At one point last month, Kelly made a post about bento (Japanese lunch boxes) and asked, "do you bento?" I believe that real bento making is an art form and that it takes a certain character type and appreciation for that art to really make the time and effort put into it worthwhile. I think many Japanese people find it gratifying because they find presentation to be just as important as the quality of the food.
When I commented on Kelly's post, I said that I make a boxed lunch, but not a bento. Even if I were inclined to take the time to make a real bento, it wouldn't be the sort of thing my husband would want to eat. He won't eat cold rice, potatoes, etc. and there's no microwave oven at his workplace. Also, he doesn't like his food to touch, so artfully cramming a lot of different food into the same box is simply not going to work for him. Finally, he doesn't like a lot of fruit and vegetables so there would pretty much be a limited palette to work with in regards to what was used to embellish the box.
In our case, the preparation of a lunch box is relatively utilitarian, but it's a bit beyond the standard brown bag or lunch in a pail in terms of effort. I make my husband's lunch 4 days a week both to save money and because it's better nutritionally than eating out. He eats out once a week for some variety (usually at Subway). The preparation starts with making my own high protein bread. I have to make this about twice every three weeks and keep it in supply in the freezer. The loaves are actually on the small side, so even though he is the only one who eats it (and it is only used for lunch), it doesn't last terribly long.
I also make espresso shots once or twice a week to prepare cold lattes to take in his cold thermos, and also make hot coffee for his hot thermos. If that weren't enough on the caffeine front, I also send along a Diet Coke wrapped in an ice pack and about once a week prepare two liters of Brita filtered water for him to drink at the office. His office used to have a filter on the tap, but they recently removed it so now he needs his own water (and we don't want to create waste by having him buy 2 liters every week).
The box itself looks something like this. Everything is in a separate container so that the food doesn't touch and contaminate the other food with various odors, wetness, or flavors. From the left on the top is a sliced apple (turning brown, though I know a bit of lemon would stop that, he doesn't care), fig newtons, and a rare inclusion of a white chocolate peanut butter cup on top of a container of pretzels. Usually, he takes baked tortilla chips, but this week he's having pretzels for a change of pace. On the bottom is a container of carrots wrapped in a wet paper towel to keep them from drying out and a baloney and cheese sandwich on the low carb high protein bread.
This particular box looks more put together than usual because the fruit actually fits in it. Often, he takes a banana, strawberries, grapes, or a bigger portion of apple that won't fit into the box and has to be taken separately. Often, my husband doesn't eat all of the starchy or sweet components that are packed here, but because he works 2 long days that start at 11:00 am and end at 10:00 pm (and 3 more "normal-length" days), and swims before work, he wants to have extra food on hand in case he gets hungry during the long day. Usually, I get this box back with 2-3 of the cookies still in it, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the pretzels or chips, and sometimes a portion of the sandwich as well.
He's not a big eater, and doesn't eat all of the carbs in particular. He'll almost certainly only eat half of that peanut butter cup, for instance, if he even eats it today at all. Sometimes he just takes it to work and leaves it there until he really wants it.
I've been making these sorts of lunches for him for quite some time now, and now that we're looking at leaving, I'm thinking that I probably won't be doing this sort of thing after we go back to America. It's not so much because I won't want to, but because our circumstances will certainly be different. For instance, I expect to work full-time if I can find a job, and he expects to be a student somewhere. Because of this, I'm immortalizing this process that I'll have undertaken for 6 years for my future reference.