Childrearing

Some Preschools Ban Bento Boxes Because Moms Care More About Being Adorable Than Sanitary

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Some Japanese preschools are banning adorable little bento box characters in kids’ lunches over concerns that the time it takes to form the little characters may contribute to food contamination and poisoning. Also, they aren’t convinced the moms are prepping the lunches with gloves on. Basically, your adorable little bento-person may be a breeding ground for bacteria and competition.

The bento box lunches are called “Chara-ben.” Their contents are shaped like adorable little characters. Some of these lunches are unreal:

chara-ben-bento

(photo: blog.goo.ne.jp)

charo-bento-box

(photo: otakumode.com)

I can barely slop peanut butter on a piece of bread in time in the morning. I really need to get better at managing my time. Anyway, the preschools are worried about the large number of times the food needs to be touched to achieve the above results and also how long the food needs to be left out, potentially making it a breeding ground for bacteria. The rest of us who just throw a sandwich, a juice box and an apple into a bag and call it a day can actually applaud ourselves for the wonderful food-safety mission we’ve accomplished. Yay, us.

In addition to the concern over food safety, some schools claim the projects are becoming competitive and also sources of bullying. From Rocket 24 News:

As a mother-son project, one woman decided to try her hand at making a Winnie the Pooh rice omelet with her child. As we’ve seen before, though, chara-ben don’t always go so smoothly. When lunchtime came around and the son opened up his bento box, the child sitting next to him laughed at the misshapen Pooh Bear peeking out, causing the woman’s son to burst into tears. The school has since asked parents not to drop their kids off with chara-ben.

Competitive food? No thanks. There are plenty of other opportunities for small children to be jerks. My mom used to drop me off at school with the same sandwich every day: toasted wheat bread with butcher-cut salami and mustard. Do you know what happens to toasted bread after it sits around for a few hours? It’s rock-like. It was like two pieces of wood with giant slabs of salami in it that were almost impossible to bite through. Nobody cared. Nobody cared about what your lunch looked like back then. I guess I’m retro in that way. I will not be composing these things for my children, ever.

I’ve accidentally done something right again.

96 Comments

  1. Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

    October 22, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Welp. There’s my daily dose of feeling inadequate about throwing a sandwich, some grapes, a pack of chips and a water bottle in my kid’s lunch and calling it good.

    • Maria Guido

      October 22, 2014 at 8:11 am

      That’s my kid’s lunch! I just packed it. ha

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      October 22, 2014 at 8:55 am

      *fist bump of solidarity*

      I feel inspired to maybe use a mark to draw googly eyes on the sandwich baggie tomorrow. Maybe*.

      * Probably not

    • lemon floor wax

      October 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

      I had all these goals and ideas (Thank you Pinterest for the mom guilt) of making cute lunches and including little notes every day. After about three days, my son said, “Look, mom, I just want to eat my food.”
      They still get notes once in a blue moon. Usually if my cube of sticky notes is on the counter.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      October 23, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      I do the notes occasionally too. My mom did that for us growing up, so I wanted to continue the tradition. I feel the convenience of the sticky notes. The likelihood my kid will get a note is directly proportional to my proximity to sticky note and pen….

    • Katherine Handcock

      October 22, 2014 at 10:43 am

      There was one day last week where Ben insisted he wanted spaghetti, but no sauce. So he had a container of plain noodles, an apple, and Goldfish. I wanted to include a note that said, “I swear Mommy can make a sandwich!”

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      October 22, 2014 at 10:54 am

      I feel you on that, but with my preschooler. He may be at home, but I’m definitely afraid someone will look through the kitchen window all judgy while he is in this picky phase…. 😉

    • Katherine Handcock

      October 22, 2014 at 11:05 am

      Alicia is so picky right now too, and she’s also going through one of those “living on sunshine and good feelings” phases. Sean keeps looking at me like I have two heads when she doesn’t eat anything for dinner and I say, “Well, she had a slice of ham and a half a bagel for lunch, so she’s probably full…”

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      October 22, 2014 at 11:17 am

      His schedule is weird. He doesn’t like breakfast right away, and then it messes with his meals all day…blah. Kids, right?

    • Katherine Handcock

      October 22, 2014 at 11:22 am

      I’m pretty sure that, if aliens contacted Earth during prehistory, part of what they did was modify our genes so that kids are as perplexing and aggravating as possible.

    • Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      October 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

      A-hole aliens, man.

  2. bea

    October 22, 2014 at 8:06 am

    Ain’t nobody got time for that

    • Wells.k

      October 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

      @Wl, My last pay <-check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My neighbour's sister has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out..

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    • LeggEggTorpedoTits

      October 22, 2014 at 11:03 am

    • cabecb

      October 22, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      She done well for herself.

    • Mehra Sarethi's new acct.

      October 26, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      This lady is a treasure! I luv her for realsies.

    • Samantha Escobar

      October 22, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      This is quite possibly the most appropriate use of this meme phrase ever.

  3. LoveInfinitely

    October 22, 2014 at 8:07 am

    These parents have too much time on their hands. Food safety first, nutrition immediately after, and competitive cuteness….nope, that’s not a thing. Get off of Pinterest and spend that time WITH your kid, rather than ON him.

    • Nina_Lim

      October 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      *eyeroll* Um, did you even read the article? Japanese moms usually aren’t on pinterest. And many (most, even) Japanese mothers are housewives so this isn’t a waste of their time, this is what they consider taking care of their children. I assure you these meals probably are more nutritious then a lot of things I have put in my kid’s lunch.

    • LoveInfinitely

      October 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      *eyeroll back* Yay for Japanese moms, I guess. But obviously for a lot of people, the competitiveness is a thing, and Pinterest Mom is also a thing. I’m sure a lot of the time those two things go together. Do you honestly not know a single Mom who is overly busy proving to her social media how Mom she is? If not, lucky you.

    • Ezzy666

      October 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      My mom could have those without wasting her time and still kicked a chankla into another room to whack one of us for being bad. She would sometimes make us food like that when we were little. She preferred to waste her time knitting and making clothes. She has always been very creative and just to needs to look at something in order to be able to make it.

  4. LA Face, Oakland Booty (and

    October 22, 2014 at 8:09 am

    I would totally make these if I had the skills and time.

    • Megan

      October 22, 2014 at 8:46 am

      I would too, but not for my kids. Becuase I’d want to carry it around and shove it in the faces of random strangers on the street to be like LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!

    • noodlestein's danger tits

      October 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

      You. I like the cut of your jib.

    • Elizabeth Licata

      October 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

      haha, yeah. I would totally make those, but then I would photograph them for the Internet and not let my kid near it because she would mess it all up.

    • Valerie

      October 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Yeah, grown-ups can appreciate the effort. Little kids cannot.

    • Kelly

      October 22, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      I have one small-ish cookie cutter. ONE. Every single time I make her a sandwich, my kid “sends it back” and requests that I “make it be hearts, Mama”. I don’t know if appreciates is the right word, but she certainly notices and enjoys eating things that shaped like other things. Although, I’m not sure that she would care about getting a panda bear rice ball vs. my lazy cookie-cuttering.

    • Valerie

      October 22, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      Right, but she would probably love that just as much as a bento that took 45 minutes to build. 🙂 Hence, she would not appreciate the effort.

  5. Spongeworthy

    October 22, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Probably these kids are used to their food looking like this, but I feel like if I did this for my kid he’d want to play with it, not eat it. And then I’d have even more food and crumbs in weird places in my house.

    • Lisa Walker

      October 22, 2014 at 9:56 am

      So would mine. I have a hard enough time getting him to not pretend his PB sandwich isn’t a dinosaur/spaceship/tow truck.

  6. Rachel

    October 22, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I make bento boxes for our family just because I find it easier to ensure variety since something different goes in every compartment. The extent I go to is only shaping hard-boiled eggs into panda bears (with this handy mold from Amazon) and cutting cheese/veggies/meat into little animal shapes occasionally with tiny veggie cutters. When we lived in Japan I saw the REALLY fancy lunches some people created, but I haven’t observed that to be the norm. Most bento boxes, even with Japan’s affinity for all things adorable, are just compartments of food compiled into a handy box.

    They’re actually really great for laziness.

    • leahdawn

      October 22, 2014 at 10:36 am

      I have a Bento box for my own lunch, it’s called a Planet box. Basically it’s a tray with little compartments you fill up with different foods. It’s great for me because it forces me to pack healthier things like cut-up fruits and veggies instead of just eating a box of granola bars for lunch.
      Also, I am COMPLETELY NEUROTIC about my food touching each other (and well aware of how ridiculous that is). So it is PERFECT for me that the little food trays all have spaces between each other so I can continue to not deal with that issue. 🙂

    • noodlestein's danger tits

      October 22, 2014 at 10:38 am

      Oh, my gosh, I am SO with you on the food touching thing! In fact, for Christmas last year, my dad got me the porcelain version of those divided plates. I use them every day, and I’m so happy. Foods touching each other just squicks me out.

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      October 22, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Where did he find them?!?!? I mean, shit, I’ve thought about caving and getting the divided plates with Elmo on them just so I wouldn’t have to play food referee all the time!

    • tiomela

      October 22, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      I thought I was the only one!!! Everyone teases me for it.

    • Rachel

      October 22, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Yeah, I have a variety of different boxes, one of which is the “yumbox.” It REALLY guilts you into eating a balanced meal because all the little compartments are labeled with protein, fruit, vegetable, grain, and a tiny little compartment for sugar. IMO, there’s not really a way to NOT feel like a failure when one of the little boxes is sitting there lacking.

    • Samantha Escobar

      October 22, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      That’s actually why I don’t eat omelets (I tried one for the first time a few weeks ago, actually, and hated it) or burritos (UGHHH). Separat foods should not touch.

    • 0katykate0

      October 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      What?? You mean your kids arnt writhing with sickness from all that unsanitary food like Maria seems to think?!? (Sarcasm font) sorry this article rubbed me the wrong way.

    • Maria Guido

      October 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Maria didn’t make up the unsanitary thing. Maria just wrote about it. Signed, Maria.

    • rockmonster

      October 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      What is with these people an d thinking that you pull things and facts from thin air?

    • LA Face, Oakland Booty (and

      October 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      #mariasucks strkes again!

    • Courtney Lynn

      October 22, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      LOL…something to the affect of “don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind!

  7. Aimee

    October 22, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Will the people who have time to make these elaborate lunches please come over to my house and clean my bathrooms? thx.

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      October 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Based on these pictures, though, I’d be worried about finding happy little googly eyes on my faucets, showerhead, and toilet seat when they were done.

    • noodlestein's danger tits

      October 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

      Oh HAI! Did you need something to wipe your butt? Just pull off my eyes and go to town!

    • Maria Guido

      October 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Omg – hahaha!

    • noodlestein's danger tits

      October 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      Thank you, The Internet!

    • Katherine Handcock

      October 22, 2014 at 10:42 am

      I’ve seen that as a suggestion for an April Fool’s prank to play on kids. I may or may not be planning it for this April Fool’s…

    • PAJane

      October 22, 2014 at 11:54 am

      You know, I’d be ok with that.

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      October 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      I’d actually enjoy that. Googly eyes on ALL the things!!!

    • Ezzy666

      October 22, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      I just remembered a large box of googly eyes I ordered a few years ago. I’m going to make sure to give a sheet of them to the kids I know and add them to every gift and treat bag. The glow in the dark ones once scared my sister when I left them in random places

    • Valerie

      October 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

      For real. I was so proud this morning when I took a moment to wipe all the lumps of toothpaste off the counter that the kids put there.

    • Kelly

      October 22, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      I’ve been THINKING about doing that for like a week, but haven’t actually done it yet. So…good job, Valerie!

  8. lpag

    October 22, 2014 at 8:49 am

    I do occasionally do something cute with food (nowhere NEAR this level, I mean, like, making a smiley face on a pancake using berries) as a treat, and my kids are well aware that it is a treat and not to be expected on a regular basis. I find the kids whose parents do this for every meal wind up being picky little jerks who refuse to eat anything that actually resembles food.

    • lemon floor wax

      October 23, 2014 at 11:11 am

      I get that this is a cultural thing. Bentos are an art form. Japanese mothers do not typically work and making elaborate lunches are part of their “job”.
      Pinterest has made “American bento” a competition.
      My kids are over the moon when I throw chocolate chips in the pancakes and let them use whipped cream to top them (total times this has occurred: 3).

  9. LadyClodia the Modest Rat

    October 22, 2014 at 8:54 am

    My neighbor-friend is Japanese, and she’ll make chara-ben sometimes for her kids. They’re adorable, and I admire her skill. I have wondered, but have never asked her, how it all stays OK until lunch time. At preschool it wasn’t a problem since they had a fridge, but they don’t at the elementary school, so I wonder how her older son’s lunch fares.

  10. LaughingRat

    October 22, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Holy Totoro bento box, the thing I never knew I wanted until this moment.

  11. Ursi

    October 22, 2014 at 9:01 am

    This is a cultural thing. Bento box is a very typical lunch and most aren’t this elaborate.

    I will say that when I was in school I could come with bologna sandwiches that would sit in my locker for 3-4 hours till lunch and then I’d eat them. I’d never do that now. How did we survive?

    • Kat

      October 22, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Bologna and bread have so many preservatives and so much salt, you probably could have left that sandwich for days and still eaten it with few consequences. Dang, now I want a bologna sandwich.

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      October 22, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      I still love bologna at 32 years old, and not that all beef shit either. It has to be the kind chock full of mechanically separated assorted livestock. My fiance thinks I’m disgusting, and I give no fucks, lol.

  12. rockmonster

    October 22, 2014 at 9:02 am

    A Totoro chara-ben would be nice and all, but I’d probably have the kid who would inherent my wussiness and cry when served his/her favorite character for lunch.

    • LaughingRat

      October 22, 2014 at 9:16 am

      I would probably nosh the susuwatari right away and play with Totoro until he started to fall apart, then eat him.

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      October 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      My kid went through a weird phase where she wouldn’t eat unless I made her food “ask” to be eaten. These would probably be right up her alley, lol.

  13. Boozy Shark Lee

    October 22, 2014 at 9:36 am

    These meals seem to be composed of excessive amounts of rice.

    • Jin

      October 22, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Well yes. In Japan, rice is their staple food; you typically don’t see many sandwiches, or at least I hardly ever did.

    • Boozy Shark Lee

      October 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      I wasn’t thinking there should be a sandwich. From most of the pictures I have seen of these things it seems to be 75% rice and then 25% fruits, veggies, cheese, and meat.

  14. evilstepmom

    October 22, 2014 at 9:44 am

    My dad used to write my name on my lunch bag with multicolored sharpies in fun lettering, but the bag contained swiss cheese on white bread (all I would eat for a year) and chips/veggies/fruit. I thought it was awesome!

    • Joye77

      October 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      I thought I was pretty nice for leaving happy noted in my kids lunch. I have no patience or time to make little cute characters with food.

  15. Kat

    October 22, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Don’t they get ruined when the lunch boxes are tilted or flipped over or thrown in a locker or fridge? WHAT HAPPENED TO PANDA’S EYEBALLS?!?! <– That would have been so distressing to me as a child.

    • Katherine Handcock

      October 22, 2014 at 10:33 am

      This is exactly what I always think! I mean, I think the idea of cutting carrots into stars or flowers or whatever is kind of cute, but I’m not doing all that fiddly hard work for a lunch my son is going to chuck on the ground so he can get to the playground faster.

    • Kat

      October 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

      Or trade for a pudding cup! I would be so freaking pissed if my kid traded my hard work away.

    • Jem

      October 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      I worry about all the food waste!! What happens to the scraps that get cut out??

    • LA Face, Oakland Booty (and

      October 22, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      You put them in your facehole. omnomnom

  16. Valerie

    October 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

    I legitimately cannot think of a bigger waste of my time. I have made small efforts in the past with crackers, raisins and cheese and guess what? My kids gaveth not even the tiniest shit. They wanted a pack of fruit snacks- now THAT got their attention.

    • noodlestein's danger tits

      October 22, 2014 at 10:45 am

      Fruit snacks are the shit! Remember Gushers? Mmmmm. Must remember to pick up some fruit snacks.

    • rockmonster

      October 22, 2014 at 11:51 am

      I feel a jones for Gushers and Fruit by the Foot.

  17. Gardenwife

    October 22, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Oh, please….Improper sanitation is the fear? What do they think the kids eat at home? And a sidenote: A kid laughing at something is bullying now? I’m sorry, but that is ridiculous…And, yes, I was bullied as a kid.

  18. 0katykate0

    October 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    The preschool wasn’t worried about weather it’s sanitary, they just didn’t want to deal with kids inevitable meltdown when it gets ruined. …As obviously stated by the quote you used… Duh! This is actually an old Japanese (I don’t know what to call it… Art form?) it’s just as sanitary as anything else your kids manhandle before they eat it. It’s called washing your hands before hand. Sorry you don’t have time like most of us, but your mom envy is showing.

  19. 0katykate0

    October 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    The preschool wasn’t worried about weather it’s sanitary, they just didn’t want to deal with kids inevitable meltdown when it gets ruined. …As obviously stated by the quote you used… Duh! This is actually an old Japanese (I don’t know what to call it… Art form?) it’s just as sanitary as anything else your kids manhandle before they eat it. It’s called washing your hands before hand. Sorry you don’t have time like most of us, but your mom envy is showing.

  20. rrlo

    October 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I made a hungry little caterpillar snack plate for my son and he LOVED it. It gave him so much joy.

    I am not talented as the bento box ladies but if I was and it made my kid happy, I would make a bento box for him for every meal. Instead of banning these things, it’s more helpful to provide safety guidelines.

  21. ILoveJellybeans

    October 22, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Who has time for that? I find making three sandwiches and putting a yoghurt, cookie and a piece of fruit in each lunch box is enough. I wouldn’t want to voluntarily quadruple my work time.

    • Nina_Lim

      October 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      People who don’t work.

    • ILoveJellybeans

      October 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      SAHM here, and I still don’t have time for that. There are just so much better things I could do with that time.

    • Nina_Lim

      October 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Good for you? If it makes them happy, who cares?

  22. leahdawn

    October 22, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    As one of the country’s foremost experts on worrying about stupid shit that hasn’t even happened yet, I’m now paranoid that my hypothetical future offspring will become social pariahs if their lunches are not pretty enough.
    Thanks, internet.

  23. Nina_Lim

    October 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    When I lived in Japan, I heard stories of foreign mothers who were given an intervention from Japanese mothers on how to make bento. (Not chara ben though, most people don’t do that.) Apparently the fact that the foreign moms were throwing cold pizza in a bag was horrific enough to warrant needing divine help.

    • lemon floor wax

      October 23, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Note to self: visit, but don’t move to Japan. Cold pizza is my kids’ favorite. Second is cold fried chicken (BARF).

  24. Nina_Lim

    October 22, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Also, the problem is that this is a cultural thing. For people who are freaking out about “who has time for this”, you really need to understand Japanese culture better. Though it is changing now, most women quit their jobs when get married and become dedicated housewives/SAHM. These women get up extremely early and cook for their husbands and children. This is why they have the time to do this.

  25. Kim- One Classy Motha

    October 22, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Ha! I just wrote a solution to this whole damn ridiculous thing! It’s called the “I ain’t got time for that, here’s some lunch money” bento box.

    http://www.oneclassymotha.com/2014/10/03/exhausted-mothers-everywhere-heres-my-answer-to-the-horrible-bento-box-fad/

  26. C.J.

    October 23, 2014 at 1:44 am

    I think I would be offended if I was told not to send my kids with their homeade lunches due to food safety concerns. Really, who wears gloves to prepare food for their own kids.

  27. aunty

    October 23, 2014 at 6:25 am

    She doesn’t know about…the most of Japanese mums who has “Common sense”, they know which food is good or bad for Bento.( Especially when it’s raining season) They never wash tea towel in the washing machine with dirty underwear because we have a particular soap for tea towels.
    I don’t even wear the wedding ring when I cook.

  28. jo

    October 23, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Seriously who wears gloves while making their kid’s lunch? I make my kids eat the school lunch (which is actually pretty awesome) so I don’t have to deal with it.

  29. Rowan

    October 23, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I have a dinosaur sandwich cutter. That counts as food art, right?

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