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Bento / School Lunch

Japan With Kids - Forums: Education in Japan: Bento / School Lunch
By Caroline on Friday, February 3, 2006 - 10:45 am:

Lunch fees at my daughter's school are so high (900 yen per meal!!) that I am considering preparing bentos. However, knowing how hectic mornings already are I am not sure I will be able to keep up with the good intentions.

Does anyone know of a bento delivery service that would deliver one or two bentos every morning to our home? I am not sure this even exists, but if it does it would be a real life saver...

I live in Musashino-shi. Any suggestions?


By Cornelia on Friday, February 3, 2006 - 2:27 pm:

Dear Caroline,
I've been doing lunch for my daughter now for 3.5 years. I thought it would be hard, but it's not. The international school is much more accepting of all the different types of lunches produced in different cultures than the Japanese private schools are. There is a lot of room to just give your kid what he/she will eat, and not worry if it includes rice or seeweed or no "junk food" which in the Japanese private schools means no rice crackers and no juice. I got used to the lunch making ritual very quickly, especially since my daughter actually preferred roughly the exact same thing every day until she got a little older. Much harder for me to get used to was the uniform issue. But that's another story.

I think also that Y900 for a little kid is nuts. My daughter didn't start eating until she was about 6.5 years old. Yes, I think she was growing on air the first 6 years. Now she's 9 and comes home saying that I need to make her a bigger lunch, and she eats 6 times a day, etc. But even now, I am making her lunches for about Y250 yen a day. Just to give you an idea:

When she was 5.5 years old:
* an English muffin with a bit of margarine and a slice of German style very thin ham
* a cup yoghurt
* a small pet bottle of apple juice (half frozen the night before and half poured in on top of the ice juice in the morning)
* a rice cracker OR a packet of nori (seaweed paper), OR a jelly
(and you'd be surprised how often a half a muffin would come back home at the end of the day!)

Now at 9 years old:
* 2 onigiris (home made very rushed in a lumpy ball shape with some dried fish inside)
* an English muffin with butter and ham
* a jelly, a rice cracker AND a cup yoghurt (don't forget the spoon)
* two packets of nori
* a banana or a mikan
* maybe a couple of cheese balls bonus in the bottom (the ones that look like candies)

Sometimes I substitute a crepe with ham for the English muffin, and maybe a crepe with chocolate as a bonus. Or skip the onigiri and put in two muffins instead. Or, if I use cream cheese on the muffin/crepe, I'll put in one of those little salami sticks for the protein item. Because she likes more variety now, I also sometimes include a bit of kimuchi (don't forget the hashi), fake crab sticks, corn, baby corns, or edamame in a little plasticware (from the hundred yen shop).

Now, if your kid is in Japanese private school, you will get instructions on what is expected in the bento and also feedback if you don't follow those instructions, etc. Very rigid and very annoying from what I've heard.

P.S. At my daughter's school they have a hot bento option (delivered) once a week but even that only comes to Y500 per meal. It's outsourced to a local restaurant, and we have to pay it at the beginning of each semester.


By Yuko Kubota on Friday, February 3, 2006 - 3:15 pm:

Hi Caroline,

900 yen is double the price of the selections my son gets at his chugakko!

Unfortunately, the only early-morning delivery service I've ever heard of is milk and related dairy products. If bento delivery to your door exists, it would probably cost you more than 900.

But there is a great solution today for all of us: A wide variety of FROZEN delicacies that are already devided into tiny portions, available at your nearest supermarket!

As they say on their TV commercials, some don't even need to be microwaved, and you can simply put them in her bento box, and it would be the right temperature by noon!

You can get everything from seasoned vegetables, meatballs, fries (and you don't have to fry them with oil) all in Japanese, Chinese and Western styles and even yaki-onigiri. Just assort them nicely into the bento box. Fortunately for me, there was even a time when my son even insisted that I only use ready-made frozen food since he thought my cooking was aweful!

Otherwise, a lot of busy Japanese moms either run to the convenience store in the morning, let the kid run to the store on his/her way to school, or in my case, just cut bits and pieces of food when fixing supper, put them in the fridge, then throw them all in the frying pan in the morning.

Another key is to buy a good bento box. Nowadays they have ones that are compact, stylish and somehow easy to have your food displayed. Go to your local tableware store. I bought one my son wanted because it's the same as his friend's, and it changed my life (I'm not exaggerating).

Anyway, I can't believe that all your daughter's classmates are dealing with the 900 yen bento. I'm sure other parents have their own secrets to share with you. Talk to them, and bon appetite!


By Caroline on Saturday, February 4, 2006 - 10:31 am:

Wow, thank you so much for your comments Cornelia and Yuko. I need to see if I can include bento-making in my schedule without going nuts. I guess I should forget about bento delivery and stock up on frozen goods...

Luckily, the school does not have any requirements for bento, so I can just do it my own way, according to my daughter's preferences.

Yuko, you mention a life-saving bento box. I can just imagine your relief from the positive experience... What are the features that your son was looking for in a bento box? How did the box make things better for you?

I am assuming that many parents at that school could not be bothered with lunch making and pay the fee regarldless of quality or price.

Aside from the price, there seems to be another problem with the lunches at that school. The menus seem to include a LOT of meat and vegetables, and HARDLY ANY rice at all. My daughter is very used to the Japanese bento with rice as the main staple so I am pretty sure she's not going to miss it. Plus she's not a big fan of meat of any sort, so I think she's going to go hungry with school lunch!


By Yuko Kubota on Sunday, February 5, 2006 - 2:28 am:

>What are the features that your son was looking for in a bento box?

It was very simple and something typical for a teenager. One that "looks cool" and one that's "same with the guys". If your daughter has friends who attend/will be attending the same school, you can contact the mother and see what kind of box they're going to use/get. In particular, younger children might prefer boxes with manga characters and such.

If that is not possible, you can just ask the clerk for something popular (ninki-shouhin) among 1st graders. Of course, let your daughter choose the box at the store.

>How did the box make things better for you?

Excuse me for taking a peek at your profile, but I understand that your daughter is starting grade school. That would be much easier since 1st grade girls still eat very little. Yet, I recall that the modern box I used for my son at kindergarten was handy too.

Nowadays, bento boxes can be extremely tightly sealed, so I need to worry less about putting in soup-y sauce. Also, each section of the box is designed so that food can be filled in the right amount that the user needs. There are also goodies available like tiny plastic/foil cups (or whatever you call them) that you can use to put different dishes in. These things make it easier for me to choose the amount of each dish. If it's a big 'ole tupperware, I would be lost as to what to put in where.

My son is now 14, so he eats a lot. The one we're using is a 2 layer one and the lid has a chopstick case equipped to it, so I don't have to worry about forgetting to put chopsticks or forks in. The bottom layer is just the right size for 1 - 2 bowls worth of rice. The top layer has a removable partition. You can put in the "main dish" on one half, and on the other half squeeze in whatever side dish you think is colorful such as kinpira, ohitashi (both available frozen) and mini tomato.

Modern bento boxes are slim as well. For example, our lid is about 8x19cm, and after you finish eating, the top layer can fit into the lower layer and still have the lid close tight. Also, being it slim, I've noticed when eating his leftovers, that the parts don't take too much space on the table for the quantity it holds.

Hope this helps, even though it may not apply to your young ones, or even though you may think that you don't have trouble with big 'ole tupperware :-)


By Wendy Chan on Friday, March 24, 2006 - 11:18 pm:

Hi, my daughter is going to an international school in May after we move into Tokyo. She is 4, but she is a very good eater. She eats more than I do. Since we are Asian, she likes hot meals, and prefers rice. By reading the above, seems that you are all preparing room temperature food for the kids? Is there some kind of bento box who keeps warmth better, eg. insulating layer? What brands you suggest and where to buy them? BTW, I need a large box as my girl really needs a big portion !


By Wendy Chan on Monday, March 27, 2006 - 10:35 pm:

Hi, I've read through this topic and found your ideas really interesting and inspiring. My girl who is now 4 will attend an international school in May. Since we are Asian, she likes hot meal rather than sandwiches or room temperature western food. Does any one have any idea on how to preserve a hot bento? Is there any kind of bento box which keeps warmth better, eg. insulating layer? Any brand names suggested?


By Yuko Kubota on Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - 12:43 pm:

Hi Wendy,
There used to be thermos type bento cases, and if they're still available, you should be able to find details at your local bento box retailer (such as large supermarkets). The one we had is even able to contain soup, and can hold enough lunch for a grown male.

However, thermos are of course larger and heavier and can be a burden for your 4 year old's commuting.

Another thing is to see if your school has intentions of obtaining a warming storage (on-zou-ko, which is like a refridgerator, but warms instead of cools).

Also, during winter, some schools would let students put bentos near the room heater, but this depends on the type of heater, I suppose.

Unless you have a thermo or unless you follow the procedures I mentioned in the paragraph above, it is impossible to keep the bento warm until noon. In fact, in warmer seasons such as the one coming up, a warm (and not hot) bento can get spoiled soon, causing food poisoning. I wonder what other people are doing with their children's lunch.


By Bethan Hutton on Thursday, March 30, 2006 - 9:45 pm:

You can find the insulated lunch boxes in places like Tokyu Hands and Loft, along with all the other lunch box supplies. They are usually tall and round, and look like wider versions of normal thermos flasks. They usually come with at least two different compartments for rice, side dishes etc. They might be a bit fiddly for a four year old to take apart and put back together by herself, but if you warn her teachers in advance they could probably help her.


By Letitia Verschoore on Thursday, March 30, 2006 - 10:09 pm:

Dear Wendy
I started to let my son use these insulated lunch boxes when he started the 2nd yrs at kindergarten also 4 yrs old. One of the best way to ensure your child to handle them is let him/her to practice it before the school start. That's how I did. Letitia


By Wendy Chan on Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - 11:54 pm:

Hi, my family has finally come to Tokyo. I bought the Thermos lunch box (or should we call it bottle?) for my 4 year old girl. It's a Tiger brand and had 3 compartments and one of which are designed to hold soup ! Well, as I am told, it's a bit too difficult for my girl to open the bottle and different sealed compartments but her teachers help her to do so. She finishes her rice everyday (which is more than one bowl!) and also mostly the dishes.

Just want to let you know, we bought the Tiger bottle in Akihabara, at that big electronic appliance supply shopping mall right at the exit of the station (Hibiya line). It's 60% cheaper than the same model sold in department store, such as Mitsukoshi, Tokyu, etc.

Wendy


By Edlyn on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 12:16 pm:

After struggling for a year to pack (uninspired) bentos for my daughter, I found this website on the internet: www.bentocorner.com.
The bentos are truly inspired. My goals are considerably more modest but I have gotten some ideas and if your child is suffering from bento envy (or you just wonder what the other kids are packing) this site is the answer.


By Steveb on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 12:27 pm:

Edlyn, Vegan Lunch Box at http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/
is another site that we draw inspiration from. The author is homeschooling her child now, so the daily posts are gone, but you can scroll through her past posts for a wide array of relatively easy-to-make and healthy ideas. She also provides follow-up reports on what her child gobbled up and what came back in the box. Her book is a nice collection too.


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