BENTO for the rest of us (alternately, My Bento Philosophy)

If you google “Bento”, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by what pops up.   Seriously, I’ll wait while you peruse the Bento images.  If you do a search on YouTube, the results are even more complicated.

The things some people do with their kids’ lunches are amazing.  Mermaids with hair made of ramen and tails made of shrimp.  Perfect replicas of SpongeBob made of cheese.  Teddy bears made of rice.  It’s fascinating—so I totally get it when people say that Bento packing is overwhelming and they’ll stick with plastic bags, thank you.

I get it.  But you know what?  There are bentos for the rest of us.  Those of us who aren’t able to recreate Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night with pasta can still make visually appealing meals that nourish our kids. 

Long ago, after watching my father-in-law scarf down some treat that I’d taken my time with, I swore, NEVER AGAIN.  Never again would the “making” of one individual item take more time it takes to consume said item.  And more or less, I stick to this principle.   I am still learning to keep things simple (and surprisingly, the simple things are usually more pleasing).

Ultimately, the bento boxes that I pack are a means to an end.  Elliott has to go to school. She needs to eat.   Her school does not have school lunches, so I have to pack a lunch.  Thanks to bento boxes, rather than having to shop specifically for lunch items, I can just shop like normal and incorporate whatever’s in the fridge into a cute, portable box.  This makes Momma happy—and somehow, the process becomes enjoyable for me.

Box. Food. Transport.

See? That’s how simple it is. That’s essentially all a bento is. Guilt is optional.

No need to get swept up in thinking you have to be an artist.  No need to hate on the ones who do it well.  A lot of comments I hear about Bento is that “those people have too much time on their hands”, or “I could never do that, so why try?”  Sure, some folks are awesome bento-packers, but that doesn’t make you less awesome—and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t try the concept.  I have a few boxes and few fun accessories to keep visual appeal; ultimately the main point of lunch-packing  for every parent is nourishment for their kids.

I’m a firm believer that perfectionism impedes progress.  In fact, I hear those words cross my lips frequently.  Don’t let the Olaf-replicas formed out of rice hold you back. 

At the end of the day, you can buy a fun box and fill it with food that nourishes your familyBam. Mission accomplished.

(You've got this!)

For inspiration for fun yet SIMPLE bentos, check out some of these sites:


Aldi Food Finds.

I have a love/hate relationship with Aldi.  On one hand, I just adore their growing selection and their prices, but then again, I despise the lack of consistency of what they have in stock and the fact that I feel uneasy buying many things there (like meat, for instance).  Their produce tends to be hit-or-miss, as well--which either leaves me feeling amazing for the deals and quality I've stumbled upon, or it leaves me with another stop to make to shop for produce.  Yeah, #firstworldproblems, I know, I know.

My Aldi hangups certainly are not deal-breakers, though--I shop there at least once a month.  It's the most affordable place locally to buy eggs, kefir, and canned pantry staples.

I thought touday I'd share some of my favorite recent Aldi finds.

Happy Farms spreadable cheese wedges - yes, it's a processed cheese product (yes, real cheese is better), just like the Laughing Cow wedges.  The ingredient list is almost identical--but the price is drastically different.  While Publix charges $3.49 for Laughing Cow wedges, Aldi charges $1.29 for this seemingly identical product.  Sweeeet.  For the record, I'd never pay $3.49 for the 6 cheese wedges, but I'm happy to keep some of the knock-off version in my fridge.

Lunch Mate Uncured Black Forest Ham, 7 oz.  The comparable product in a regular grocery store would be Applegate Farms Black Forest Ham, also 7 oz.  While the Publix price on the Applegate packages of lunch meat is $4.99, Aldi charges only $3.29 for the same weight, and the quality is identical in my opinion.  I  make every effort to buy uncured meats for my family in order to avoid the sodium nitrates/nitrites.  I'm not always successful, but Aldi having a low-cost alternative to Applegate Farms lunch meat is definitely a step in the right direction.

Cocoa Almonds, 12 oz.  I love snacking on almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds and Aldi has been a great place to stock up on those items.  Their prices run consistently 30-40% less than most grocery stores.  This bag of almonds is $4.99 at Aldi, whereas comparable sized cocoa almonds run about $6.99 elsewhere.  There's a bonus here, though--the ingredient list is BETTER at Aldi.  Just almonds, cocoa powder, sugar and oil.  The major brand cocoa almonds contain sucralose (Splenda) and a longer ingredient list.  This, my friends, is a win.

So, what are your thoughts about Aldi?  Any successes for your family?

Small successes and simple lunches.


Banana-buttermilk muffin, cottage cheese, honeydew, crackers with peanut butter, carrot sticks.
Chicken salad croissant, fruit, cheese wedge and crackers.
Chicken salad croissant, fruit, cukes and hummus.
Apples, carrots and cucumber slices, crackers with P.B. and cream cheese for spreading.

I think kids in just about every part of the U.S. are back to school now since Labor Day has come and gone--so welcome back to the school routine.

I have to admit that though I love the routine of school, our mornings are often pretty stressful.  One of the things that's proven to be most difficult is breakfast.  While they claim to wake up ravenous, my kids seem to just pick at their breakfasts.  I've had a bit of success in two ways with our new school routine--first of all, breakfast is now the last thing we do before we leave the house.  I used to give the girls their breakfast immediately upon waking--but now we're getting dressed, including shoes, getting hair done, etc. and then having breakfast last.  This shift has been hugely successful.  The second thing is muffins.  I've been keeping homemade muffins around--and it makes breakfast a breeze.  A muffin is easy to pair with yogurt, fruit, or hard boiled eggs for a yummy, homemade and quick breakfast.  Those two things are worth mentioning as successful around here--what's working for you?

First grade, week two!

Elliott is taking a more active role in expressing her lunchtime desires this year--it's almost as if she just now had the realization that she could make specific requests!  She really likes the "homemade lunchables" concept, though I think she sometimes wishes I'd just buy the packaged stuff for her. Kids.

Lunches this week:
Tuna salad and crackers, rainbow fruit and veggie box.
DIY lunchable, veggies and leftover caramelized peaches and apples.
Crackers, pepperoni and cheddar chunks, veggies and lentil hummus, blueberries.
Leftover buttermilk mashed potatoes, grapes and blueberries, veggies and spinach dip.

Elliott's librarian asked me (hey Ms. Darlene!) "Does she really eat that?"  The answer is yes!  She doesn't always eat all of it, and some things are refused (this week, it was the spinach dip--little sis loves it, big sis hates it!) but more or less, this is what she eats.

So, what's in your lunchbox?

First Week of First Grade - Bento packing is baaaaack!

Unintentionally, I took the entire summer off!  I guess I don't have a whole lot to say when I'm not packing lunches.  Oh, who am I kidding, I always have too much to say.

I can't believe my Elliott is now in first grade.  She was not excited to go back to school, but she really enjoyed her first week and her outlook is now a bit more optimistic.  Yay! Ain't nothing more discouraging than a kiddo who isn't looking forward to first grade...I mean, she has A LOT of years ahead!

On to lunches.  

Mickey Mouse English muffin pizza, strawberries, grapes, veggies.
Oranges, carrots, peaches, Wheat Thins, pepperoni, ham & muenster.
PB& celery, watermelon, oranges, cream cheese and raspberry jam pinwheels.
Rainbow fruit & veg, organic white cheddar puffs, salami, Triscuits and a cheese wedge.

What are your kiddos begging for in their lunches?  Elliott was thrilled with the English muffin pizzas and the organic cheese puffs (an Aldi knock-off of Pirate's Booty).  


Bentos for the last week of school.

Just because school's out doesn't mean I'm done with bento-packing.  I'm hypothesizing that our bentos will come along on many picnics and beach days, and that I'll often pack lunches ahead at night so that there are fewer things to do during the day.  There's nothing worse to kids than swimming and having to come in, shivering in the A/C and waiting while Mom preps lunch.  Hopefully a grab-and-go lunch packed the night before means that I can be a more fun Mom this summer (you know, hypothetically).

For now, I'm sharing the lunches from the last week of school.  Elliott is beside herself enthusiastic that school is no longer in session.  Monday alone, we swam 3 different times.  Need I explain her enthusiasm?

Muenster, honeydew, crackers, ham, Biscoff cookie.
Grilled turkey and cheese, carrot sticks, carrot sticks, kiwi, cheese stick.
Salami and ham, muenster, grapes, crackers.
Cole slaw, cucumber chunk, raspberries, hot dog (mother of the year, I know, I know).

Worth noting is that I try to make sure all of our deli meats are free of sodium nitrates/nitrites.  All of the meats you see in this photo are exactly that, even the hot dog.  Yeah, I realize that it's still a hot dog, but hopefully the lack of additives makes it more of a win. ; )

Last week in Bento.

The Goodbyn small meal containers have definitely surpassed the Goodbyn Bynto as my favorite.  I like that I can pack them to the brim and they come home empty, as if it contains exactly the right amount of food for my hungry 5-year-old.

Cheese stick, ham chunks, pretzels, honeydew.
Egg salad, Triscuits, hummus-stuffed pepper, kiwi, blackberries.
Blackberries, chips, homemade Catalina dressing and taco salad leftovers.

My kiddos have been enjoying berries and nuts a lot for snack lately, and I count it a huge snacking success.  The Goodbyn snack containers (and small meal containers) are on clearance on the company website, so stock up before they're gone--I promise you won't regret it.  (And no, Goodbyn doesn't sponsor my posts, I really just love their colorful and functional containers.)

Pictured in the snack containers is:
Pepitas & blackberries.
Raspberries and sunflower seeds.

Boring Bentos.

I know that bloggers are supposed to come up with super-exciting titles for their posts, and they're also supposed to post regularly and do everything cute-to-the-max.  Well, welcome to my real world.  Things are done with love, not necessarily cuteness, and definitely not perfection.  But done is better than not done, and anything done with love is worth mentioning.  In other words, please forgive the post title.  ; )

Here are the lunch deets:

1. Homemade naan, ham, cucumbers, cheese wedge, honeydew. 
2. Carrots, peanut butter, apples, ham sandwich, green olives, boiled eggs.
3. Plain yogurt with homemade jam, grapes, cheese wedge, Triscuits, ham, green olive.
4. Grapes, carrots, hummus, chicken potstickers.


Spring Craft Organizing Made Easy

Because of Florida's climate, there just ain't no such thing as Spring.  We go from HOT to ehh, it's kind of cool, to HOT and friends let me tell you, it's already summer here.  It's a great excuse to forego Spring cleaning.  This year, however, I was asked to participate in Spring Cleaning Made Easy with QVC and I always appreciate a little kick in the rear to get myself going, so I accepted the offer. 

QVC had many offerings of spring cleaning and organization products, but the spinning cosmetic organizer intrigued me the most... only, I have like, no cosmetics.  I have two lipsticks (one of which was a gift---maybe sending a hint my way?), one mascara, and three vials of BareMinerals at any given time.  That's literally all I have in terms of cosmetics... but craft supplies?  Yep.  That's where I have a bountiful collection.  I immediately saw the potential for the spinning cosmetic organizer to be a great asset to my Project Life stash.
Project Life is a pocket-based memory keeping system and it is how I document my family's stories and memories.  Almost two years ago, my sister-in-law at age 35 was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I haven't mentioned it before here, but it was a real shock to our family, as you can imagine.  She's been through so many things--surgeries, rough treatments, and everything in between and will continue to do so.  There's nothing that puts your own mortality before you like finding out a loved one has such an illness.  It was at the point that Angie was diagnosed with brain cancer that I determined to be a memory keeper for my family. I realized that life is fragile, and I really felt the need to get my photos off the computer and into something tangible for the sake of my daughters.  A photo album seemed like not quite enough, but true scrapbooking was too daunting a task--and that's when I found Project Life.  The happiest of happy mediums.

Here are some examples of my Project Life pages--can you see how the journaling is integrated right along with the photos?   I really love it.
Regrettably, I do not have a dedicated craft space.  I know, first world problems, right?  My supplies are locked away in various closets and small spaces, so when I get in the mood to craft, gathering my supplies becomes quite the production, and don't even get me started on having to put it all away after I'm finished.  Not my favorite, for sure.  The spinning organizer houses all of my Project Life stash from my Studio Calico kits. (Studio Calico offers awesome monthly subscription packages for supplies--it has proven to be a fun way to build up my Project Life stash.)

 In order to customize my spinning organizer to accommodate my supplies, I simply added a large rubber band that runs the circumference of the lower portion--it prevents my cards and supplies from shifting and falling out.  Simple adaptation, right?  The slotted portions that are meant to hold small eye shadow compacts are great for housing stamps and washi tape.

The top tray is removable in case you want to grab just your tall items like markers, pens and brushes.  The spinning cosmetic organizer is a great fit for the typical 3x4", 4x4" and 4x6" sized cards for Project Life.

So yes, this is a cosmetic organizer and I can tell it'd be great for cosmetics if that's your thing--but for a crafter, an organizer like this is very useful and practical.  I'm smitten, honestly.  All of my supplies are within arms reach and they're all housed in one place, rather than being in separate boxes and places.  When I'm in the mood to work on my Project Life album, it's as simple as pulling out this one organizer instead of multiple boxes.

Thanks, to Jill for inviting me to get a bit of Spring organizing done--it wouldn't have happened without your prompting!  And on that note, we have company this weekend and it's about time to get off the computer and into cleaning mode.  See?  All I need is a kick in the pants and I'll eventually get things done. ; )

Jill Bauer, QVC’s Home-Savvy Hostess, hosts the network’s popular show, “You’re Home with Jill®” and provides fans with simple solutions for their busy lives through innovative products, a library of stress-free DIY projects, and crowd-pleasing recipes. Fans can connect with Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram @jillbauerqvc.

Disclaimer: I received the Spinning Cosmetic Organizer at no cost; Tristin & Company has no relationship with QVC that could materially affect the weight consumers place on my review.  And yep, there are affiliate links in this post.  

This week in Bento.

I just scored a great deal on some Goodbyn Small Meal boxes and I've really enjoyed packing these bentos this week.  The boxes look small and to compensate, I've filled these small meal boxes to the gill.  They hold quite a bit of food--definitely enough quantity and plenty of variety, too.  Overall, I'm pretty stoked about these boxes. 
For some reason, Elliott has been uncharacteristically enthusiastic about her lunches this week.  While I'd like to take credit for the success, it's probably just the new boxes that have caused the spike in enthusiasm.  But a girl can dream, right?

1. Clementine, honeydew, fried rice, hard-boiled bunny egg, muenster slices.
2. Carrots and honey-mustard, grapes, cocoa almonds, Applegate Farms ham, crackers, cheese wedge.
3. Grapes, chia pudding, ham and cream cheese pinwheels, olives, carrots.
4. Ham, crackers, apple/craisin/sunflower seed/yogurt/cinnamon salad.

What lunches are your kids loving lately?

Yep, there are affiliate links in this post.


Using Dinner Leftovers in Bentos

Nerd alert: I still love packing school lunches.  By no means are my bentos the cutest, definitely not anything too noteworthy, but I seriously love packing these lunch boxes.  

One thing I've noticed is that I don't really "shop" for school lunch items.  The food I buy is basically all for the purpose of feeding the family--none is ever specifically purchased for the sake of school lunches.  Since I never have a plan when it comes to packing Elliott's lunches, she often ends up with dinner leftovers and odds and ends in her lunch.  As far as I know, she enjoys it--you know, the box comes home mostly empty, so I'm calling it a success.  Here are a few of the lunches she's had lately that have contained leftovers.

1.  Leftover grilled teriyaki chicken and pineapple, meunster/olives/goldfish, strawberries.
3. Leftover BBQ pork, cole slaw, Triscuits and nectarines, honeydew
4. Leftover copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets and honey mustard, cole slaw, veggies and ranch, grapes

One concern is always food safety--I covered that in this post.  We're also still loving the thermos for sending leftovers in the lunch bag.  I hate food waste and utilizing leftovers in the lunch box is proving to be a time and money saver.  Yay!


The unexpected milestones.

I've been reflecting a lot on the milestones of my children that I hadn't anticipated.  In a few short months, Elliott will turn 6 and Bennett will turn 3.  I've been hit with the realization that though I still feel like such a novice, I don't even have babies anymore!  It's both exhilarating and terrifying--moving into this new territory.

Along the way, there were certain milestones I looked forward to--like weaning, the completion of  potty-training, and sleeping through the night.  Honestly, we're still working on the whole sleeping through the night thing with Bennett, a milestone I'd assumed would happen a few months into her life, but (oops!) I was wrong.  Luckily, the other milestones have come pretty easily.

But then there are the unexpected milestones--the ones I never really thought about--the ones that once they actually happen, you realize how awesome they are.  Some are significant, others are not, but they're milestones nonetheless.

Buckling their own car seat. Who knew such a small and mundane task, when completed by my child, was cause for celebration?  Since my kids are on the small (err, like seriously small for their ages) side, I know that we are going to have a longtime love affair with carseats.  Not having to buckle both of those 5 point harnesses every time we load up?  Priceless.

Sitting on a park bench.  (Me, not the kids.)  At almost three, Bennett is now venturing away from me on the playground.  My friend Tabby and I often take our gals to the park and marvel at the fact that we now occasionally get to sit back and chat, guilt-free, while the kids occupy themselves.  It's a far cry from that chaos that park trips consisted of a few years ago, right Tabby?

Skipping a nap without major repercussions. I'm not going to say that I a fan of skipping naps--they're still a high priority on my daily list.  However, there's so much freedom in knowing that if we happen to have to shift or skip naptime, it won't be World War III.

Managing sickness. Without going into details, kids are gross.  Elliott, at almost 6, can handle the majority of her bodily functions on her own, and this includes maintaining good aim when sick (which thankfully is RARE).  Not having to change clothing and sheets when a bug hits is a bonus for everyone.  I can't yet say the same for little sis, so for now, Stanley Steemer and I are pretty tight and I know easier days are in store.

No diaper bag. No diapers, no diaper bag.  Niiiiiiicee.

Drinking from a straw. I think my girls each picked up the skill of drinking through a straw around the age of one.  This was a game-changer for me because it meant that I no longer had to be in constant possession of a sippy cup.  Don't even get me started on how much I hate the phrase "sippy cup", and even worse than that was washing the things and all those teeny holes and plastic valves.  I'm grateful that we're in the regular ol' cup stage around the house, but I do remember when the babes learning to drink from a straw was a game-changer.

A few of these milestones recently joined up to equal our family's first camping trip.  Like, a for real sleeping-in-the-tent-all-night-long camping trip.  And shocker--it was SO enjoyable!

I've been told that other unanticipated milestones are coming.  A very wise and seasoned Mom recently told me a neat milestone to look forward to is when the kids can bathe themselves.  I hadn't even considered this rite of passage, and I realize I'm still years away, but man oh man, the ability to say "go take a shower" without having to be involved?  That's going to be a good day.

I'd love to know some of your favorite unexpected milestones.

Bentos and some Thermos Love

In the midst of my many long and unintended blogging breaks, a lot of life happens--and often this life is still documented with the intent of posting, but obviously you can see how far those intentions take me.  The ideas for content are endless, the inspiration is infinite, but the actual doing?  Well, you know how that goes.  

Every weekday I pack a bento.  Sometimes I even remember to take a photo.  Here's some evidence:
1. Chia Pudding, strawberries, Triscuits, Pastrami and Meunster pinwheels
2. Grapes, cottage cheese, Triscuits, apples
3. Pastrami, candied pecans, apples, Wheat Thins and cream cheese
4. Grapefruit, cottage cheese, 5-grain chips, pastrami & meunster pinwheels
5. Triscuits, apple/raisin/yogurt/honey salad, pastrami, strawberries
6. Strawberries, salted cucumber slices, leftover taco.

Throughout our short cold spells, Elliott really enjoyed taking a thermos of warm food for lunch. To prep the Thermos, I pour in boiling water and screw on the cap and leave it for 5-10 minutes, usually during that time, I heat whatever food I plan on adding to the Thermos.  Elliott has reported that her food is still warm enough to require blowing on when she eats it.  The crazy lady within me wants to take my laser thermometer to her school and check the food temperature at lunchtime--but I can assure you, I've resisted the urge.

So far.      ; )
1. Leftover lasagna (cut into bite-sized pieces), cucumbers, apple
2. Leftover pot roast over rice, grapes, strawberries
3. Leftover chili, crackers, strawberry yogurt, strawberries.
4. Fried rice, apple.

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