Young Parents Team
We love the cute bentos on your blog and Instagram feed. When did you start making these themed lunch boxes for your boys?
I started when Ivan went to primary school. He wasn’t used to the longer hours and had separation anxiety. He would cry and refuse to go to school every day. So, to cheer him up and give him something to look forward to at recess, I started packing him charabens (short for character bentos), along with lunch notes for recess.
What’s the story behind your blog’s name?
Ah, the name came from my sister’s nickname for my boys: “monsters”. They are very much typical boys – cheeky and often up to some mischief. So when I was thinking up a name for the blog, I decided to use it to refer to them.
When did you start blogging?
I started packing charabens in January 2011 and I started the blog in August that same year. Before that, I used to take photos of all the charabens I made, print them out and stick them in a notebook as a keepsake. The boys and I would flip through the notebook from time to time to see what I’d made and what I should make next.
When the photos started piling up, I thought a blog would be an easier platform to journal my creations.
What are your boys’ responses to the cute lunches you pack?
My most memorable moment would be the first time Ivan hugged and thanked me for making him a bento. But they are quite used to it now, so there is no major excitement anymore. They only get more excited when it’s a character they like.
Sometimes, they rearrange the designs and play with the characters a little as they eat. Lucas likes helping with preparation when I have to use various bread cutters.
Your boys’ lunches must steal the spotlight during recess time. How do the other kids react to the charabens?
Ivan’s in the morning session now, and it’s too tiring for me wake up at 5am to cook so, these days, they bring undecorated bentos to school and enjoy the decorated ones at home. But, in the past, Ivan ate rather quickly at recess so not many people saw his decorated bentos. So there wasn’t much of a reaction from his classmates.
He did, however, show his charabens to his friends when it had a character he liked. As for Lucas, when he was in kindergarten, his friends and teacher would always crowd around to see his lunchbox. His teachers told me he was always happy to show it to everyone.
What tips do you have for mums who worry that packing these lunches is time-consuming and expensive?
It’s easiest to start off with the food your kids like, and createcharacters out of the food youare going to pack – that’s the most time-effective way with minimal wastage. Don’t be overly ambitious. Start with simple characters; I share only simple tutorials on my blog, because I want to show that making a character is not as time consuming as one might think.
You don’t need many tools when you start; in fact, your kitchen would already have what you need. My suggestion is to start packing first, so you can see what else you really need before you begin buying supplies.
What about all the leftovers after you’ve finished making the charaters?
Nori (Japanese seaweed sheets) isn’t a problem as the boys love it and will happily snack on the scraps. Sometimes I do it, too, as I’m packing the bentos! Bread scraps are also common. I like to use them to make bread crumbs, which are easily incorporated into so many other recipes.
What’s next in your cooking and blogging journey?
I started drafting a book in June 2014 to share what I’ve learnt in my few years of making charabens. The book covers all the basics and has lots of charaben ideas, complete with step-by-step photos, as well as a recipe section. It’s available online now.