At our school, the children have full days until 3 pm from nursery on. You have an option of ordering a catered hot lunch or bringing your own. And since we had just moved last year, and I was not sure how Magnus would adjust to his new city, new language and new school, I opted for the home-made lunchbox – I thought that would be one consistent thing for him – his meals.
Making a wholesome lunchbox, or bento box, as we call it in Japan – which amounts to the same thing – is no easy feat. Especially when you have little time (and sanity) in the morning, getting yourself up and ready for work, getting your kids up, washed and dressed, making breakfast and making a lunch that makes sense and that will keep nicely in a plastic container. In the beginning it seemed impossible to get it all right. How do people do it, I thought, as I threw on a mismatched outfit for myself, barely brushing my own hair, boiling eggs, brewing coffee, making pasta for lunch, and making sure we are not the last ones to arrive in school.
Well, after a full school year, I think I finally got the hang of it, meaning the timing making both breakfast and lunch in the early morning hour, even though we are still often the last ones going through the school gates.
Bento is a Japanese version of a lunchbox or a single portion take away box, and its origins dates back to 12th century. Today is it common practice for people to bring a bento box to lunch, for kids to bring elaborate bento boxes to school, and for mothers to slave over the menus. There are competitions, TV programs, literature and magazines devoted to the bento culture.
I love to have several bento box containers and try to give diversity to the lunches. I rotate the pastas, rice dishes, noodles, a sandwich, as well as the fruits, vegetables and a protein.
Yesterday it was: Onigiri rice balls with seaweed nori, home made chicken nuggets, cantaloupe, raspberries and cucumber. This lunchbox stacks nicely together, and while I usually use a thermal container for the pastas and noodle dishes, this flat one is good for lining rice balls neatly next to each other.
The proof is always when we come home after I pick Magnus up from school. I check right away to see if liked his meal, eager to see if I did a good job.
And yes. He had finished everything except for one little cucumber peel.
Simple Onigiri Rice Balls
(Makes 6-8 mini rice balls)
2 cups white or brown rice
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 sheets of nori seaweed, cut into halves for 8 sheets
1. In a bowl, mix the rice with the sea salt.
2. With moist hands, take half a handful of rice and press and roll it in your palms until it becomes a tight ball.
3. Wrap the seaweed around the rice, and set unto a plate until you finish the rest of the rice balls.
4. You can serve them immediately or put them into the lunchbox. They will keep moist at room temperature for a few hours.