When most people think of American packed lunches, they think of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, apple sauce, and bagged snacks. Lee Li Ming, the mastermind behind the popular blog and Instagram, Bento Monsters, is redefining packed lunches with her wide array of beautiful charabens. A hobby that initially began as a way to cheer up her children at school quickly evolved into a successful career. In her cookbook Yummy Kawaii Bento: Preparing Adorable Meals for Adorable Kids, Ming provides step-by-step tutorials on assembling balanced nutritious bento boxes with recipes that bridge Eastern and Western flavors. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we speak with a Singaporean mom who creates intricate bento boxes that are almost too pretty to eat:

LUCKYRICE: You have reinvented the concept of the stale packed lunch - what was the first bento creation you ever made for your kids?

Lee Li Ming: The first bento I packed for my sons had sandwiches cut out using cookie cutters.

LUCKYRICE: Were cute bento lunches something you yourself grew up with?

Ming: No, my mum never packed me lunches. It was not common to do so then. It’s still not so common here today - though there are more people doing it.

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LUCKYRICE: Tell us a bit more about your creative process - from how you decide on a particular design to choosing the right materials to the act of actually putting the bento together. 

Ming: I have a habit of noting down bento designs and ideas on my phone. Before I do my grocery shopping, I'll take a look at my notes and decide what I want to make for that week. I don’t follow my shopping list strictly though and oftentimes what I see at the supermarket will change my meal plans.

LUCKYRICE: Where do you usually draw inspiration for your intricate creations?

Ming: From everywhere - it can be from something my boys like, I like, something from my childhood, a movie we just watched, stuff I see online or around us, etc.

LUCKYRICE: Do you have a favorite bento creation that you've created so far?

Ming: Not really, I actually like quite a number of them. However, I do have some favorite characters such as Totoro, Pooh Bear, and Hello Kitty that I always recreate over and over again through different designs.

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LUCKYRICE: Have you ever felt like you had to sacrifice flavor or nutrition for the visual aspect of the bento?

Ming: Definitely not for flavor because the bento has to taste good - first and foremost. For nutrition, I do try to make it wholesome most of the time, but treats will make their way into the bentos now and then.

LUCKYRICE: Have you ever considered making this bento box hobby into a business

Ming: No, I don’t think so, it’s still very much a hobby. The only bento related work I do is bento/food art designs in photo form. I have no interest in doing other stuff like demos, workshops, catering, etc.

LUCKYRICE: What will you do once your kids are all grown up and do not want bentos anymore?

Ming: I started in 2011 and my kids are now 9 and 12 years-old. They aren’t as crazy over the bentos as they were when I first started and now, it's become more of a hobby for myself. As long as they don’t mind eating cute food, I will continue to make bentos for them.