31 Jan Poh’s hot tips for the perfect bento box
Busy mornings. Picky eaters. Lack of inspiration. Just some of the reasons that can make preparing exciting AND nutritious kids’ lunchboxes every day a real challenge. But the daily lunch grind needn’t be a slog…
Forget unhealthy snacks, and throw your stereotypical soggy sandwiches and bruised bananas out the window. Bento boxes are the perfect way to make lunch interesting and healthy, allowing you to mix and match a variety of colourful foods – and make it a fun experience for the little ones.
We’re delighted to have been invited along to get the low down from Poh Ling Yeow how to create the ultimate bento box creations (thanks SunRice!).
Lunchtimes need never be boring again!
Balance your bento – healthy eating fuels growing brains and bodies, so a child’s lunch should have a combination of different nutrients. Typical bento boxes include a mix of nutritious and yummy foods, so be sure to include something from each of the key food groups; grains and whole grains, fruits, veggies, protein such as meat or beans, and dairy, such as cheese or natural yogurt.
Throw some shapes – pastry and cookie cutters are your new friends. Use them to cut different shapes out of wholemeal wraps, omelettes, cheese, ham, cucumber, seaweed sheets, melon, apple…the possibilities are endless!
Channel your inner rainbow – we eat with our eyes, so keep your bento creations vibrant! What’s more, colourful veggies and fruits are often the most-nutritious. Use a variety of red, yellow, orange, purple and green fresh produce to create vivid lunchtime masterpieces.
Fuel energy levels – active kids require the right sustenance to keep their energy up throughout the day. Rice is a great carbohydrate and once cooked and cooled, excellent for moulding into bento presses, or shapes. It’s naturally gluten-free too, so perfect for the whole family, or those with gluten issues.
Fulfil fussy eaters – use silicone baking cups or dividers to keep foods separate. You can also tackle even the trickiest of eaters by camouflaging valuable nutrients in your bento creations. Mix grated carrots and zucchini with rice and roll into balls or the shape of their favourite character. Whip up savoury mini egg muffin cups, loaded with greens and pepper. You can even blend fresh produce into yummy dips!
Keep it tight – pack all your goodies tightly. This prevents foods from moving around – you want your shapes to stay in place – and ensures they remain separate.
Make crunch part of lunchtime – bento is all about the textures. Use different ingredients to make your bento box as fun and visually-appealing as possible. Carrots, celery and peppers are all great crunchy items that can be chopped into bite-sized pieces and used to create limbs, shapes or patterns. Blueberries, seeds, nuts and grapes all make amazing eyes, broccoli is perfect for creating a tree, and apple is ideal for teeth.
Add egg-cellent colour – take lunch up a notch by adding colour to your boiled eggs. Simply hard-boil and then soak in water and vinegar with different natural food colours to stain them. Try beetroot (pink), turmeric (yellow) and red cabbage (blue).
To get the best sushi rice shapes be sure to prepare proper Japanese sticky rice. Koshihikari short grain rice (also called ‘Koshi rice’) is renowned for its optimum water absorption properties, allowing it to retain softness for longer to assist in perfect sushi and bento creation shaping.
Photography by Ana Kucera