You’ve likely seen them around, but you may not know if how to make them, what they really can look like, and where the whole idea really originated. See, there’s really a lot you don’t know about the famous and fabulous little curiosities. Learn all the intricate, juicy details about charaben meals in bento boxes.
What Are Charaben Meals?
Kyaraben or charaben are rice balls, that are shaped and quite intricately arranged to look like little characters, whether they be people, animals, plants, or really anything in popular media and culture. The idea is that it’s a fun and healthy way to make and share a meal with family and friends.
Beyond the rice balls, you can also see all manner of other fantastic creations, all fashioned out of the items in the meal. You might expect to see a boiled egg transformed into a creature, or little bits of meat and cheese fashioned into the background to set off the really artistic flight of the imagination. Some of these designs really are adorable.
When Did It All Begin?
The origin of the bento-box concept dates back to the 5th century. “Bento” began as simply a packed lunch that the Japanese people carried with them when they went out to work the fields, to travel, etc. Through the centuries, the concept evolved from a small bag of hoshi-ii, or “dried meal,” to more elaborate, even fancy, food selections that might be packed in a bamboo box or even lacquered box, and used for celebrations, memorial services, or other excursions.
An aluminum bento box also first appeared in the 1900s. It was a popular luxury item, reflecting the social status of the kids who carried them. The use of bento boxes really just declined, until more recently. The 1980s started to see a resurfacing of bento boxes in schools.
Why Bento Boxes?
A bento box is a single-person takeout. Yep, you’ve likely seen and purchased these meals when you were single, or you may still enjoy them. They’re just fast and easy, and really what you’ve come to expect from many restaurants who offer take-out or delivery options.
A traditional bento box features the foods you’d expect in a traditional Japanese meal: rice, fish, some kind of meat, and of course vegetables. All of that is displayed in an easy to see-and-devour layout. If you’ve experienced the take-out bento boxes, they were probably disposable, but there’s a growing trend toward reusable bento boxes for school and work.
A Great Healthful Lunch Plan
Charabin meals are a fun-and-positive way to get kids to eat and even (dare we say it) enjoy more healthy choices in their lunches. Instead of just eating BORING rice and cheese and veggies, they can experience the wonders of characters and even artistry.
While there may be some initial temptation to play with their food, it’s also fun to eat it. They don’t even realize that they’re really quickly eating those same food groups that were so often left untouched in their lunches before. So, for those parents who have struggled to help their children eat (and learn to like) healthy foods, charaben meals really are a culinary revolution, perhaps even a lunchbox salvation.
Tap into Stories
Charabin meals in bento boxes are also a great way to tap into, and reinforce, all those stories and legends that parents share with their kids. You can recreate the three little pigs, or Little Red Riding Hood, or any of the other favorite storybook characters that you’ve read about together with your kids.
Beyond it being a great way to further share and encourage a love of reading and books between parent and child, it’s also a fun way to give the kids the opportunity to tell the story to their friend. Yes, of course, there are sparse moments for eating in most schools these days, but after a few quick bites, those little piglets are still memorable to nearly every child around the lunch table. Can you imagine the storytelling on the playground.
Revisit Favorite Movies
The creations for charaben meals really can be as simple or as complex as you can possibly imagine, but they can also explore a child’s favorite movie or TV cartoon.
With a few quick scoops of rice and the flourish of some meat and veggies in the background, you can create the fantastic-and-fun figure of Olaf, from Frozen, or any of the other favorite characters. Okay, okay… yes. It’s obvious that some of these creations are so much easier to make than others, but when you see the quick edible ways these characters have been fashioned, you’ll see it’s really not as difficult as you might have imagined.
What About Halloween Edibles in Bento Boxes?
Yes, there’s also a lot of fun to have with food around Halloween, but for that, you’ve probably seen things like gummy worms climbing out of the brownie “dirt” or other elaborate treats. You probably don’t often see examples of healthy snacks that are scary and/or fun for the holidays.
With the revolution of charaben meals in bento boxes, though, you seem to be able to do anything healthy in lunches, even those scary, Halloween horror pieces. Dismembered fingers probably aren’t something you’ll want to include in your Kindergartner’s bento box, but for older kids, you’ve gotta admit that it really does stand out! It also makes you want to eat ’em, as gross as that probably sounds.
How to Make a Bento Box Meal
As the bento-box craze continues to evolve and exponentially grow, there’s an outcropping of classes that are popping up. The idea is that you’ll be able to learn how to make a bento box in a collaborative and fun environment. Some are even facilitated by trained “bento instructors.”
By offering hands-on instruction, it also really shows you that these creations aren’t as difficult as you might have initially imagined. Just think about the last time you got together with family and friends to do holiday baking. All those treats that may have seemed like tortures to make and bake suddenly were just laid out before you. Time flies when you’re having fun!
What About Creative Baking Solutions?
But, remember, too, that you’re not really constrained to any one recipe or requirement for the bento-box meals. You can really include anything, particularly if the combination will entice the eater(s) to try foods and healthful choices they may never have considered before.
Though the obvious intent is to encourage healthier eating choices, there’s a lot that can fall into that broad, and often over-reaching directive. Just look at what you can accomplish with a few corn muffins decorated into tigers on a bed of greens. And, that’s just a quick example that may have just taken five minutes to put together (baking excluded). It doesn’t always have to be super complex and awe-inspiring to be just perfect for you!
What About Picky Eaters?
Nearly every parent reports that their child is or has been a picky eater at some point in their lives. So, it’s not surprising that if you’ve ever been in that boat that you may be almost desperate to get your kid to eat something, even anything.
In fact, the number of seemingly unlimited possibilities makes it sometimes difficult to decide which direction to take next with your charaben meal. You could try out the flurry of eclectic flavors and colors, or spice it up with that favorite book or TV show. You can put it in that standard bento box or jazz it up with custom character bento boxes. It really does become overload, if you really delve into it.
Just Look: Pokemon Bento Box
Of course, one of the easiest ways to jazz up any bento box is to us one that’s red and white, shaped like a Pokemon ball. They really do exist, and that’s not all. You can find a Star Wars R2-D2 bento box, or one that’s all made of wood. You can also find Snoopy, butterflies, a fortune cat, an owl, a pig, a panda, a puppy, Hello Kitty (of course), and just about every other color, shape, size, or iteration you can imagine.
Yes, it’s just that much of a pop-culture item that you can get a bento box that really suits your personality and preference, and then you can go that next step of filling the box with all your favorite characters (or just those edibles). Part of what bento box you buy, and what you fill it with, may just depend on whether you’re doing it to make other kids, parents or co-workers take notice, or if you’re just doing it for your own enjoyment.
What About Mother’s Day?
After all, every year, there’s so much talk about what everyone is doing for their mother for that special Mother’s Day, but often what she really wants is something that’s specifically tailored to what she likes.
A bento box is a perfect opportunity to add those foods and goodies that your mom prefers and give her a nice lunch while you’re at it. You can add the character or not, depending on what she prefers. More than anything it shows that you’ve thought through what you can get her that she’d really enjoy, and you’ve gone out of your way to give it to her.
There’s Even Harry Potter!
But, Charabin meals also bring out the book geeks, movie fans and all the rest. Did you know that they’ve even re-created Harry Potter? Of course, you could well imagine. He’s still one of the most popular and trending bookish figures in all of literary history.
He’s got to have his place, with his wand, stars and other tasty edibles. Now, take just a moment to consider. Would you want to eat something like that? Would your kid want to eat it? While there may be a few dissenters, most would absolutely adore a Harry Potter lunch, without thinking twice that it was actually healthy too.
There’s Hello Kitty
Targeted initially toward teen girls, Hello Kitty is still a popular character, though it was first created in 1974 by Yuko Shimizu. Plus, one added bonus of this little kitty is that it’s super easy to create it in rice, and probably even more memorable!
Hello Kitty has regularly appeared in every known form of media available today, so you get the idea that it’s not going anywhere soon. It’s also clear, from all the hubbub and appearances of the cat both online and off that it’s a regular favorite for charaben meals. Have you tried it yet?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Some of the charaben meals really are a great way to inspire and reinforce childhood milestones. A Very Hungry Caterpillar is that famous children’s book by Eric Carle, but it’s also been re-created in such a marvelously creative way.
Of course, there are so many ways to do a bento box for that story. You can include all the foods that the caterpillar ate through during the week. Or, you can create the caterpillar in a myriad of creative fashions. The wonderful part of this one is that you’ll love it, whether you’re eating it yourself, creating it for your child, or giving it as a gift to a friend. It’s a great reminder that change is just a part of life.
Since you can find just about any other character from books and/or movies, you can be sure that Star Wars is up there too, as one of the most fabulous charaben meals around. I’m sure you’ll find Darth Vader as well, and who wouldn’t love to see Yoda in a bento box?
The prevalence of these types of recreations just goes to show what an enduring fixture these boxes have become. The artistic geekery can freely run wild. If you love science fiction even a little bit, you probably can imagine some of the many possibilities here.
What About Wish Fulfillment?
Really, just think for a minute… Who wouldn’t love a Starbucks right now? This charaben is all about that, with a few side-characters. Yes, it’s true, Starbucks really does pop up everywhere.
You could also imagine a bento box just filled with representations of everything you wish for yourself and/or your kids. It could be the next, great way to render your New Year’s resolutions that much more memorable. Or, it could just be a subtle (or not so subtle?) way to ask your family, friends, or significant other for what you want…
A Whole New World
There too, you’d have to expect that if it was really enmeshed in popular culture that it would have discovered ways to integrate the Disney Princesses, right? It’s not just Olaf, but Jasmine too. And, where she goes, it must be some sort of magic or genie, or perhaps a little of everything.
Charaben meals really appear to be fairly well balanced as far as gender representation is concerned. You can find examples of characters that appeal to the boys and men, as well as girls and women, with the added plus of the myriad of examples that are pretty neutral and all-encompassing.
In keeping with the idea that Disney is fully represented, you can see the odd, off-kilter, but marvelously popular character of the alien, Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, with what appears to be a fun duo that could be just bugs, but look to be ever-infamous Angry Birds.
The fact that you can make slight alterations to create completely unique and fascinating characters for your bento box also adds to the experience. You can create or re-create or fashion anything your imagination could possibly hope to envision, and then-some. Imagine the endless entertainment…
The Good & The Bad… & The Ugly
With every fun and endlessly popular activity, though, there will always be two sides to the same experience. On the one hand, charaben meal in bento boxes have become wonderful examples of artistic expression. They’re refashioning the way we think of lunch, and food, and what our artistic skills can create.
With the wild popularity, though, you’ll also find some obsession. Some parents take it so far that they find it impossible to let another parent create a charaben meal that is better, more creative, or cuter than the one they made. And, of course, some schools have also banned charaben meals in bento boxes, because the characters are just too distracting during the short time frame that students have to eat. Once something has become controversial or banned, though, it’s a sure sign that it’s a sure sign that it’s reached a truly epic, even historic, place in pop culture… It’s worth taking note.