Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Bento Box

This one is dedicated to my oldest friend, Erin.  Not because we are old, just because our Dads were BFFs before we were born!  She is wonderful.

Honestly, I cannot remember how I come to learn about the wonderful Bento, probably by 'Googling' something because that's how I find out about of lot of stuff.  It's really a perfect serving for kids and perfect portion control for adults.  The Bento is traditionally a Japanese boxed meal, containing rice, a protein, vegetables and sometimes fruit for dessert.  I fell in love with the concept!

I found this lunchbox on Amazon for around $22.00.  It's plastic, easy to use, and dishwasher safe.  The lid seals tight and I haven't experienced any leaks.  I will however, use plastic wrap to cover any section containing wet foods to keep the others from getting soggy and to make sure small foods stay put.  I've read a few reviews stating the lid has cracked for some owners of this particular product.  I choose to hand wash mine each night because of my anal retentiveness about what gets tossed into the dishwasher.  This Bento has lasted me well over an entire school year and into the second.  If something were to happen to it tomorrow, I would order another in a heartbeat!

You may want to know I place the packed Bento into an insulated Transformers lunchbox (last year it was Spiderman) which then is either carried or packed again into a book bag.  These thermal lunch bags sometimes have a separate compartment to hold an ice pack to keep the 'cool' lunch cool.  So, the Bento should be small enough to fit into something a little more fun.
Depending on the child's appetite (mine seem to already be eating us out of house and home), I sometimes fit a snack size pudding or whole banana inside the thermal lunchbox, outside the Bento.  I realize, down the road, the Bento may not hold quite enough food for my hungry boys, but for now it's quite fun.
Couscous with onion, bell pepper, peas, toasted pine nuts, and raw carrot 'super-stars'!
Ants on a Log:  Celery, peanut butter, and raisins

Hello!  I'm totally aware that not many kindergartners are bringing couscous for lunch.  My Dad doesn't even know what it is.  But, right now, I have a couple of vegetarians on my hands (they miraculously turn carnivorous in the McDonald's drive-thru and have no problem devouring their cheeseburgers.  Can I get them to eat beef, chicken, or fish at home?  Not so much).  Last night we had a delicious baked, white, flaky fish served over a bed of couscous.  My son pushes fish aside, gobbles up couscous.  I might have guessed it was simply the lesser of two evils on his plate but he surprisingly asked for more.  I don't want to guess what he'll like for lunch.  I save the taste-testing games for dinner!  Once we find a winner, packing a lunch of leftovers just saved me a ton of time and energy.  I only have to 'switch it up' a bit--hence the crazy star carrots.

So for me, it's a challenge to make sure my kids are getting the right amount of protein and more importantly, iron in their diet.  Couscous is a carbohydrate.  It's low in fat, has a little bit of fiber, a little bit of protein and a little bit of iron.  I like to add lots of diced veggies to up that nutritional value.

Traditional couscous is served under a vegetable or meat stew (yummy).  I use it as if it were a side of pasta, mashed potatoes or rice.  It's versatile because you can add any spice, flavors, vegetables, dried fruit or nuts you like.  Either way, it's crazy-easy to make and super-fast.  Most grocery stores have it in the rice and dried beans aisle, pasta aisle or ethnic foods aisle.

The bag on the left was purchased at my favorite Lebonese bakery, the container on the right was purchased at Giant Eagle

How I prepared this couscous:

Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium sauce pan
Saute 1/4 cup onion and 1/4 cup bell pepper
Add 1 cup of chicken stock (or water) and bring to a boil
Add 1 cup of couscous, cover, remove from heat, let stand for five minutes
Once I removed the pan from the heat, I added a handful of frozen peas and a handful of toasted pine nuts
After five minutes, remove lid and fluff with a fork, salt and pepper to taste