Family Meal Ideas: Bento Box Dinner

japanese bento dinner

Family Meal: Bento Box Dinner
A guest post from Cheryl Tallman, Creator of

A bento is a divided box that originated in Japan. Bento boxes are made from a wide variety of materials, including lacquer, bamboo, plastic and stainless steel. A traditional bento meal includes carbohydrates (rice or noodles), protein (fish, chicken, meat, or tofu), vegetables and fruit. Foods are arranged in the box to display a colorful, healthy meal with a wonderful variety of flavors and tastes.

We’ve developed a family-friendly Bento Box dinner to prepare and enjoy. The recipes are infused with the Japanese ingredients that you can find in the Asian Foods section of your grocery store.


Yakisoba (Stir-Fried Soba Noodles)

Grilled Salmon with Red Miso Sauce

Honeydew Melon

Steamed Edamame

If you can boil water, you can make edamame. While traditionally served in the pods, the pods are not edible. To eat simply squeeze the pod with your thumb and forefinger and the edamame beans pop right out.

  • Frozen edamame (about 10 pods per person)
  • Water
  • Pinch of kosher or sea salt

Directions: Bring about 3-4 quarts of water to a boil and place the edamame in the boiling water. Cook 3-5 minutes. Drain. When plating sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Have another bowl at the table to put the empty pods in.

Grilled Salmon with Red Miso Sauce

Miso Sauce:

½ cup red miso paste

1/3 cup sake

3 Tbsp. chicken stock (or Dashi)

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

4 6-ounce Salmon fillets, skinned

Directions: To make the sauce, combine all four ingredients in a saucepan and stir to a smooth sauce. Place saucepan on the stove over medium heat and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens. Set aside and let cool.

Brush both sides of salmon fillets with miso sauce. Lightly oil and heat a grill pan over medium heat. Place salmon on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes. Brush with sauce, turn fillets over and brush with sauce again. Cook 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and let stand 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Yakisoba (Stir-Fried Soba Noodles)

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and have a unique brown color. Yakisoba is a popular dish of stir-fried soba noodles and a variety of meats and vegetables. You can use any type of meat or seafood and any types of vegetables – including bean sprouts, green peppers, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, celery and broccoli.

8-ounce Soba noodles

1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed

8-10 Shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced

8 cooked shrimp, chopped

3 green onions, chopped

2 Tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil

Yakisoba Sauce:

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced

2 tsp. sake


Prepare Yakisoba sauce. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add soba noodles, stirring to separate them. Boil soba noodles for 6-8 minutes, until tender. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

In wok or large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add shitake mushrooms and stir fry 2 minutes. Add soba noodles and stir fry 3 minutes. Add the Yakisoba Sauce, shrimp and bean sprouts and stir fry for 2 more minutes. Serve warm.


Fun with Japanese Table Manners:

Certain table manners are observed during meal times in Japan. Include these practices as a fun way to help teach your kids about etiquette in other countries.

  • Add a warm, wet towel at each person’s plate to wipe hands before eating.
  • Eat with chop sticks. Kid-size chopsticks and chopstick helpers can be found in specialty stores or online.
  • Before you start eating, put your palms together and say “Itadakimasu.” This translates to “I gratefully receive.”
  • Soup can be sipped straight from the bowl – no spoons necessary!
  • It is okay to make slurping sounds when eating soup and noodles from a bowl, as long as it’s not excessive. Slurping tells the chef that you are enjoying the meal.
  • When you are done using chopsticks, lay them in front of you with the tips pointing to the left. It is considered bad manners to leave them pointing upright in a bowl.
  • When you are finished your meal, say “Gochisosama,” which means “Thank you for the meal.”

About the author: Cheryl Tallman is the co-founder of Fresh Baby, creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit, and author of the So Easy Baby Food and the new book So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips and Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years. Visit Cheryl online at for more delicious tips.

Learn more about Cheryl’s work:

So Easy Baby Food Kit: Make It Natural, Make It Fresh.
So Easy Baby Food Kit: Make It Natural, Make It Fresh.
Price: $23.85
An award-winning, all-inclusive solution for making baby food in less than 30 minutes per week. The month-by-month Cookbooks uses fresh ingredients with no additives. Kit includes a cookbook, freezer trays, how-to video, and nutrition card, and pays for itself in just three weeks compared to jarred baby food.

So Easy Baby Food Basics: Homemade Baby Food in Less Than 30 Minutes Per Week
So Easy Baby Food Basics: Homemade Baby Food in Less Than 30 Minutes Per Week
Price: $8.95
Baby Food Cookbook including recipes and instruction for making stage 1, 2, and 3 baby foods. This book also includes the basics of introducing solid foods and developing healthy eating habits. Available in English and Spanish.

So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips & Simple Receipes for the Toddler Years
So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips & Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years
Price: $8.95
When it comes to eating, toddlers can be tough to please. So Easy Toddler Food is the perfect resource for parents looking for survival tips and 35 simple recipes that will win over even the pickiest toddler. Available in English and Spanish.

Love mushrooms? Here are family-friendly ideas and recipes

A Fungus Among Us: Mushrooms for Health
By Cheryl Tallman

Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are classified as fungi. Mushrooms pop up in forests at certain times of year in various places all over the world and then disappear completely without warning. Ancient Egyptians believed that mushrooms paved a path to immortality and they were considered food for royalty only.

The most commonly cultivated mushroom in the United States is the white button mushroom and topping the exotic list are truffles that sell for $1,000- $1,500 per pound.

Mushrooms are high in the B-vitamins, riboflavin and niacin, which promote healthy skin and good vision and ensure that the digestive and nervous systems function as they should. Mushrooms are an important source of potassium; in fact, one medium-sized portabella contains more than a banana. Mushrooms also contain essential minerals including selenium, pantothenic acid, and copper, all of which work to keep the body healthy.

Scientists believe that extracts of various mushrooms could be very beneficial in the treatment and prevention of cancer, including white mushrooms for breast cancer, and shiitake and maitake mushrooms for prostate cancer. Still more laboratory studies suggest that a mushroom extract may help prevent heart disease by reducing blood lipids and cholesterol levels.

In the past 30 years, the variety of cultivated mushrooms has greatly increased and as a result, there are a lot more choices offered the grocery store. Along with the standard white button mushroom, cremeni, oyster, shitake, Portobello, and enoki are varieties found fresh in most produce sections. Some other varieties, such as porcini, chanterelle, and morel are commonly available dried. With awesome selection and great flavors, it is really quite simple to have a “fungus among us” at your family meals.

Age to introduce: 12-18 months

Toddler Treat: Shroomy Stroganoff

This is a perfect meal for a cold fall or winter day. Instead using sliced mushrooms, we recommend diced (or chopped). Not only are the smaller pieces easier to maneuver on a fork or spoon, they are less “suspect” looking to the skeptical toddler eye. Enjoy!


2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 lb. diced fresh white mushrooms

1/3 cup low sodium beef or vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon dried dill

1 cup sour cream (dairy or soy)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cooked rice or egg noodles


Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced mushrooms and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the beef or vegetable stock & dill. Continue cooking about 4 more minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn the heat down to low and add the sour cream. Gently stir until heated through; but do not allow it to boil. Serve over cooked rice or egg noodles.

Makes 8 kid-sized servings or 4 adult servings.

Tip: Freeze small portions for quick defrost, heat, and serve meals.

Mushrooms for The Family

At the market: Many varieties of fresh mushrooms are available year round. In general, look for firm, unblemished caps. The mushroom’s surface should be free from moisture but not look dry. Avoid mushrooms with any sign of mold. If you are using dried mushrooms as a substitute for fresh then 1 pound of fresh mushrooms = 2-3 ounces dried.

Storage: Always refrigerate mushrooms. Loose mushrooms keep well in paper bags in the refrigerator. Avoid airtight plastic bags because they will cause the mushrooms to spoil faster. Properly stored, fresh mushrooms will keep for about five days.

Preparation: To prepare fresh mushrooms, first trim off the bottoms of the stems, then wipe them off with a paper or cotton towel. Don’t use water to clean mushrooms, they’ll absorb it and turn mushy when you cook them.

The stems of shiitake mushrooms and the root end of portabella stems are often tough and should be discarded, but all other mushroom stems can be trimmed and used along with the caps.

Dried mushrooms are often excellent substitutes for fresh. To use dried mushrooms, they need to be reconstituted which is easily done by soaking or simmering them in water. Don’t throw out the soaking liquid–it can add more flavor to your recipe than the mushrooms themselves.

Here are some quick ideas to add mushrooms into your family meals:

Simple Sautéed Mushrooms: Many main dishes taste so much better with a simple side of sautéed mushrooms. Try to basic recipe or take it to another level with one of our variation suggestions.

Basic recipe: Slice 8 ounces of mushrooms (any variety or a mixture). In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil or butter over medium-high heat, and add the mushrooms to the skillet all at once. Cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are tender, liquid evaporates and they begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Salt and pepper, to taste.

Variations: About 2 minutes before the mushrooms are done cooking add:

TEX-MEX: Add 3 tbsp cilantro, 1 Tbsp lime juice and 1 Tbsp chopped green onions

THAI: Add 1/3 cup Thai peanut stir-fry and dipping sauce

ITALIAN: Add 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1-3 tbsp chopped parsley, 1 tsp garlic salt, and 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

FRENCH: 1 tsp Herbs de Provence and 1 Tbsp butter

JAPANESE: 1 Tbsp sesame oil, 1 tsp ground ginger, and 1 tsp soy sauce

Shroomed Up Stews: Add a whole white button mushrooms to your favorite stew recipe. The whole mushrooms will add a great look to the dish. They’ll also absorb the flavors of the gravy and taste fantastic.

Great Grilled shitakes: Shitakes mushrooms are popular in Asian cooking. They have a terrific smoky taste and are great grilled on the bbq or in a grill pan. For easy flipping, run a skewer through a few of them. Then baste them with a little teriyaki glaze and grill them for 2-3 minutes per side.

Enoki in your salad?: Popular in Japan, Enokis are just too cute and very easy to use. They are sold in clusters and you just trim off the base, separate them and add them to salads. Give them a try with your favorite green salad, simply top the salad with a 3 ½ ounce package of enoki mushrooms, and toss the salad with your favorite dressing.

Authentic Stir-Fry: The Chinese use straw mushrooms quite often in cooking. They are not commonly available fresh, but they can easily be found canned. Next time you are making a stir fry, get a more authentic taste and use straw mushrooms (drain the liquid from the can before using them).

Mixed Mushroom Casserole: This casserole is great way to try different mushroom varieties. And it’s a great side dish for company, because it can be made in advance. Heat a large skillet with 2 Tbsp of oil at medium high heat. Add 1 pound mushrooms (sliced and chopped into about the bite-sized pieces), 1 chopped onion and 1 cup chicken broth to the skillet. Add 1 teaspoon each of thyme, basil, and oregano. Add the juice of ½ lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce liquid by about half. Turn mixture into an oven-proof casserole dish and top with ½ cup breadcrumbs; dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

About the author: Cheryl Tallman is the co-founder of Fresh Baby, creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit, and author of the So Easy Baby Food Basics: Homemade Baby Food in Less Than 30 Minutes Per Week and So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips and Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years. Visit Cheryl online at for more delicious tips.