Friday, January 25, 2008

Lunch boxes

I was just finishing up English on Wednesday at the kindergarten when I noticed the children were just getting ready to eat their lunches.

"Stop! I want to take a picture of some your lunch boxes!"
so all the kids obliged as I wandered around and picked out a few lunch boxes that I wanted pictures of.

"Oh look! You've got hearts in your box!"
"Wow, yours looks delicious!"
"Oh, this is too cute to eat!"

Of course I should have kept my mouth shut because pretty soon all the kids were begging me to take lunch box pictures. I finally settled on a lunch table picture and that seemed to make everyone happy.

As you can see, Japanese mothers can go to a lot of work to make a lunch box (called obento) for their children. More and more, kindergartens are going towards a "school lunch" usually made on the premises and served warm. Parents are busy and obento making can take a big chunk out of the morning routines. The pre-school that I also teach at serves a lunch instead of asking the parents to provide the mid-day meal and this is probably the norm. Mifumi Kindergarten where I go on Wednesdays, has always requested that the mothers prepare a lunch box for their children. The kindergarten Principal's policy is that lunchtime is an important connection between the parent and child during the day and so the mothers are encouraged to take into account the child's likes and dislikes and to make lunch time as enjoyable as possible.

When my kids were in kindergarten I actually enjoyed making an obento for them everyday. There are hundreds of books and magazines that specialize just in obento making and I have purchased a few in my time. There are books for making obentos for your husband ("give him a good balanced meal"), for the high school girl ("filling but not too heavy so that she doesn't get a reputation for being a big eater"), for the high school boy ("volume, Mom, volume!") and for the kindergarten child ("as pretty and colorful as possible!"). Kindergarten obentos can be made of tidbits of leftovers and a little imagination.

Most of the obento boxes at the kindergarten on Wednesday were made of aluminum so that they can be put in an obento warmer machine (plastic melts) and then the children can have a warm lunch during the winter. Many of the kids had little separate "tupperwares" of fruit for dessert or a salad. All children bring their own silverware and chopsticks sets and since this is all wrapped up in a colorful handkerchief for carrying anyway the handkerchief serves as a place mat. I think the cups are brought from home and left at the kindergarten during the week. I see all the kids have their toothbrushes at hand.

So, what were some of the kids eating on Wednesday? I think I saw wieners, some dim sum, salmon slices and chicken nuggets. A countless array of vegetables, some simmered down in soy sauce so I don't know what they were. Lots of sweet egg omelets and a few deep fried shrimp. Black seaweed is popular for cutting out and decorating the white rice. Oh and of course rice balls. Lots of rice balls. Not too many sandwiches but a couple. You certainly won't see a peanut butter sandwich with a bag of potato chips and cookies when a Japanese child opens his lunchbox. I tried that once when Takumi was in kindergarten and he came home crying that the kids had told him that he hadn't brought a real lunch. Just snacks!

15 comments:

atet said...

Those obento are GREAT! What creative presentation for the food. And those silverware/chopstick sets and the aluminum boxes are fantastic. I wish they sold some of those in the US -- my daughter would LOVE them.

Clare said...

Heaven forbid a child takes a packed lunch to school in France. I tried it once and was sent packing. Maternelle and Primaire kids are taught to eat properly. 4, sometimes 5, courses. Anything from wild boar to foie gras. Alex was spoilt. The cooks at the 2 schools are really really good. Now she's at coll├ęge and the food is, apparently, inedible!

dee said...

bow I'm hungry....

Quilt Pixie said...

call me lazy but I can't imagine adding the "making lunch" to the morning.... I was fortunate my son walked home for lunch daily until in grade 8, at which point I figured he was old enough to be responsible for his own lunches mostly...

tami said...

I have an obento box! I had never seen them done up before. My aunt has her doctorate degree in some form of Asian history and while I was growing up she would periodically take trips to China and Japan. She is unmarried so her 4 nieces and nephew always got the fun gifts when she got back. One time my gift was an obento box. My mother made me a lunch in it once I think, but mine wasn't anywhere near as elaborate as these. I was so excited to show off something so interesting. I still have it. It is one of the things I have held onto from my childhood.

Shelina said...

What a fun way to have lunch! I like the container, and the rice looks good. Thanks for sharing more Japanese culture with us. I was one of the lazy moms, and Sushi packed her own lunch out of prepackaged stuff I bought for her.

meggie said...

I think that is wonderful. No wonder Japanese children are so smart. They are having healthy food, & learning to care for their teeth from a very early age. Just shows what peer pressure can achieve in the positive, as opposed to the negative, we see so often in our schools here.
Our granddaughter was so conscious of others, she never ate her lunches at school. It was very sad, & made for very bad eating habits.

Christine Thresh said...

I think the Principal's policy that "lunchtime is an important connection between the parent and child during the day" is very interesting. American school children rush through lunch so they can go out and play. But sitting down to a special meal prepared by a loving parent seems so much better.
I enjoy learning about different ways of thinking from your blog.

Marilyn R said...

I loved your post today! I find it so interesting as to what the children find in their obento boxes. I liked the napkin placemats and utensil boxes too. Thanks for sharing!

QuiltingFitzy said...

But LOOK at the placemat/napkin! What an stitching opportunity there!

Is the obento warmer a steamer rather than an oven?

Do you suppose the white heart on the Hello Kitty head is tofu or paper?

You know me, always FULL of questions! And now I'm off to the web looking for a bento box for ME!!!

Colleen Eskridge said...

The obento look wonderful...and make me feel even more guilty for fixing crummy lunches for my kids...before they started to buy theirs at school. Shame on me! Colleen in South AFrica

Diane said...

this is great! brings back memories. Maybe I can direct my neice to this one. she loves Japan.

The Quilter said...

I was struck by one quote from the book on preparing obentos:

for the high school girl ("filling but not too heavy so that she doesn't get a reputation for being a big eater")

This is distressing. And so much blame for eating disorders is heaped on American culture. It is worldwide, I fear.

domesticshorthair said...

Those obento look so good, even thought they are a lot of work.

chi-mi san said...

My mom gave me a good advice to make obento when I was young. She said, " Try to use five colors including green, red, yellow, brown and black. They are good for your appetite and your health."