By the end of the summer, as the pool days are winding down and the school supplies are labeled and ready to go, I find myself browsing my favorite Bento lunch sites. I get inspiration for the year of packing lunches that lies ahead.

Of course, by June, I’m so sick of lunches that I’m throwing a Slim Jim on a hot dog roll with a squirt of ketchup and calling it a day, but for now, I’m inspired and enthusiastic about sandwiches shaped like teddy bears, organic crackers, fruit cut up into stars, and all the pretty little containers in which to to put them.

Some of my favorite Bento inspiration sites are Wendolonia, Lunch in a Box, the Landon’s Lunches Group on Facebook, and Bella’s Lunches (my first introduction to Bento porn). Search Flickr, there’s a lot on there.

Like any lifestyle site, I use these for inspiration and then set my personal expectations somewhere below that. I’m never going to make a Chewbacca lunch. My kids each have their own level of pickiness – one won’t eat fruit, one won’t eat bread, one won’t each cheese, etc. None of them would eat a ball of rice shaped into a walrus, despite how adorable it is.

The thing I take away from my Bento browsing is the idea of small amounts of food in little containers with a lot of variety.  That way, even the picky kids find something they feel like eating. And we all know that when you eat smaller portions of a lot of different things, you eat more without even noticing! (Ahem, tapas…)  Not necessarily good for me, but great for hungry kids who need more brain food.

There are lots of options for Bento containers out there. Laptop lunches. Planetbox. And check out the recommendations for waste-free school lunch containers from fellow DC Mom, Jessica Claire. I’ve already bought some of the things she mentioned. I found some great little containers at my local Asian grocery store, and I’ve also used a lot of the GladWare small snack-sized containers.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started.

Not everyone likes Bento lunches. My middle schoolers are especially wary of anything cutesy or trendy. But I enjoy spending a little extra time and energy making lunches, at least until my resolve wears down and I start reaching for the Slim Jims.

(photo from Laptop Lunches)