Friday, September 6, 2013

let's talk about lunch, baby. let's talk about you and me.

owl moon bento. i entered this lunch into a contest to win a new stainless steel planetbox lunch box yesterday. sadly, i didn't win, but i did have quite a few people on the 100 DAYS OF REAL FOOD blog and facebook page ask lots of questions about this lunch, so i thought i'd answer them all in one place.

1. how do you get everything to stay in place?
easy! i just fold a cloth napkin right over the top of the owl sandwich press the lid on. my daughter rides her bike to school (a little over 2 miles with her lunch bouncing around in her backpack and turned sideways) and then her lunch gets thrown in a giant bin with all her classmates. after quite a bit of jostling and shaking, she reported back to me that it looked exactly the same when she opened it up on the lunch table. good to know! another trick i sometimes pull out of my lunch-making hat is to use cream cheese or peanut butter as glue. 

2. the feathers? are those almonds? how do they stay in place? what about nut allergies!?
yes. i used sliced almonds. it took about 33 seconds to place them all on the bread. about one second per almond slice. whew! if you have a nut-free school, i think it'd be cute to use some fruit leather cut in the shape of wings. at our school, there is a table in the lunchroom designated as the nut-free zone.

3. how much time did this take?
less than 3 minutes. it took about the same amount of time it would have if i was making most of the other lunches in the contest and here's why: packing the lunches is one of the jobs i give my kids. (i have four minions to do my bidding). 

how i did it:
1. placed leftover kale salad and blueberries into the lunch boxes
2. sliced the radishes.
3. assembled the sandwich, using leftover herbed turkey from the night before and cut it with a round cookie cutter (cutting the sandwich takes less than 5 seconds and i save the bread scraps to make croutons for chef salad, which i burned tonight and then threw in the garbage).
4. MEANWHILE (and here's the secret to my success) my daughter cut the radishes into stars and used different sizes of round cookie cutters to make the moon and eyes.
5. i was going to use sliced olives for the pupils but realized we were out so i cut a sheet of nori seaweed with scissors.
6. i didn't want to do the almond feathers, but she really wanted to, so i let her lay them onto the sandwich while i filled up 4 water bottles.

honestly it took about 10 times MORE time to shoot the picture, upload it, edit it and post it to the contest than it did to make the lunch.

4. wow. you must have a lot of fancy gadgets to put this lunch together.
they are fancy! and you can be fancy too! i got the lunch box at target. it's ziploc brand, called the divided rectangle, and it's sold in pairs for about $3. the cheese was cut using a set of circle cutters i bought on amazon. and the stars were cut with a play-do cutter that came in a set i got about 9 years ago when my oldest daughter still played with play-do. 


and that wraps up our FAQ on the owl moon bento. but you know me. there's a few more things we should discuss. but i'll kindly pepper the rest of my post with pictures of past lunches, in the hopes that it will inspire you and distract you from the ranty tone of the rest of this post.

i occasionally post pictures on facebook and instagram of the lunches i make. and i haven't ever said anything, but i get REALLY BOTHERED by some of the comments.

this lunch looks great, but what does it look like by lunch time?
so glad you asked. i'll answer that by asking a question: you know i'm making these lunches to be eaten, right? ALL THE LUNCHES ARE DESTROYED BY THE TIME LUNCH IS OVER ANYWAY. regardless, i am pretty good at packing things tightly so that they are still presentable at lunch time any way.

but this brings up a second issue. i'd make lunches like these anyway even if they were destroyed by lunch time, because for me, i find joy in the process of creation. packing lunches used to be something i hated like i hate laundry and scrubbing toilets. now it's one of my favorite parts of the day. and it's even better because i get to share that time with my kids and they're part of the process as well.

which brings me to my third issue with this comment. i don't think the value of any type of art diminishes based on the permanence of the artwork. in other words, it's the process of creation that gives art value, not how long the art lasts. i have a favorite quote by picasso: "art washes from the soul the dust of every day life." for me, i find an incredible amount of joy working with my kids in the morning and making something beautiful and healthy. i'm nourishing bodies and souls.

i don't have time to do decorative/elaborate lunches like that.
oh really? last time i checked, we all lived on the same planet, which means we all have 24 hours in a day. what i hear when someone makes a comment like that is really: "you should have better/more important things to do with your time like i do." what we do with our time is a CHOICE. we're not victims, locked into a set schedule everyday. and i like to remember that saying "yes" to one thing means saying "no" to something else. maybe i get up earlier than you. maybe i watch less tv than you. maybe my house is messier than yours. maybe my clothes are more wrinkled than yours because i let them sit in the dryer for 5 days. maybe i'm smellier because i skipped showering to have time to make these lunches. i am busy all day long just like most of you. i have four busy kids. i write novels. i design. i make 3 meals a day for 6 people. i volunteer at my church. i wash about 17 loads of laundry a week. i make my own bread and yogurt. i coach my son's soccer team. i take meals to my friends when they're sick. we all have to prioritize based on what we think is most important. for me, creating is important so i prioritize it. even if i'm doing it with school lunches. and i think it's fine if that's not one of your things, too. i'm sure you're saying yes to something really valuable when you say no to spending time making a lunch like mine.

you're so lucky that your kids aren't picky
i don't think i'm lucky so much as persistent and vigilant. i'm the parent. i'm the lioness at the gate. i buy the food in the house. if the kids haven't finished something in their lunch, they eat it for a snack when they get home. hungry kids just might surprise you with what they'll eat. 

be happy. a good note to end on.


  1. Gosh, I loved this. You are so funny. Most people I know HATE making school lunches. I kid you not, I look forward to making Clara's lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY. It is so fun! Today was the first day I didn't take a picture of it because we were almost late for school. But I love it, Clara loves it and she loves helping me make it (even though usually I'm yelling at her to get ready instead). In conclusion, I'm really grateful you introduced me to the world of Bento. :)

    PS I bet my house is messier than yours.

    1. says the mother who is the primary bread winner in her household. so happy to hear you're enjoying making lunches now! it is so fun.

  2. I love looking at your lunches! They always make me hungry. Sometimes, they inspire me to want to pack my kids' lunches. Then I remember that I've already loaded money on their cards and having them buy saves me from having a daily spastic sprint to the bus. (I'm pretty sure the neighbors don't miss THAT sight!) I love, love that you took a dreaded task and made it into something beautiful and fun... if you figure out a way to do that with laundry let me know.

    1. yeah, laundry. i'm really good at washing and drying. the rest...not so much.

  3. love every word. thank you for your inspiration--in beautiful lunches and in living a beautiful life.

  4. Funny, insightful, and inspirational read. I appreciate you taking the time to write this out for those snarky commenters and answer all those questions to the woeful moms. I must confess to thinking a few of those thoughts about other mom's lunch prep skills; however, with your wit (like it) and honesty (love it), you have really challenged my thinking/attitude in which I will make my kids lunch in the future. Thank you.

    1. I love reading things that challenge the way I think! Thank you for your thoughtful and kind words.

  5. I love, love, LOVE this post! I am sick and tired of people making rude comments. You perfectly addressed the "ain't nobody got time for that" mentality. Thank you for this post. I think your lunches are awesome!

    1. Why, thanks so much, Keitha. "Ain't nobody got time for that" is a favorite phrase of my youngest...every time I remind him to do his chores. Ha.

  6. Thanks for the inspiring post!

  7. What?! You didn't win!!! Outrage! Who can I beat up? ;)

    You inspire me so much, Rachel. I loved your rant on not being the victim and making choices on what we do with our time. It's so true.

    I also love what you said about being the parent. I have a niece who complains all the time about her kids not eating their food and how they don't listen and go into the pantry and eat whatever they want. Whenever she complains, I just want to say to her that she's the parent and that she needs to follow through on consequences or stop buying things that her kids eat while she's not there. I know that kids will do what kids will do. But, most of her problems with her kids is because she doesn't follow through. It's easier for her to just let them do what they want because she doesn't have to fight and stay strong. Anyway, all I'm saying (and I'm not trying to belittle my niece) is that it comes down to choices, like you said. And, of course this all easy for me to say about being a parent since I am not one. I have a lot of respect for parents and the hard job they do.

    Thanks for your inspiring words.

    1. Yup. I think hungry kids are much more likely to eat raw veggies than a kid who just snacked on chicken nuggets, chips and fruit snacks.

  8. You are the coolest! I mean, I know you know that but you are the BOMB! And it's true! I have made my kids eat all sorts of food and ethnic foods since they were babies. I have 3 kids who will eat ANYTHING- spicey, veggie, fish, sushi, weird looking ANYTHING! They'd die over those boxes!