For these moms, bento-making is an expression of love
What happens when five creative moms who love DIY and kawaii get together? One of the moms, a marketing manager and blogger, introduced the art of diaper cakes to Filipinos. Three of them loved scrapbooking and baking while another was a writer working for one of the country's telcos.
Four of the moms are based in the Philippines. One lives in the United States. Their interests might have been varied at that time but they had one thing in common.
"When we realized that we all had passion for the same hobby, we decided to put up an FB group in August 2013 initially just to exchange bento tips and encouragement especially on days that creative juices seem to run dry. From just being a small forum of bento ideas for the five of us, our Facebook page has expanded to include people beyond our circle, and now offers weekly design challenges, bento resources, bento catering, bento workshops and online shopping," explains writer Monet, one of the five mothers known collectively as The Bento Mommas (@thebentomommas on Twitter and Instagram).
A bento is a home-packed meal that is common in Japan. It usually consists of rice, fish, chicken or meat and pickled, cooked or fresh vegetables in a box-shaped container. Bento-making has been perfected by many Japanese homemakers to an art. Kyaraben or character bento featuring designs based on characters, animals, cars, etc. Kyaraben was said to have been created for children who were finicky eaters. One can refuse to eat a beef patty, beans and carrots but what child can resist the same components made up to look like a face?
The Bento Mommas is a group of five moms (one of them is also a grandmother) who believes what we know as "baon" should be more than just appetizing; it has to be inspiring. The Bento Mommas is one of the leading providers of bento tools and services in the Philippines. Their services include selling of local and imported bento tools, demos, hands-on workshops and catering services, all of which aim to increase public knowledge of, and interest in, and access to bento-making. Aside from holding private and public workshops, they also hold regular bento activities and upload information, tips and photos to their social media pages.
Monet (@bentogehl on Instagram) is a banker-turned telco writer-turned "bentoholic." In 2010, her son Nino's pediatrician warned her that the six-year-old child was underweight. Her bentos not only make her son eat well, they make him smile, too. Even with her day job’s 9-to-“sawa” schedule, Monet wakes up as early as 4 a.m. to do the finishing touches to her son’s bento. Bento-making, to her, is a way of expressing her love for Nino.
April (@funckeybento on Instagram), mom to two boys (Austin, 16, and David, seven), is a scrapbooker and a full time HR/administrative manager for a Japanese IT company. She started doing bento meals for her then four-year old son to encourage him to eat more and to try other dishes. Now her son requests that she make bento snacks not only for himself but also for his friends.
Mia (@mamamiabentolunch on Instagram) is the mother of four girls (Nadine 12, Raya 10, Alyssa, six and Cerise, three) and is a part-time virtual assistant for an Australian company and a fulltime domestic engineer for her family. Mia enjoys documenting her family's life through scrapbooking ang journaling and recently got into bento making to entice her children to eat healthier and try different food choices. She eventually realized that bento-making is as much as for her as it is for her kids.
"I get up early in the morning to prepare their food anyway so I might as well make it worth my while by being creative," says Mia.
Kaye (@momma_makes_imbento on Instagram) is a mom of two children (12-year Alexa and five-year-old Riley), three felines, a Shih Tzu who thinks he's human and three turtles. She is a full-time marketing manager and blogger (The First Wives Club) who loves to draw, write and sing in the shower. Kaye enjoys cooking, but hates prepping and cleaning her own kitchen mess. She started bento-making in 2008, and has amassed all sorts of bento tools over the years, only to have them collect dust in the attic. She is back to being a Bento Momma and has actually gone past her one-month bento limit.
Olive (@obibento on Instagram) is a mother of two (Patricia, 23 and Inigo, nine) and a new grandma to Callie and Rafael.) She is a nurse by profession and chief operating officer of the #th3d1ggs household. She started bento-making to entice her son to eat and try other food varieties since he was very picky eater and had food allergies. Now, Inigo and even his classmates look forward to his baon. The best part of bento-making, for Olive, is her son’s empty lunchbox.
Design and/or aesthetics can only take you so far, says Monet. The goal of bento-making is to make sure their kids get healthier lunch boxes. The Bento Mommas usually pack bentos following the “Go, Grow and Glow” principle. This means the kids’ lunch boxes contain a combination of any of the following:
• one portion of Go food (rice, bread, pasta, corn, etc.)
• one portion of Grow food (chicken, pork, beef, fish, egg, cheese etc.)
• two portions of Glow food (fruits and vegetables)
"We also squeeze put in a bit of cereal, chips, chocolates and gummies that serve as treats as well as accents of the bento box," says Monet.
Contrary to popular belief, bento-making is not necessarily expensive. One needs the most basic tools—i.e. just one spill-proof food container, a handful of colorful food organizers, some basic cutters, and a few decorative picks.
Monet explains moms can also use whatever’s in their pantry by simply “reinventing" leftovers before using kitchen utensils to come up with a decent bento.
"The hobby tends to be expensive only when one prefers to 'graduate' to more sophisticated bentos that require intricate tools usually sourced abroad. But the most important tools come dirt cheap--free in fact. They’re called imagination, creativity, and a sense of humor," she says.
It is amazing that these moms wake up at dawn to prepare their kids' bentos. Mia, in fact, prepares bentos for her four daughters everyday!
Each bento is based on a menu they plan and shop for (in tandem with the household menu), at the beginning of the week. They also do some of the designing, cutting and carving the night before.
"While the task seems a bit overwhelming and time-consuming, to us, it is actually a great way to de-stress," says Monet.