One of the first things I learned when I moved to Japan is that parents take packing their kids' lunches seriously. Very seriously! In fact, so seriously that there are aisles and aisles of stores dedicated to tools for making exceptionally fun packed lunches for kids — here they are known as bento. Bento box lunches are sent to school with kids in Japan, but adults also pack their own lunches this way and convenience stores stock a variety of bento boxes that fly off the shelves.
Making healthy and fun packed lunches helps ensure kids anywhere are not only getting the nutrients they need, but that they will be happy to eat what you packed. If you have an international market nearby or live near an area with a Japanese population, you should be able to find some of the fun tools the Japanese use for their children. This includes little liners to fill with kid-sized portions of food, cutouts of grass and flowers to stick between the liners, punch tools to cut shapes out of nori paper and place on top of rice, and molds to use for rice balls and eggs.
Yes, I said molds. This is probably one of my favorite things I've seen in Japanese bento lunches. Molds range from hearts and stars to animal shapes — bunny, bear, etc. After the egg is boiled, while still hot, it's inserted into the mold. Once sealed the mold is placed in cold water for about 10 minutes to chill and take shape. For animal shapes, I prefer to keep the egg whole, but for stars and hearts I like to cut eggs in half so you can see both the white and the yellow.
These are super fun for kids, but can be easily enjoyed by adults, too. One other fun adult way to enjoy these is to make deviled eggs in a shape, like hearts for Valentine’s Day. The molds can be found online or in Japanese stores. Check them out for a fun new way to serve eggs to your kids and make lunch time fun.
And, as always, make sure to include whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy (unless there are allergies or other reasons to exclude it), fruits and colorful veggies.