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How To Make An Octopus

Food As Art

As writer Lia Wolgemuth sensibly warns (in the article above), it’s easy to go down a bento box rabbit hole and get too deeply involved with making funny shapes with your children’s snacks and lunchboxes.  

As you dip your toe into the waters of hot dog octopuses and apple rabbits, try to remember that bento isn’t a competitive sport — it’s supposed to be about joy and smiles,  about finding a fun way to connect with your children, and coaxing them into eating nutritious homemade food.     

With those warnings out of the way, there are thousands of social media sites with instructions on how to make bento meals that range from simple to wildly complex.

With bento, you want to get your child to try new foods but you also need that child to get enough calories from their meal. If you put too many unfamiliar flavors and smells in their lunchbox, it won’t matter if that strange food looks like a spaceship. 

In China and Japan, rice is a staple food, traditionally eaten at almost every meal — so Asian bento boxes often have rice as their base, usually seasoned with a little rice vinegar. If you’re unsure whether your child will eat vinegar rice (in the shape of  a baseball), maybe test it out at home before sending it to school.  

There are a few classic bento shapes that should appeal to most American kids. One of course is the octopus hot dog. There are a dozen ways to do this one; they all involve cutting eight legs out of a hot dog (leaving the top intact, for the head). Boil the hot dog and then make a mouth and eyes with cake gel. 

You often see bread cut into shapes (see Lia’s heart-shaped slices in the photo on the opposite page). It’s hard to get a good sharp edge on most bread; a variation that works well is to cut shapes out of small, round tortillas and then cook them with some cheese inside, to make a quesadilla. 

You can also use those small round tortillas as a canvas: After you’ve melted the cheese between the two layers, decorate the top with cake gel to make a soccer ball or a funny face.

Always popular: vegetables cut into shapes with small cookie cutters. Buy the biggest carrots you can find, and cut them lengthwise. Slice them nice and thin, to make it easier to cut through them with the shapes. 

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