7 Questions with Sheri Chen

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know.

When you are the mother of a very picky two-year-old how do you know when you’ve struck the right balance between satisfying your child’s nutritional needs and making food they will actually eat?  When the New York Times does a story about you, that’s when.

Sheri Chen of Happy Little BentoThat’s what happened to Sheri Chen when she began using the quaint Japanese custom of packing a well balanced lunch in artfully crafted packages known as Obentos (Bento boxes).  Chen disguised her healthy vittles with kid-friendly shapes like bunnies and kittens and her formerly finicky youngling began gobbling up her cherry tomatoes, broccoli and boiled eggs.

It went over so well that this stay-at-home-mother began sharing her ideas via her popular blog Happy Little Bento.  The blog includes instructions and a plethora of photos of what can only be described as happy little bento.  Soon came guest appearances on the Cooking Channel, PureNaturalDiva.com, TheKitchn.com and Glamour Magazine.

At the bottom of this post there is a gallery of some of Sheri’s creative Bento but first she answers 7 Questions:

1. For those unfamiliar with the term, what is a Bento?

A bento is loosely defined as a meal packed inside a box. Originating in Japan, this lunch style has been adopted worldwide; the traditional foods easily replaced by other cultural options. In addition to being convenient, a bento lunch is an excellent way to ensure a balanced meal with the additional bonus of being visually pleasing. The style of bento can range from a time-consuming artistic creation depicting real animals and character (charaben) to a standard colorful array anyone might put together in a few minutes.

2. What is it about Bento that makes them so appealing?

Kids and adults alike appreciate an appetizing meal. Not only does a bento box allow one to present a complete meal all at once, this type of display encourages one to use attractive and varied colors (fruits, veg, protein, carb), which results in a nutritious meal. If your food looks delicious and lovely, you’re more likely to feel excited about eating it, and kids especially become adventurous and more willing to finish. It’s an act of love to take the time and effort to choose and arrange food in a thoughtful manner for someone to enjoy. I really believe in the power of bento to encourage a lifestyle of healthy eating habits and enjoyment of food, as well as the bonding it fosters between parent and child.

3. What was the inspiration for starting your blog, Happy Little Bento?

For years I had been happily packing bento for my kids and going along my merry way. I actually used to keep a handwritten diary of what I fed my son each day since he started on solid food until I realized I could simply take a picture and keep an online photo diary. The day I posted my first picture and received my first comment, I discovered a whole new network of friends with similar interests. It seemed natural to start the blog and make it easier to maintain the connections with other parents. Since then I’ve found that it also serves to bring new people to bento, which has been one of the biggest thrills of my blogging life.

4. You have been featured in the New York Times and on the Cooking Channel.  Are you surprised by the attention your blog has attracted?

When I started I certainly never expected to attract any special attention; my main goal was a personal reference for future bento planning. In the past few years I’ve witnessed a huge growth in the bento-making community of parents, and they want to learn more for the benefit of their children. I’m very fortunate to be a part of this movement gaining wide popularity and it makes me very excited to help bring attention to bento.

5. What do your kids think of all this?

My second-grade boy likes to act pretty cool about it while my 4 year old daughter likes to talk about it to her friends and teachers. They’ve both shared their photo session experiences at school. She loves the spotlight so all the attention is right up her alley. They’ve grown up with bento all their lives so it’s nice that they get to take part in sharing it with others.

6. Do your readers ever share their ideas with you?

I hear from parents all over the world who tell me that they’ve become inspired to pack bento for their kids when they see how easy it looks, or that their kids see the photos and ask to bring one to school. Usually they ask questions but sometimes they tell me about how they’ve used bento to successfully transform their kids’ mealtimes. I love those emails because they inspire me to continue sharing my experience and to strive to improve my efforts with my own bentomaking.

7. Are their any plans for a book based on your blog?

Not at the moment but I’m open for the next challenge!
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One Response to 7 Questions with Sheri Chen

  • Nami says:

    Sheri makes wonderful bento for kids and it's so fun to see how she makes those cute bento with food! What a nice introduction of bento and bento making. Great interview!

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
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2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
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