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Posted on Sep 17, 2008 in Bento, Decorative, Dumplings or Buns, Eggs, For Kids, Meat, Onigiri or Sushi, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Rice, Sandwich Case, Sandwich or Wrap | 49 comments

Bento lunches on live TV news

Bento lunches on live TV news


Biggie at TV studio of Fox40 Live in Sacramento

Last Friday I drove to Sacramento to do a TV segment about American-style bento on the local Fox40 morning news. I brought two big bags full of bento boxes, three packed bento lunches, thermal lunch jars, bags, and accessories, with an electric kettle to make molded eggs and an apple to make some quick apple rabbits on air.

I came prepared to cook and assemble an actual bento lunch live, but breaking news about Hurricane Ike shortened the time available and killed some other segments. Hey, at least I survived and got on the air! The original live spot was a little longer, but was edited down to 3.5 minutes for the website. In other news, there’s a lengthy interview with me up at the Food Interviews blog; have a look if you’re curious and check out some of the other interesting food interviews.

My three-year-old was a little puzzled as to why I was making four bentos the night before the TV shoot, and kept asking me which one was his lunch. He was just fine with his normal speed bento until he saw the super-cute Japanese food art lunch that I made to illustrate the other end of the bento spectrum, and made me promise to save that one for him to eat after preschool. I kept it on ice in an insulated lunch bag to make sure it survived the day, only taking it out briefly for the actual filming. Here it is, setting the bar too high for normal rushed parents (sorry!). I showed it live on-air, but it was edited out of the online segment.

* * * * *

Cute bento lunch for live TV shoot

Contents of preschooler bento lunch for TV: Rice balls shaped like an elephant, fish, and bird (flavored with green hana-ebi fish powder, pink sakura denbu sweet fish powder, and salmon furikake rice sprinkles, decorated with cheese and nori seaweed). Mini cocktail sausages, a hard-boiled quail egg molded to look like a bird, edamame skewers, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, edamame shumai dumpling and dipping sauce. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

Prep time: 45 minutes, WAY too long for a speed bento (contrast this with Bug’s actual lunch, below). I used frozen rice and shumai to speed up the process, but this was still too time-consuming for a regular weekday lunch. Honestly, it was a little irritating to make as I don’t usually spend this much time on a single lunch. (Read on for three more Western lunches and more about the TV shoot.)

380ml Orange flower bento box by HakoyaPacking: After microwaving the frozen rice, I split it into three bowls and mixed in the three coloring/flavoring agents. I lined the bottom tier of the 380ml Hakoya bento box from Kamei with a leaf of Bibb lettuce for visual effect, then formed the shaped rice balls directly in the box using cheap rice molds from Ichiban Kan. I made the egg shaped like a bird with a little quail’s egg mold, skewered the edamame onto thin food picks from Daiso, and filled the carrot-shaped sauce container with soy/vinegar dipping sauce (the pre-filled sauce containers I had on hand for speed weren’t this colorful).

Verdict: Super-excited thumbs up from Bug, who practically vibrated when he saw this lunch. I let him have it after his swimming lesson, and he ate one of the rice balls and most of other food before he accidentally knocked it onto the floor. :-( So he was satisfied even though I wouldn’t let him finish the dirty food.

* * * * *

This was Bug’s actual lunch for preschool on Friday, much more typical for me than the fancy lunch shown above. Because I had to leave for Sacramento at 5:30am, I wanted to make a lunch the night before that would survive overnight in the refrigerator without any morning futzing. I told my husband he’d just need to grab the bag out of the fridge and hand it to Bug, and this did the trick.

Contents of real preschooler bento lunch: Kibbeh patties (spiced lamb and bulgur wheat) with ketchup, cherry tomato, edamame skewers, steamed zucchini (courgettes) with Korean barbecue sauce, and cornbread mini muffins. Earlier in the week I made a batch of mini muffins for the TV segment and put them in a freezer container to show how to build up a freezer stash of bento staples.

Cooking: The kibbe meat was leftover from when I catered a big Middle Eastern lunch for my running club; it was originally accompanied by a lemony walnut sauce that comprised a Syrian-style deconstructed kibbeh kebab. I used the recipe for “Broiled Kibbeh Kabobs with Parsley, Lemon, and Walnut Sauce” from Paula Wolfert’s cookbook The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, which was time-consuming but delicious when squeezed onto flat metal skewers and grilled over charcoal. There was some raw meat mixture left after the event, so I made that into small patties at home and pan-fried them before wrapping individually and freezing. (See the full list of food books in my kitchen for mini cookbook reviews.)

Prep time: 13 minutes, using frozen muffins and kibbe. I microwaved the kibbe, edamame and zucchini slices (in my microwave mini steamer) and then tossed the drained/dried zucchini with bottled sauce to add a quick hit of flavor. The most time-consuming element was threading the extra edamame from the fancy lunch onto the little Anpanman food picks.

Reusable plastic food cupsPacking: Ketchup went into a little lidded sauce container (3 for US$1.50 at Daiso), and I used hard plastic food cups to contain the moist zucchini. The whole lunch is packed in a 350ml divided Lock & Lock container from a bento set, about the right size for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Bug ate everything at preschool, no leftovers. Hooray!

* * * * *

This was more of a typical speed bento. I wanted to pack foods that would be fast and familiar to local audiences, nothing too Japanese or strange. On air, I just described the kibbeh lamb patties as “little hamburgers.”

Contents of adult bento lunch for TV: Mini quiche Lorraine, cheese cubes, kibbeh patties and ketchup, cherry tomatoes, and steamed broccoli flavored with vinaigrette.

Prep time: 15 minutes, mostly inactive prep waiting for the frozen mini quiches to bake and then cool. In the morning I cooked the quiches in the convection toaster oven, and microwaved the meat patties and broccoli.

Condiment cups for bento lunchesPacking: The ketchup went into a lidded sauce container (US$1-1.50 for 3 from Ichiban Kan or Daiso), and I removed one of the bento box’s subcontainers to accommodate the larger meat patties. Cheese cubes and cherry tomatoes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch for transport, preventing a “foodslide” when the lid was opened. The lunch was packed in a 490ml Asvel-brand bento box with removable sub-containers and a steam vent in the lid.

490ml Asvel bento box with steam ventVerdict: ??? The camera crew descended on the bentos after filming ended, and I offered them all of the food except the cute bento that I was saving for Bug. They were hesitant about the kibbeh, but wound up eating everything except the vegetables. The molded hard-boiled eggs that I showed on air were the biggest hit.

* * * * *

The third bento I showed on TV was a typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a collapsible sandwich case, which was fun to break down on camera.

Contents of adult bento lunch for TV: Peanut butter and Marionberry jam sandwich on whole grain bread, a whole apricot, apple bunnies (see the step-by-step apple rabbit tutorial), Concord grapes, zucchini with Korean barbecue sauce, and red/yellow cherry tomatoes on the bottom of the box to prop up the apple and apricot for the cameras. Hey, it was a deep box!

How to make apple rabbits

Prep time: 10 minutes. I slapped together a quick sandwich and microwaved some zucchini slices in my microwave mini steamer while the apple rabbits soaked in acidulated ice water to curl the ears and prevent the fruit from browning. I didn’t use quite enough lemon juice in the soaking water, though, so on the set I replaced the slightly brown apple bunny with a new one for the cameras.

Packing: I packed the moist zucchini in a disposable lidded condiment cups that I also use for homemade jello jigglers, and used clean kitchen scissors to snip off a single bunch of Concord grapes (keeps them together nicely). If you don’t feel like buying a whole sleeve of disposable condiment cups, you can often scrounge them from pizza delivery, hand-wash and reuse them indefinitely. The entire lunch is packed in a Shinkansen-themed collapsible sandwich case with movable divider.

Verdict: ??? The TV crew ate about half of this after shooting, leaving the zucchini, grapes and tomatoes. Am I sensing a theme here? Maybe the camera guys don’t like veggies? ;-) I ate the leftover veggies from all of the lunches in the car on the drive back to San Francisco as a late breakfast. That and coffee got me through a total of about four hours of driving that morning, round-trip…

* * * * *

Here’s a side view of Fox40′s new kitchen set, complete with non-functioning sink (the secret’s out!). I had about 15 minutes to set up after the previous segment concluded.

And here’s Karen, the wonderful segment producer and mother of three who first contacted me when I was in Alaska, then skillfully guided me through the ins and outs of live TV. Thanks Karen, you were amazing and it was a great first experience being on TV!


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  1. Not only does it sound like a fun time, it sounds like YOU were really super prepared and impressive! Congratulations - I’m off to check out the video!

  2. VEry cool!!!

    Sounds like Bug wants a piece of the action on more picturesque bento. You should have kept him away ;). But you do put emphasis on appearance to so.

  3. Congrats Biggie. That’s wonderful and just amazing. I’m totally impressed as usual!

  4. Okay, back to ask…is the video gone? I couldn’t find it listed. Boo.

  5. @5 from Jenn: Nope, the video’s there, it’s just strangely sandwiched in between the 9/16 and 9/17 videos. If I can get a direct link to the vid I’ll replace it, but this is all I’ve got right now.

  6. @3 from Jessika: Yeah, I need to be careful about those pretty bentos — I don’t want Bug getting all demanding on me. ;-)

  7. Rachael Ray got her start doing news segments-considering the fact that you’ve actually got talent, useful information, and healthy foods that aren’t saturated in oil, no telling how far you’ll go!

    (Seriously, RR annoys the living daylights out of me!)

  8. Did you onl y start with this blog in early 2007?!? Feels much much longer. Such a blast that it allows you to stay home now.

  9. @ Biggie, I can see Bug getting around himself, I want kakubens NOW! To get child, yourself, bento lunch and school bag out the door in a proper time diminishes the finickities. We do extra over the top foods such as oekakubens at new years in this house. You make them pretty enough

  10. Thanks for sharing your TV segment. It was really fun to watch. :) I get a new idea every time I visit your site, next up for me, the collapsible bento. My husband is very particular about how I pack his lunch (it has to fit in his panier on his bike) and I think this may finally get me off the ziplock back treadmill. As always, thanks!

  11. That was awesome - great job, Biggie!

  12. Thanks Biggie. I found it. Such a great segment and super great to watch. :)

  13. How awesome! That is so exciting! You were so well prepared for the segment. Way to go! What a bummer that your spot got cut short, though.

    Awesome behind the scenes too! =)

  14. I love your blog and all the ideas you share. Thanks again, and super congrats on the TV segment. I think you did fantastic! Thanks to you I’ve even got the boyfriend interested in Bento lunches. :-)

  15. You rock!! Nice job with your first Bento Reality TV show! I love how much exposure Bentos are getting - you are changing the eating world one box/obsessed bentoer at a time! Thanks for the frequent updates on where the bento love is being spread - much appreciated!!

  16. Yay congrats, happy to see it’s online! I’ll have to check it out tomorrow when I’m not frantic busy at work or like, when I’m not 2 minutes from falling asleep. Yay though, I’d be shaking from nerves if I had to be on TV…

  17. Go Biggie! That is amazing! I live in Sacramento but missed your segment on TV. It’s a pity coz the resolution of the web video isn’t that great.

  18. wow, congratulations! :)

  19. @9 from Jessika: I started my little LiveJournal site in May 2006 just as a place to keep copies of my posts to the LJ Bentolunch community, but didn’t put any effort into it until February 2007 when I started trying out the speed bento techniques. I moved everything to this domain in June 2007 — and that’s all she wrote! It does feel like longer, though, doesn’t it?

  20. @11 from CarrieK: I recently found a cool double-decker container that’s a regular bento box on the bottom, collapsible sandwich case on the top. I need to take pictures of it and put them up, but it’s good in that it’s able to handle both dry sandwiches and moist side dishes. Has a built-in fork, too!

  21. @14 from Amber in Portland: I think my segment actually went over what was planned in that it went to about five minutes of interview time instead of three. I was initially supposed to cook live in the background for 20 minutes before my interview so that the camera could come see what I was doing and they could say things like, “What’s that she’s making over there? Find out later in our program…” I’m just thankful that my segment survived at all, given the breaking news!

  22. @15 from skimmer8: Um, I’m not sure that “elegant” is the best adjective for me. Cheap? Lazy? Odd? All of those I’m more comfortable with… ;-) Thank you, though!

  23. FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)

  24. I just watched the video and all I can say is, “You go girl!!”

    We need more bento converts so more stores in America will carry bento supplies.

  25. congrats!!! Very cool!

  26. AWESOME segment, Biggie! :D Lazy mom indeed. LOL

    I always love how IMPRESSED people are at “how much you can fit in such a small space” and “how much effort it looks like you put into it”. I get those comments nearly every day! I keep telling them, “It only took me 10 minutes, REALLY!” and “I packed it while making dinner!”

    Spreadin teh bento love!!!! \:D/

  27. Biggie!

    Super job! I started life in TV before moving to public relations—you did a great job.

    I must have been channeling you when I sent DD off yesterday with a PBJ sandwich bento.

    Have to try making the apple rabbits. DD is 8 but I think she would get a kick out of them.

  28. Hi, Biggie !
    I watched the video and you were really impressive !!
    Omedetou (^_^)

  29. First of all, your segment was great. Secondly, you look great with new haircut! Thirdly, thanks for introducing me to the art of the bento box. I have a LLP and started cooking again for it in April. A little tricky when I’m out of town, but it works. Thanks again.

  30. Hi Biggie,

    Congrats on your tv debut! I have always had a question about the colapsible sandwich boxes. I noticed that they all have sort of “mesh” sides to them. Doesn’t the sandwich dry out that way? What have you found as the benefits or drawbacks of this style of box? Thanks!

  31. Congrats for being on TV! We live near Sacramento although I don’t watch the news much. I enjoyed clicking on your link to check out your TV segment though. I bought laptop lunches for both my 3 and 5 year old girls and am absolutely in love with them. Not only does it make packing lunch easier but it also makes me choose four healthy choices. While I am a very frugal person and normally would not spend so much money on a lunch box, I am SO glad I did! The girls love them too! I look forward to reading more ideas from you.

  32. Congratulations on the live TV spot! How fun that must have been, looked like the others were having fun too! :oD You are so full of great ideas and helpful information! You should stay in touch with them (TV station) perhaps they will invite you back to do another segment.

  33. @18 from Yvo: I wasn’t sure how I’d do either — ya never know what nerves will do. Thankfully it went fine. :-)

  34. @19 from Jaguarrior (Anastey): The kibbeh would probably taste fine with a meatloaf-like combination of ground meats like beef, pork, etc.

  35. @31 from lawremc: How funny, I used to be in PR myself! Gaijin flack in Tokyo for a Japanese electronics company.

  36. @33 from Liz: Thanks for the kind comments, Liz! The haircut was a bit traumatic — my regular stylist went on maternity leave so I tried out her replacement. There was a language issue, and she wound up doing exactly what I told her NOT to do (I cried in the chair when I saw). In Alaska I finally went to a salon and had them try to fix the butchery so that I wouldn’t look all scary on TV. So I’m glad you like it!

  37. @36 from Fallstar: Funny, they already asked me back right after my segment ended. It is 94 miles away, though, so quite a drive. But fine every now and then!

  38. I made my daughter apple rabbits for the first time a few days ago.I think she squealed when I first showed them to her. For the first time, she ate all her fruit at lunch! Though she did say she shared an apple rabbit with a friend because he wanted one.

  39. Absolutely fabulous Biggie! Congratulations! And thanks for sharing your video with us. I think I could watch you daily for tips on packing healthy lunches and I know other moms would also appreicate it too.

    Maybe with you getting famous, local stores will stock bento items too. I live in the East Bay and find it so frustrating when I try to shop for these items here. So far, I’ve only found them in SF. Maybe you should look into developing bento products Biggie and selling them!!!

    Anyway - Congrats and keep up the good work!

  40. Biggie, you are awesome! I don’t think Bento will be an underground club anymore. Hopefully, more and more people will see that it’s the way to go for lunch! I loved the segment! :D

  41. You were able to use complete sentences during a morning segment, amazing! These segments always seem so rushed but this was a great interview. Get ready for super stardom.

  42. Yeah, wouldn’t it be great to have Biggie doing a daily or even weekly bento segment on The Food Network. Now that would be MUST SEE TV!

  43. I’m at work so can’t view the video yet. But it seems to have all gone really well, congratulations! I’m glad Bug got to eat some of the bento, heh. It made me laugh, thinking of him getting confused that you were making 4 bento. And yup the camera guys clearly don’t like their vegetables!

  44. Wow-you did a good job explaining what you do in such a short time! Excellent segment.

    I started packing bento-style lunches for myself and my husband just recently, though I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months. My husband is a picky eater and has had a nasty fast food habit, but he really warmed up to his packed lunches when he realized his lunch wasn’t going to be the same thing every day, and it looked attractive. I didn’t try lunches like this before I started reading your blog because I thought it would be difficult; thanks for showing me that it can be easy!

  45. YAY, BIGGIE!!!!!!

  46. @49 from JaneC: So glad to hear that you’re able to make bentos that appeal to your husband and help break his fast food habit! Seriously, that’s what we’re competing with — I have faith that most homemade food is going to be better than fast food; now to work on the speed and packing aspects!

  47. Hi Biggie! I’ve been making bentos for a very short time (just started about 3 days ago lol). How do you keep the food warm? Or what should I do to keep it cold?

  48. Hi! I was just wondering how you would keep the food warm if part of it should be kept could (Ex. Mini hamburger with raspberries)