Every story I've read about lunches for this back-to-school season mention the bento-box style of lunch preparation.
My reaction is a mix of fascination and relief.
Who could help but be intrigued by the Japanese bento, described as a compact, balanced and visually appealing meal packed in a box?
First, they always look great in a photo. The collection of colorful, little containers in all kinds of shapes are designed to tuck snugly in the bento box. Then there is the food itself, everything from apple slices deftly sliced into bunnies to cucumbers cut into links like a construction paper chain to yellow peppers snipped into stars.
Aside from being really cute, it also struck me immediately that the bento box is perfect for a gluten-free lunch.
So I wasn't really surprised when I went to the blog "lunch in a box" and read that its founder, Deborah Hamilton, had originally started making bento box lunches for her husband when he was diagnosed with celiac disease. (He later found out he was misdiagnosed, but Deborah now makes bento box lunches for their young son, who is called "Bug" on the blog.)
The bento box takes the homemade lunch and turns it into a desirable meal instead of an also-ran to pre-packaged Lunchables or cafeteria fare. The little containers are perfect for cut-up fruit and vegetables, dip, cubed meat and cheese, and a little candy treat. And they don't emphasize the sandwich the way typical American lunches do.
There are a few blogs you can go to for packing ideas and recipes, some of which are gluten-free and others which can easily be adapted. Two possibilities are lunchinabox.net and lunchnugget.blogspot.com. It's not unusual to find that the blogger has some connection to a food allergy or intolerance. Be forewarned that some bento bloggers are actually artists with a paring knife posing to be merely moms making lunch. I'm just kidding!
But that's where my relief comes in. My gluten-free daughter is now in college and there's no way I can whip up culinary artwork -- I mean make lunch -- for her everyday.