A few weeks ago I wrote Lunch Box Envy, a post about my desire to make more visually-exciting school lunches for my kids, without adding to the time it took to make them. I was inspired by my Japanese friend, who made her yummy-looking kids' lunches seem attainable.
I also wrote about the new lunchbox gear I ordered as part of this quest. Luckily, I already had a few bento boxes, and more importantly, shaped molds to make Japanese rice balls. But I wasn’t making the most of them.
After I wrote the post, some of our Cozi Facebook fans commented, mentioning two lunchbox gear solutions they like too. One was Easy Lunchboxes and the other was Laptop Lunches. I haven’t tried the Easy Lunchboxes yet, but I did pick up a Laptop Lunches box, because it was coincidentally for sale as part of a fundraiser at my son’s pre-K this week. (It set me back a cool $25.00, but my son was super-excited to try it, so I relented.)
Here’s what’s happened so far:
Little silicone cups: These get 4 out of 5 stars. The kids LOVE them and they are great for small condiments like a few olives or pickles. But you could definitely get the same job done with mini-muffin liners, which I used too. But I love that the silicone cups are re-usable, rather than tossing liners each day.
3 lunches of: Bagels with salmon-salad, frozen green peas, olives, blueberries, potato chips, carrots.
The sandwich cutters: I give these a 3 out of 5 stars. For one, unless you buy really small sliced bread, they waste a lot of the sandwich. Also, the bread tends to tear when you push the cutter down. BUT, my kids love the shapes, so I made a deal with them that I’ll only use the cutters if they eat the leftover stuff for breakfast. And they agreed.
Here’s how it looked using the heart shapes in a square, Hello Kitty bento box.
Heart shaped turkey sandwich, sliced peppers, carrots, hummous, olives.
I thought this heart sandwich lunch was a winner. But my daughter did not like how the wet ingredients moved around and moistened her sandwich.
So next, I tried bento boxes that stack, keeping the food more separate, including the frog one I had ordered. One lunch is in pink below, and the other in the new frog bento box. This was a hit.
Flour tortilla turkey wraps, edamame (from night before,) grapes, sliced pepper.
That’s a 5 out of 5 stars for the froggie bento box, and stackables in general.
My son’s lunch went into his new Laptop Lunch box. As you can see in the photo, I put my daughter’s lunchbox beside it, and it is HUGE, at least compared to the Japanese lunchboxes.
The pink lunch box is for my 7 year old, the blue/green for my 4 year old. Even adding his pretzels and crackers for snack, we didn’t need all this space.
It really looks more like an adult, or at least high-school kid size to me. But my son loved packing it himself, and didn’t mind that we left it partly empty. But having it so large means it will either lack visual appeal (full always looks nicer), or your kids are probably going to have way too much food. I give it a 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Next, I took on rice-based lunches. Since I have a rice cooker (a must!), I make Japanese sticky rice for dinner pretty often. When there are leftovers, I make Japanese rice balls, called onigiri (OH-NI-GEE-REE) for lunch the next day.
What are onigiri? Basically, just sticky rice, shaped into a ball with your hands or using a mold. You can stuff them with something or serve them with seaweed wrapped around. We like to stuff tuna salad inside them (yes, the kind with mayonnaise,) or canned salmon (yes, also with mayo.) Trust me.
I already have several molds to make fun shapes, but if you try for the first time, BE SURE TO WET THE MOLDS before putting in the rice, each time. Otherwise, the rice will stick.
One day I made triangle shapes like this:
Triangle- shaped onigiri, leftover fried chicken, baby corn, blueberries, carrots, frozen green peas.
Another day I made this, using mixed shapes for the rice onigiri, and I used regular-sized muffin liners to separate the food.
Onigiri, leftover corn (cut off the cob), leftover mac n cheese, olives in the cute silicone molds, carrots.
In all these cases, I probably spent about the same time or maybe 5 minutes more, tops, than on the lunches I was making before. How? I am STILL USING only side veggies and fruits that do not need to be cut, peeled or prepped in any way. But they look way, way better.
Just as I was getting excited though, along comes my work colleague Janny W. with photos of the lunches she makes for herself. Holy smokes!
Warning! These are SO GOOD, they may induce extreme jealousy. But here’s how I consoled myself after seeing her photos: Janny:
- has no one else but herself to dress, feed, wipe, brush, pack, and get out the door.
- is a fantastically talented graphic designer, who can make even a mud puddle look gorgeous.
- is a practiced (amateur) food photographer who sets up her photos and shoots them with a real camera, and without any kids hovering over her and begging to grab the camera from her hands and take “just one picture too.”
Isn’t Janny AMAZING?? Sigh…
After seeing Janny’s fantastic obento lunches, I might just ask my kids to start helping cut nori seaweed into little smiley face shapes. Stay tuned for how that goes, and by all means, share your lunchbox stories and inspiration in the comments below.