kids, as Lunch in a Box shows us. The boxes themselves are lead-free, unlike many kids’ lunchboxes, and although they’re made of plastic, they’re from the safest plastics out there (no suspected carcinogens or endocrine disruptors).(if only this company would make the same concept, but with Pyrex containers, this Mother-Who-Reads-Too-Much-and-So-Fears-All-Plastic would be in heaven).And if you’re looking for ideas to fill those boxes, you might want to check out Bento TV. The woman is kooky — wide-eyed and ponytailed, slightly breathless, sexy in an ingenue “who me?” sort of way, and really, really into her bento box creations. They’re not all designed for kids, but among the hundreds of short episodes she’s created, you’ll find recipes for kid-friendly foods like heart-shaped pizzas, Hello Kitty sugar cookies, the (slightly labor-intensive) soccer ball rice ball, octopus-shaped hot dogs, apple and peanut butter butterflies, and more. Sarah, the Bento TV star and founder, apparently runs the biggest bento box site on eBay, and she sells all kinds of molds for bento box foods, and I hope she makes a gazillion dollars doing it.Not enough bento for you yet? Then check out the Laptop Lunches pool at Flicker , where you can see those Laptop Lunch boxes put to the test. Do it as a slide show, and it’s kind of mesmerizing. It’s also touching, to see all those lunches — lunch upon lunch upon lunch — packed with love. Best of all, it’s inspiring, as almost nothing that you see is highly processed, and very little is individually wrapped.This makes me realize that these bento boxes solve the very same problem that packaged foods solve. They are convenient, they are easy-to-carry. You can have lots of variety. But you can do it with fresh foods, healthful foods, instead of junk.Still haven’t had enought? There’s also a Bento Box Pool at Flickr — this has more of an Asian flavor, but the concept is the same pages and pages of photographs of small eats in boxes. The photos are pretty, and they will make you hungry.I must take a moment to marvel: what a world this is, where you can see what people pack for lunch, all across the world, with a few simple clicks of your mouse.

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14 Responses to “Lunch-in-the-Box”

  1. 1 nyjlm September 15, 2007 at 12:30 am

    I was a kid who didn’t like sandwiches, and they still are not usually my choice for lunch (or any other meal for that matter). My mom would give me soup or noodles, heated in the am and put into a small thermos. Sometimes I’d convince her just to let me have a few slices of whatever cold cut I was currently eating. I don’t know why that plus some crackers didn’t suffice, but she did really want me to eat a sandwich. Eventually we figured out that I preferred wheat bread to the white that she usually bought (hey, it was the 70′s). As I said, I’m still not a fan of sandwiches, and much prefer a hot sandwich if I have to have one.

    Here is another cool bento site She has some speed tips and usually shows what she makes for her young son.

    Wish I had someone making bento for me for lunch : )

  2. 2 annamcdonnell September 15, 2007 at 12:55 am

    I don’t often accentuate the positive aspects of my children growing up but not having to make lunches anymore ranks right up there with not having to throw birthday parties for small creatures who are apt to cry at a moment’s notice….Did you ever do an uber-post that told us all what kind of plastic containers we could be using? If so, I’d love the link…Thanks!

  3. 3 boogiemum September 15, 2007 at 1:20 am

    I was debating purchasing one of the laptop lunches, but decided against it. Mostly because they are rather costly and my kids have a tendency to lose things all the time.

    I was also concerned about the plastic factor too. Just curious, how do you pack Merrie’s lunches with out plastic? Do you really use Pyrex? I use a sigg bottle for drinks but have been coming up short on how to lose the plastic for the rest. I try to have a waste free lunch, so no plastic bags, or paper napkins or individual packaged food items.

  4. 4 Meredith September 15, 2007 at 3:42 am

    My daughter doesn’t like sandwiches either! I have pondered this till my ponderer is sore. She likes chicken. She likes bread. But a chicken sandwich? NO WAY JOSE. She will only eat a jelly sandwich. But it has to be a certain jelly (no seeded jam!) and only whole wheat bread. This week we tried whole wheat kid-sized wraps and made jelly roll-ups. Luke-warm reception but she at it so score one for mom.

  5. 5 Rachel September 15, 2007 at 5:47 am

    We just got some of those laptop lunchboxes, I intend to homeschool but we often go out and need to bring snacks. It’s much more fun packing lunches and snacks with these things, I enjoy packing the lunches more and they enjoy eating them more.

  6. 6 Fairly Odd Mother September 17, 2007 at 1:41 am

    Bento TV is addicting. I immediately had to get the little egg molds so that my hard boiled eggs could be shaped like a bunny, or train, or bear. So flippin’ cute.

    BTW, I also own the Vegan Lunch Box cookbook and that woman KNOWS how to pack a lunch! I’m sure her blog still has its archives up if you need ideas beyond sandwiches (vegan, yes, but still yummy!)

  7. 7 Carly September 17, 2007 at 2:04 am

    We have Laptop Lunches!! We love them. They were worth every penny, too. The way I figure it, I could buy each of my kids one of those cheapish insulated bags with Dora or Elmo (or whatever ridiculous gimick their best friend has) every year for the next 5 years along with box after box of ziplock bags and throw away tupperware, or I could spend $45 once for a REALLY nice product that (I swear) makes EVERYTHING I put in them scrumptious and never adds another scrap of plastic to our landfill.

    Not to mention the I-will-never-eat-a-sandwich thing. Will always peels them apart.

    We get tons of compliments on the boxes and on how my kids always(?!) eat their veggies.

  8. 8 cleanerplateclub September 17, 2007 at 2:14 am

    Boogie – Honestly, I do use plastic when I pack lunch. Dry-foods-that-get-eaten-cold (popcorn, cookies, chips, etc.) go in either tiny tupperware dishes, or Ziploc plastic snack bags (which I try, for the sake of Mama Earth, and my own wallet, to wash and reuse, although truthfully I am not always the person I want to be). But anything wet – melon slices, yogurt, etc. – , and anything that gets heated (pasta, chicken, etc.), I do put in Pyrex dishes with sealable lids. I don’t know if there’s any logic to the wet-dry rule, though it FEELS right, but the heating-in-plastic is definitely a no-no. FYI, I got the sealable Pyrex at some big box store, probably Wal-Mart. My kiddo is about as un-careful as they come, and the glass part of the Pyrex dishes have held up very, very well – no chips or breaking or anything, after a full year of packed lunches. The lids seem to crack before the glass breaks. Generally, there are two Pyrex dishes packed – and I buy ‘em as small as I can. Another thing that I like about the Pyrex is that it doesn’t absorb odors.

    Annamcdonnell – the uber-link was sort of hidden in some other posts about sippy cups and baby bottles. But here’s the link to the Smart Plastics Guide:

    Rachel and FOM – Take some photos of your Bento creations, will you? I am lovin’ this food voyeurism thing. And thanks, everyone, for the tips (Vegan Lunch Box,, jelly roll ups, etc.). Makes me feel like we’re all in a big tent, calling out suggestions to one another.

  9. 9 Parsnip September 17, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    I’m enamored with the Lunch in A Box website. Biggie is amazing. Another site that might be helpful is Vegan Lunch Box ( Though I’m not vegan, some of the recipes were really interesting, and could be done with meat and dairy. It’s a good site for some creative ideas.

  10. 10 Mama's Moon September 17, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Oooh! Thanks for sharing this! I. Never. Knew! and am no so very grateful for all the ideas! Had to link you to my Monday Morning Munchies! I’ll be back for more!

  11. 11 Sonya September 17, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    What about leftovers? My daughter doesn’t care for sandwiches so I have lots of little tupperware with little noshing things (an organic cookie, tiny tomatoes, indian snacks, sliced apple, grapes, crackers), half a slice of bread with nutella folded into a mini sandwich. BUT, never anything wet or hot in tupperware as I’m also a little nervous of plastic and heat.

    We eat mostly vegetarian for dinner so I typically do vegetarian leftovers for the main dish (heated in a little thermos or in a traditional hot bento box with all the things separate):
    * rice and daal (we eat 8-9 different types) and green veggies
    * rice and beans (we eat 5-6 different sorts) and green veggies
    * pasta with veggies
    * tomato soup
    * idlis (steamed rice dumplings) and veggie sambar
    * risotto with sauteed veggies
    * rice with two types of green veggies


  12. 12 Kelly September 19, 2007 at 7:46 am

    What I love to make and take for lunch is onigiri – its like a japanese rice ball with or without filling. You can buys molds etc to help shape them but it can also be done by hand pretty easily. Because the rice is molded when it is still hot, as it cools the outside firms up a little and keeps it shape. I love filling it with tuna mixed with a little mayo – so yummy! A little bit of soy sauce drizzled over just before you eat it is lovely too. If you just google onigiri you will be able to find heaps of tutorials for making it.

  13. 13 christi October 7, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    I’m a little late to the party, but was reading along because I, too found some really cool Bento lunch sites and posted them on my site

    I never tried them because I thought Bento lunches were as complicated as the examples I stumbled upon, so thanks a ton for showing me how simple it all really is.

  14. 14 christi October 7, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Ugh, sorry about the long URL. If you want to see my Bento lunch collection, please go to, click the Archives link on the right and then scroll down to “lunch.”

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