I made bento lunches for the boys today. The world of sack lunch is a dreary and frustrating world, when everything you can think of involves two pieces of bread with some protein in between, and when you know vegetables should be part of the offerings, but carrot sticks? Again? So I’ve been researching the world of bento and am now, of course, obsessed.

For a long while, I’ve been avoiding sandwiches on a regular basis. I like them, and the kids like them, but I just don’t feel good about giving the kids meat, especially processed meat, on a daily basis. And, as luck would have it, one of them hates peanut butter, and the other has a close friend who is allergic to peanuts, so he can’t sit by his friend (or even in the same room) if I give him nuts.

I’ve made a rotating schedule that involves only one sandwich a week, usually ham and cheese, or cucumbers and cheese. On other days, I will send hot vegetable soup with buttered bread or biscuits, oat pancakes with maple yogurt, banana or pumpkin muffins with fruit. Not a lot of variation, but more than if it were just sammies.

So I was fooling around the other day (by fooling, I mean once I’d checked my email, read the reader, perused the news, and checked the email again, I twiddled around trying to think of something else to do that involved me not moving from my comfy chair), and I decided to look up furikake for fun. I’d read some other blog about onigiri (rice balls) and what to serve them with in a packed lunch, and the author referred me to a bento blog that has a whole bunch of furikake recipes. Literally, furikake means “sprinkles”, but not in the cupcake sense. It’s something to put on your rice to make it yummy, and there are many variations. Salty toasted sesame seeds, fish flakes, bacony nuggets, shaved, dried carrots with special pepper… I got a bee in my bonnet and had to try some.

I cooked up a pot of rice and tried the recipe for carrot and sesame seed furikake, along with our favorite baked tofu (there was much rejoicing). It was pretty good. Good enough to attempt a simple bento lunch for the boys.

I wasn’t thinking as creatively in the morning as I was later in the day*, but I managed to get 5 shooter-sized rice balls made for each boy, sprinkle on some furikake, slice some leftover tofu, make a partition with several thinly sliced carrot sticks (we’ve decided that carrots are much more palatable when very skinny), put in a tiny tupperware container of mandarin oranges, toss in about 20 frozen peas, and one other tiny thing that I can’t remember. It was beautiful, simple, and had lots of variety in one bowl. I showed the boys, warned them not to toss their lunch around and to keep it upright, and sent them off to school.

When my darling first grader came out of school this afternoon, his tale of woe began, “Mom, you know my pretty lunch? The basket holders weren’t careful and the rice balls got all…” whereupon I supplied, “exploded?” (All the lunch-bringers have to put their lunch into a basket, and one or two kids are in charge of getting said basket to the lunchroom. It’s just a pile of jumble.)

He ate it all, liked it, and called it pretty.

*Later, I was checking Amazon for anything bento related, and found dozens of different shapes of rice ball makers, bunnies, trucks, Hello Kitty, flowers… and as I was putting these things on my wish list, I suddenly realized I had an acceptable substitute: Ikea ice cube trays in the shape of flowers, fish, and stars. I sprayed some oil on them, put in a tiny spoonful of furikake, and smooshed a bunch of rice in. Works great, looks great, freezes great! And the kids kept eating them for their snack after school.

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