Monday, September 29, 2014

Baby's First Bento



  At last!

   I finally got to do something that I've waited nearly three years to do!

But first let me tell you a little story. It's the story of how this blog got its start, and it's all true...

  During the summer of 2011, I had a crazy desire to learn everything I could about packing healthy meals and snacks, especially vegetables. I felt like our family loved junk food too much, and just didn't appreciate how good vegetables and other healthy foods could taste. I also wanted to lose some weight. I was intrigued by the idea of packing up my meals in the correct portions for the whole day, and then not having to worry about what I would eat - my decisions would already be made for me that way. I started to search the internet for how to pack healthy lunches. I came across this unusual word - "bento".  I found a wonderful blog where I learned all the basics of bento lunch making -Lunch In a Box, and I was hooked!

  I began to learn everything I could about packing creative, colorful, fun lunches in bento boxes. I searched all over town for any kind of bento supplies that I could find, but there was none to be found around here. From reading Lunch In a Box I learned that if I wanted to buy a bunch of bento supplies, the closest place for me to go shopping would be San Francisco. Well, my son had recently got engaged, and they would be getting married here in Utah, then having a reception in California. We decided to plan a little bonus trip to San Francisco during that time to go shopping :)

  I had SO much fun in the bento shops, and nearly everything was priced so low! I bought so many adorable things to make our food so freaking cute... but there was just one problem. Our kids were teenagers and older, and they definitely wouldn't want me to make adorable bento boxes for them. ( Oh how I wish I had known about making lunches like this when my kids were little!)

  I said to my husband, " Honey, I need some little kids to eat the cute lunches I'm going to be making".

  He said, "Just make them for me.  Nobody's going to see them, and I don't care what they look like as long as they taste good."

 And so that's what I did. I used my husband as a guinea pig to test out all the cute bento ideas I had, and it was fun.

  Then a few days later, I began to hear from friends. "How did you make that egg shaped like a heart?" they would say, or "I loved those carrot flowers you made!"

  Whaaat was going on here?

  I questioned my husband, and discovered that he had been posting pictures of every lunch I made for him on Facebook! ( this was back when I didn't look at Facebook much - oh how times have changed...) My daughter convinced me to start a blog so I could share my lunch ideas there, and that's how Beneficial Bento came to be. Now I make lunches for my husband, myself, and my 2 teenage boys who still live at home. But I have been waiting for the time when I could make reeeeally cute lunches for an actual little child.

  Well, my son and his sweet wife had an adorable baby boy last July of 2013, and he is my best little buddy! I have been looking forward to the time when he would be old enough that I could make him some fun food. I have been collecting so many little bento tools that would work especially well for the littlest bento lover in our family :)
  So far, this is how we like to use my bento tools:


  He and I play a little game we invented several months ago that involves pretending to drink out of all my little sauce containers and silicone cups - or pretending to play them like horns. 
* Pro Tip: This is how I discovered it's easy to wash a whole bunch of tiny bento lunch tools at the same time by dumping them all into a colander and soaking them in a sink of hot, soapy water. Then I rinse them with the sink sprayer and let them air dry in the colander :)

  But now he is finally old enough to enjoy regular food, and boy does he love to eat! I made him the lunch above last week. I tried to focus on food that would be easy for him to grab and eat. There are ham and cheese sandwiches, grapes ( cut in half), melon cubes, and tomatoes. I included this little Happy Fork guy so he could spear his food with it, and he really liked that:



  The Fork guy is completely flat, so it was hard for him to pick it up if it dropped on his highchair tray. We had to hand it to him every time it fell, but that was okay.

  The Happy Fork guy is the perfect size to pack with this Goodbyn Small Meal lunch box!


  Here are some of the things I used to make this lunch, and where you can buy them:

*The cloth napkin is available in my Beneficial Bento Etsy shop.




  
          The happy fork - great price here, too!
 Goodbyn Small Meal Box comes in purple, green, red, and pink
  Here's the mini sandwich cutter set that makes star sandwiches

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shel Silverstein Blog Hop!

 Do you know whose birthday it is today?

  It is Shel Silverstein's birthday!

  And do you know what that means?

 That means it's a great reason for the Bento Bloggers and Friends to have another Blog Hop!

  Before you scroll down to see my lunch, let me explain...

 Shel Silverstein has always been one of my favorite authors. There are SO many books I could have used to create a lunch! But there is one book that I've had since high school that still makes me laugh every time I get it down and read it, and that book is called Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book:



 This is not your ordinary children's book.

 It is a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek spoof of children's books, and should definitely NOT be read by children! Not that there's anything inappropriate in it, but you don't want your young kids learning from it. Here, read the introduction:


 So I bought this book back in high school when I worked in a book store, and my friends and I all laughed and laughed at it.  After I got married and had kids, this book continued to have a place on our bookshelves. Of course, by then we had lots of other amazing ( and appropriate) children's books, including a few by Shel Silverstein, which we loved to read. 

  But when my kids were very little, they would often find my ABZ Book with its colorful letters on the cover and ask me to read it to them. Well now,  I couldn't read them all that stuff in there about Stanley the kidnapper, the game of hopscotch that you play with real scotch,  or pouring sugar in the car's gas tank to feed the horses to give them "horse power" ? What kind of mother would I be?

  So I took it off the shelf, and made up the entire contents of the book to be "age-appropriate" for my kids. They never suspected a thing!

  Then when I found out we were doing this blog hop, I dusted off my copy of this book and sat down to read it. I got the giggles. All four of my kids were home at the time, which was unusual because my oldest is married, my daughter is 22, and my younger sons are 16 and 18. Everyone wanted to see what I was laughing at, so I read them some excerpts.

  They were pretty surprised to find out what was really in the book after all! I was surprised that after all these years they still assumed MY cleaned-up version was real, ha ha!

  Now, on to my lunch.

  It's based on these pages, all about the letter "E":


  


  And here's a close-up so you can read it better:



  In this lunch, there is beef stroganoff ( leftover from dinner) underneath the yellow rice. The egg is cream cheese, the letters are cheddar cheese, and the word bubble is daikon radish. The child's hands are turkey lunch meat. On the side, there are black grapes with cantaloupe, and carrots and cucumber. 

  The lucky person who gets to eat this lunch is my husband - I'm warning him not to tell anyone at work that I made it for him.  There's no way anyone will get it. Just heat and eat, honey!

 Now it's time to hop over to Eclectic Lamb to see what creative lunch she has come up with! Then you can click on the next link after that, and "hop" through until you will eventually end up back here. Just click on the picture of Ol' Uncle Shelby below to go to Eclectic Lamb:


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chef Salad Bento in a Goodbyn Hero


 Here is the lunch my husband took to work - a chef salad with some black grapes on the side. It all fit very nicely in my Goodbyn Hero lunch box.



  The salad was really quick to throw together - I actually made it and photographed it while he was in the shower . It was super easy because nearly all the ingredients were already in my Salad Bar. I just arranged them neatly in the bento box, and added some rolled-up turkey roses, and a boiled egg cut with my zig zag cutter:



  The Goodbyn Hero had plenty of room for a dip container for the ranch dressing, and there was still room on top of that to put a little Sistema To Go container full of sunflower seeds (and it even matched, ha ha) :




  The lid still closed even with the Sistema container there, but it was not completely sealed tight. On the side is one of my cute little tiny forks, which I bought locally at an Asian market. My family calls them "threeks" since they only have three tines, ha ha :) But they are great for bento lunches because they're short enough to fit in nearly all my bento boxes. This is great news for me, because any bento "accessories" that fit inside the box actually make it home to be washed and used again... and they're just plain cute.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Goodbyn Bento Box Review


  I took advantage of a great sale that was going on at Goodbyn.com, and bought two new lunch boxes. I was really impressed with their fast shipping! In fact, I had just been sitting at my computer looking up the tracking number for my order when the postman drove up and delivered my Goodbyn package right then - and I wasn't even expecting it for a few more days!

  If you shop at Target, you may have noticed that they sell a few Goodbyn products. I had heard about the Hero ( the big green lunch box above) and thought it looked like a good size for my husband and boys, so I went to Target. I think the Hero is too new for them to have reached Target stores yet, so I went online to check it out. I couldn't resist that cute little Small Meal and Dipper purple set, and the price was a lot lower than I was expecting, so I bought them both.

  The little purple set is so cute! I love the bright color, and I think it will be a really useful size. I can see myself using this for packing a "baby bento" for my 1 yr. old grandson. I can also see this being useful for when I pack a thermos full of soup or hot pasta - the Small Meal set will be great for packing a side dish to go with it. My daughter who is away at college likes to pack a small bento box to keep in her back pack for those long school days when she won't have much time to eat, and I  think this Small Meal set would be ideal for her.


   The Goodbyn Hero is the other lunch box that I bought, and I think I'm really going to love it! It is HUGE, which works great for our family. I often pack lunches for my husband and 2 sons, who are 16 and 18 now, so this extra big lunch box would be great for any of them.

  It also comes with 2 matching containers - one that's big enough to hold 3/4 cup, and a smaller one that holds... less ( it's currently filled with salad dressing in my husband's lunch, and I didn't measure it before he left for work this morning, ha ha) The small dip container in the purple set holds 1/4 cup. Here's a picture showing how the containers compare to each other in size:


 I can picture using the Hero for packing a big salad, pasta, or any kind of man-sized, meat-and-potatoes type of lunch. The main compartment would definitely be big enough to hold a pretty large sandwich. And I really love how deep each section is! This container set will be just right when I need to pack both a lunch and a snack.



  You can buy Goodbyn lunch boxes from their website , or from Target, or from amazon.com ( link below)

  By the way, Goodbyn did not compensate me in any way for this review - I bought these products myself, just because I love them! However... if you are interested in purchasing them through the Amazon link, I would get a tiny percentage of that sale, since my blog is an affiliate with amazon.com :)


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Garden Harvest Salad, and Recipe for Italian Tomato Vinaigrette


  Today's lunch was sooooo yummy, and it was really quick to throw together. Having my Salad Bar made for the week is the secret to my success!

  This lunch was made in a Sistema Klip it Salad to Go  container, which is one of my favorite containers to use when I'm packing a salad for lunch. In the bottom is a mix of lettuces and spinach tossed with purple carrot slices and radish slices. In the top tier is cold grilled chicken cubes, goat cheese, cucumbers, and some heavenly multi-colored fresh tomatoes. I bought them at Sprout's, but they taste just like I picked them out of my garden!

  But my favorite thing about this lunch is the salad dressing. I had a bunch of V-8 vegetable juice in the frige, and I got to thinking how fun it would be to use it as a base for a vinaigrette. I started playing around, and I loved the results! The combo of chicken, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers mingled with creamy goat cheese and that tangy dressing made one outstandingly delicious salad!

  I'm happy to share my recipe with you:


Italian Tomato Vinaigrette

1/2 cup V-8 vegetable juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
2 tsp. sugar ( I used natural evaporated cane sugar)
1/8 tsp. *xanthan gum

 Combine all ingredients in a container with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Store in refrigerator. Flavors improve after being stored overnight or longer.

  *note on xanthan gum - Xanthan gum is just an emulsifier, meaning that it adds a little thickness and creaminess to the salad dressing. If you are a gluten free baker, you already know about xanthan gum. If you are not, feel free to just leave it out. It's hard to find, and is very expensive! But if you have some on hand, it adds just a little extra oomph to your dressing :)

 Here are some things I used to make this lunch ( click on the pics to learn more or to buy):





Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall Flowers Bento


  This was a super simple cheese-and-crackers lunch, which I put together in about 10 minutes from start ( hmmm, what do I feel like making today...) to finish ( snapping some photos).

  I used an Easy Lunchbox , and in it there are raw veggies - cauliflower, carrots, and cucumber. I cut a section of cucumber in a checkerboard pattern, then I sliced almost all the way through each line of the grid so they are almost cut into slices ( hard to put into words - you'll just have to try to picture that!). That way they held together in a nice checkerboard design, but they were easy to pull apart to dip in ranch dressing and eat. Then I cut sections of a carrot to look like flowers when standing on end. I adore those purple carrots!

  Also in this lunch are cantaloupe pieces cut to look like fall leaves. The scraps leftover from cutting them didn't go to waste - they're underneath  :)

  Then it was just a matter of slicing some cheese, adding some crackers ( and laughing cow cheese - you can never have enough cheese!) and rolling some ham slices and securing them with some flower picks.

  Fun, simple, and healthy lunch!

Here's some of the things I used to make this lunch, and where you can buy them ( just click on the photos below)
  * also included is a cloth napkin from my Etsy shop - I couldn't resist the co-ordinating fun flowers :)


  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fancy Sandwich Friday - September 2014


  Fancy Sandwich Friday is back for the school year! Every first Friday of the month from September until May, you can come here and link up your sandwich posts if you have a blog, or just find a lot of great ideas for making sandwiches all in one place.

  Are you new to the whole Fancy Sandwich Friday thing? Since it's been a while (okay, a really long time) since I've done a Fancy Sandwich Friday link-up party... I'll tell you how it got started, what it is, and what you can do about it:

  Fancy Sandwich Friday got started a couple of years ago when my son and I were having a funny conversation about a YouTube video. The guy in it says, "Care for a sandwich? It's a very fancy sandwich". We decided to showcase as many fancy sandwiches as possible on my blog, and invite everybody to contribute. You can read all about that, and see the video here on my Fancy Sandwich Friday page. If you click on that link, you can also read a detailed description of how to join this link-up ( and again down below).

  Meanwhile, here's a little bit about my fancy sandwich:


  This lunch contains some chips, Laughing Cow cheese, and grapes with a leaf cut from a thin slice of carrot.
  Below that is my fancy little squirrel ham and cheese sandwich, which I made using a squirrel cookie cutter from this set from Ikea.


Next to the squirrel are some acorns made from two ends of a turkey hot dog attached to two mushroom caps. I secured them with toothpicks and cooked them in a pan with a little worchestershire sauce.
After they were done, I removed the toothpicks and replaced them with these cute leaf and ladybug picks, which you can find out more about by clicking the pictures of them right here:

  
   

 Psst! One more thing - in case you're interested, you can buy that cloth napkin with the leaves and acorns in my Etsy shop  :)

 Now it's your turn! Show us your fancy sandwiches!

 Here's how it works:
  If you've got a blog, I'd love it if you'd link up one (or more!) of your blog posts - present , past, or even the distant past that features a sandwich in some way. A bento with a cute sandwich, or a great recipe for a sandwich, or a great tips for packing sandwiches in lunch boxes, etc. If it's about a sandwich, it'll work!

  Just copy the URL of the blog post that you want to share, and click on the little blue button that says   " add your link"  at the end of the current Fancy Sandwich Friday post. Then follow the simple instructions.  You will have all weekend ( until Sunday night) to add any of your links before the linky party closes ( it will show how many hours are left right next to the Add Your Link button).






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