I’ve always loved the spooky aspects of Halloween -- its spiders and skeletons -- and reveled in the creative challenge of sewing costumes and constructing decorations. But I’ve never been crazy about the forced candy overdose. When my daughter Lila was little, I tried various ideas to part her from her ton of sugar. (Did you know there’s a Candy Monster who will buy back your trick-or-treat loot if you leave it on your doorstep overnight?)
Lila has always appreciated my cute culinary creations. Now she’s away at college, but I still enjoy playing with food and I finally discovered the perfect antidote to candy mania: Halloween bento boxes -- whimsical, packed lunches with healthy, attractive food that tempts your kids to taste new things and eat their veggies.
In Japan, the tradition of charmingly aesthetic food fabrication is taken quite seriously (with more women in the work force, it will be interesting to see if this cultural trend continues). You can read more about this Japanese tradition and view slides at PBS's The Meaning of Food. A brief excerpt:
A typical mother spends almost an hour crafting every lunch into a healthful, beguiling blend of cartoon characters, flora and fauna — anything that will make the food appeal to her child. The teacher judges whether the lunch box is prepared according to obento rules (e.g., the food must be as handmade as possible, and it must be appetizing and aesthetically appealing to the child).
Bentos often highlight the season or a coming holiday. Although Halloween trick or treating is not practiced in Japan, the nation that is wild for cosplay loves to dress up and Halloween is sneaking into advertisements and decorations, thanks in part to Disneyland and Universal Studio parks in Japan.
Here's a video that tells a short history of bento boxes, a vital part of Japanese culture.
Not just for kids
The practice of bento lunchbox making has now been adopted around the world. Bentos' popularity is due, in part, to the fact that they encourage healthy, mindful eating and are environmentally friendly -- since there is no extra packaging to throw away. Adults often appreciate the portion control in pre-made lunches for weight loss. And taking the time to prepare an attractive meal definitely is a sign of love,(even for yourself).