Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tips For Bento-ing on Vacation

Yes, I did just use bento as a verb.

#1: Be prepared. Make a list in advance. Plan things out. You don't have to make up specific menus planning out every single meal down to the crumb, but do have a plan in mind ahead of time. Heave a basic idea of what you'll be packing each day. It will save you time and save you space, as you won't be carrying along a whole bunch of stuff you don't wind up needing, and you won't be caught in the middle of putting together a meal and realize you've forgotten something important.

Along with having a basic idea of what foods you will need, have an idea of what supplies you will need. Gather them together and keep them in one place when they're packed. I put things into Ziplock bags to keep them clean and tucked them into a small carryon type bag to keep them all together, then tucked that into the larger suitcase full of clothing.

The supplies I took, all gathered up.

#2: Anything you can prepare in advance, do! I de-stemmed and washed grapes, balled canteloupe, cut celery and carrots, and mixed up some pasta salad, storing them all in containers or Ziplock bags. Everything fit neatly into our cooler with some ice to keep it all cold. This prevented me from needing to cut things up when it came time to put together lunches - I just had to grab-and-go.

This probably doesn't apply if you're flying, but since we were driving, it was easy to bring along an ice chest full of cold foods. If you're flying and staying in a hotel with a fridge in your room, try to visit a grocery store your first day there to buy supplies. It will most likely be a lot less costly than dining out for every meal, and healthier, too.

#3: Dry erase markers. I found this tip on Pinterest (originally from Bent On Better Lunches) and it worked very well. Because I was making lunches for 7 people each day, I wanted a way to keep track of whose was whose. I used a dry erase marker to write names on the lids of each lunch. This way, each person could just grab their lunch out of the mini fridge in our hotel room whenever they wanted it, without having to pull lids off to check contents or guess which was supposed to be theirs.

#4: Assembly line whenever possible. Our suite at the hotel had a dresser with a wide flat top, perfect for use as a table. I was able to lay out the dishes in a row (er, two rows) and set up my cutting board and supplies right there, to assemble things more rapidly. When I can lay things out and put them together assembly line style, making each component at the same time, it cuts the time by a significant degree.

Assembly lines save time and effort!

#5: Try to stick to foods that don't need much refrigeration. Ice packs are difficult to carry on vacation (though not impossible), so if you can get away with not using them by sticking to foods that are safe outside of a fridge when you know you'll be out-and-about it will save the risk of bacteria growth.

#6: Easy Lunchboxes. Okay, not so much a tip as a product endorsement, but seriously, Easy Lunchboxes are fantastic! They made it so easy to lay out in a row. And because the dishes fit together well, at the end of each lunch all I had to do was gather them up, stack them together, tuck the silicone cups and food picks into the top one and stack the lids on, placing the stack in a bag. Saved a ton of space that way. Plus, they were so easy for the kids to balance on their laps while we ate. They didn't have a bunch of fiddly packages or lids to mess around with - just one dish, one lid.

Easy Lunchboxes made our picnic under the Space Needle easy and fun!

#7: Be flexible. Not everything is going to always work out the way you want it to, so you need to be able to roll with it. No use getting too stressed out if things aren't perfect. I expected to have larger sinks in our suite. It did have two sinks, but they weren't very large. The Dude didn't want to fiddle with the sinks, so he washed the dishes in the bathtub instead, using the shower for rinsing. Not what I would have done, that's for sure, and I'm still trying to decide if I think that was gross or not, but it was effective. (He wants me to clarify for the official record that he did NOT climb into the bathtub with the dishes. Because that would have been weird and unhygenic.)

#8: Have fun! Seriously, you're on vacation! Relax, enjoy yourself. Make things as easy as possible on yourselves and just have a good time. If you can find a shortcut to save time on mundane tasks like meal prep, take it and save the extra time to enjoy your vacation.

And now... 4 days of bentos for 7 people:

Grapes, yogurt pretzels, a heart shaped sandwich, and multigrain tortilla chips.

Canteloupe balls, yogurt pretzels, homemade trail mix, and a sandwich.

Cheese crackers and yogurt pretzels with dinosaur sprinkles, grapes and canteloupe, cheese bits, and a dino sandwich.

Grapes, Doritos with a gummi butterfly, butterfly sandwich with butterfly cheese, and canteloupe.

Canteloupe, cheese crackers, gummi butterfly, grapes, butterfly sandwich with butterfly cheese (this one was for when we visited the butterfly habitat at PacSci).

Yogurt pretzels, grapes, sandwich, Doritos (lunch for when G-man and the Dude visited the Experience Music Project).

Canteloupe, grapes, cheese crackers, butterly gummis, sandwich.

Smashed pumpkin pie, apple slices, trail mix, sweet bell pepper slices, chicken wrap cut in half.

Smushed pumpkin pie, pasta salad, turkey roll, apple bits, trail mix.

Smushed pumpkin pie, cheese bits (a string cheese cut into bits), trail mix, ham pinwheels, apple slices, Doritos.

Smushed pumpkin pie, apple bits, trail mix, ham and whole wheat rolls, grape tomatoes on skewers, sweet bell pepper strips, pasta salad.

Smushed pumpkin pie, apple bits, ham and cream cheese on whole wheat tortilla (pinwheels), canteloupe, pasta salad, Doritos.

Pumpkin pie, apple slices, grapes, ham pinwheels, pretzel sticks, trail mix.

Pumpkin pie, pasta salad, sweet bell pepper bits, grapes, whole wheat turkey rolls.

Grapes, caramel apple candy corn, Goldfish, canteloupe, Nutella sandwich (the three pieces were cut from the same sandwich with careful use of different sized cookie cutters).

Goldfish, caramel apple candy corn, canteloupe and grapes, cheese crackers, deli beef sandwich.

Grapes and grape tomatoes, caramel apple candy corn, Goldfish, canteloupe, heart Nutella sandwich.

Goldfish, caramel apple candy corn, canteloupe and grapes, cheese crackers, Nutella sandwich.

Grapes, caramel apple candy corn, Goldfish, canteloupe, Nutella palm trees. 

Sandwich, canteloupe, grapes, candy corn, Goldfish.

Grapes, candy corn, Goldfish, canteloupe, Nutella sandwich.

All laid out after assembly line prep.

Pretzel sticks, ham and cheese pinwheels, grapes, cheese bits, yogurt pretzels with chocolate-candy sunflower seeds, a half dinner roll.

Cheese bits, bits of dinner roll, turkey rolls, pretzel sticks with yogurt pretzels and chocolate-candy sunflower seeds (Sunbursts), grapes.

Pretzel sticks, cheese bits, grapes, ham and cheese pinwheels, yogurt pretzels with Sunbursts, half a dinner roll.

Pretzel sticks, cheese bits, grapes, ham and cheese pinwheels, yogurt pretzels with Sunbursts, half a dinner roll.

Pretzel sticks, cheese bits, ham and cheese pinwheels, grapes, yogurt pretzels with Sunbursts, half a dinner roll.

Pretzel sticks, deli roast beef and provolone pinwheels, grapes, cheese bits, yogurt pretzels with Sunbursts, half a dinner roll.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Two Days in One!

Getting back into the swing of things! 

It always takes a few days to recover from a vacation. And it seems like the better the vacation, the longer it takes to re-adjust to normal life. This week has definitely been no exception to that rule. We've been getting back in to our normal daily schedules, slowly but surely. The first day back from vacation, the kids all got lunch at school. Yesterday and today I packed lunches for [some of] them, as usual.

Bean's lunch from yesterday got us back into the Halloween theme. Only a few more days left until the big day!

She has turkey and cream cheese rolls on whole wheat tortilla, with spider ring decorations and bone picks, a peeled clementine, WELCH'S Fruit Snacks, Mixed Fruit (Google Affiliate Ad), frozen Greek yogurt skull and bones, and Spiderman Cheez Its in a spider silicone cup, all tucked into an Easy Lunchbox.

Princess has a similar lunch of turkey and cream cheese rolls with bone picks, Spiderman CheezIts, a peeled clementine, fruit snacks, frozen Greek yogurt skull and bones, and sweet bell pepper strips in a frog bento box.

I bought this frog bento box last year on clearance for $2.50 at Old Navy. Somewhere in the photo gallery is a pic from a lunch last year of the box all put together. 

I love the trick of freezing yogurt in silicone ice trays. It is so easy to pop a couple of pieces out and tuck them in a lunch. They don't stay frozen all day, but if I put them in the lunches in the morning right before the kids leave for school and put an ice pack in to the insulated lunch bags to keep everything cold, the frozen yogurt shapes are still firm enough to be an almost ice-cream-like treat at lunch time. I like using the Greek yogurt better than regular, because it has less sugar and more protein. And I think it just tastes better.

For today, all five kids requested lunches. Usually Brick and G-man prefer to get their lunch at school. Brick wanted Italian pasta salad for lunch, but specified NO veggies. Blah, how can you eat pasta salad with no veggies?! I pulled some partial packages of pasta out of the pantry and put the salad together, leaving half with no veggies and half the regular way.

Brick has his meat-and-cheese Italian pasta salad with Ritz crackers, summer sausage, cheddar cheese, and a cupcake leftover from his birthday dinner. Plastic spider rings from the Dollar Tree (and all of the orange - seriously, this a very orangey lunch!) add a little touch of Halloween.

For G-man, I packed a Biscoff spread sandwich made with Halloween cookie stamps and decorating gel. Biscoff spread is a nut-free peanut butter alternative made with cookies. It's really just smushed cookies made into a spread. I'm pretty sure it is completely devoid of any health benefits. It's more of a dessert than a protein source. But it's nut-free and safe for sending to school, and G-man ate every bite. Usually he just kind of pokes at his lunches. So, I packed in some cheddar and summer sausage slices to add a little protein, and some Ritz crackers for him to make sandwiches out of.

On top of the cupcake I used red decorating gel and "bloody bones" candy to make a bloody mess. He thought that was way cool.

The Halloween cookie stamps make drawing on the sandwich easy. I just had to follow the outline stamped in to the bread.

Bean was very impressed with the mummy lunch I made for Princess last week and requested one of her own. She has a round turkey sandwich with provolone 'bandage' strips on top, grapes, frozen Greek yogurt, and a cupcake with a sugar pumpkin.

Princess has frozen Greek yogurt skull and bones, a cupcake with a skull-and-bones sugar decoration, cheddar and summer sausage strips, sweet bell pepper stripes and a couple of grape tomatoes, and a tombstone/grave Biscoff sandwich.

The sandwich is made with Biscoff spread, bloody bones candy, wheat bread, and decorating gel. Super easy, though not exactly healthy eating!

Beaker wanted a fishy lunch today. He has a fishy shaped peanut butter sandwich with Goldfish crackers and cupcake Goldfish grahams, and cheddar and summer sausage strips. He also had a bowl of grapes on the side.

Still working on putting together a big Vacation Bento blog post. Should have that done by tomorrow! 

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