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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