(Thursday) Weekly Challenge: 5 Days of Homemade Lunches

The challenge: for one full work-week, Monday through Friday, bring in homemade meals to work.

Challenge Level: 2 / 5 stars. Not really so difficult.

The motivation behind this challenge: This is going to be a longer explanation than expected, because I have a lot of thoughts on the subject matter. To start, during my first few months of living in Japan, I received a lot of comments about my lunches.

Coworkers would pass by my desk, notice my pre-packaged salad and my salmon rice ball and say, “Oh, 7 bento?” which literally means, “Oh, you bought your lunch from 7/11 today?” And it’s true…maybe 3 or 4 days out of every week on average (then and still now), I pick up lunch from 7/11 or a grocery store. It’s super convenient, and the choices are always changing!

But after a few months, that comment turned sour for me, and I felt like people were actually saying, “7/11 lunch again? Really? Don’t you know how to cook?”

Oh, how I envy the Jr. High School ALTs who are provided with school lunches for a pittance.

Here in Japan, it seems like women are expected to cook pretty much every meal for their families. Breakfast isn’t a milk-and-cereal do-it-yourself affair: breakfast is traditionally miso soup, fish, and rice, all cooked fresh that morning by a wife or a mother who woke up at 5 a.m. Lunches (bento) for high schoolers and husbands are also typically prepared in the morning by the woman of the house. This arrangement seems more plausible for stay-at-home mothers, but even my female coworkers ascribe to these expectations. They, their husbands, and probably their children all have beautiful homemade bentos most every Monday through Friday.

Of course, I know the above doesn’t hold true for all Japanese families—I know that some students just have bread or yogurt for breakfast (I’ve asked), or that some of them buy their lunches from the bakery (I’ve seen it)—but it seems to be the standard for many.

So for many of my coworkers, it was surprising that I didn’t have a homemade lunch very often; especially at my base school, where most of the staff is from an older, more settled generation. I joined the ranks of the two young, single 20-something guys (an English teacher and a P.E. teacher) who bought 7/11 lunches every day. (No one ever commented on their lunches, though. That’s different gender expectations for you).

On the other hand, at my Wednesday visit school, the majority of my coworkers (male and female) are in their late-20s/early 30s and single, and it’s much more accepted for people to have store-bought lunches. A lot of the other ladies and I meet at the microwave and exchange food recommendations!

Now, a year and a half later, people rarely comment on my store-bought lunches. Perhaps they’ve gotten used it? And even when they do comment, I don’t really mind because I know they aren’t judging me. Normally it’s just the vice principal at my base school, who holds up his own cup noodles and packaged salad in comradery on the rare day he doesn’t bring a bento from home!

So the purpose of this challenge isn’t to conform. Instead, it’s more for my own benefit.

I think I’ve started opting for 7/11 lunches more out of laziness and poor time-management.

Lately, I get home from work and I’m too tired to even make myself dinner! Forget making the next day’s lunch. Especially now that it’s so cold—I kick off my shoes and I curl up underneath my kotatsu, to read or to waste time on YouTube, instead of making the effort to even make miso soup. This laziness is frustrating and unhealthy, so hopefully this challenge will jump-start myself into cooking more often. 

Also, I want to be more organized about food planning for the week. My inspiration is my friend J, who cooks all the time (sometimes she even cooks for me!!).

This week’s lunches:

Monday’s lunch: homemade shepherd’s pie (beef and vegetables topped with homemade mashed potatoes) and an orange.

Tuesday’s lunch: same as above, homemade shepherd’s pie (beef and vegetables topped with homemade mashed potatoes) and an orange.

Wednesday’s lunch: same as above, homemade shepherd’s pie (beef and vegetables topped with homemade mashed potatoes), and an orange, plus a yogurt from the Yakult lady who visits my Wednesday school around noon.

Thursday’s lunch: homemade veggie fried rice (cabbage / broccoli / egg / onion / beansprouts / rice) and an orange.

Tomorrow’s lunch: same as above, homemade veggie fried rice (cabbage / broccoli / egg / onion / beansprouts / rice) and an orange.

Reflection:

Clearly, I only made two extra meals (fried rice and shepherd’s pie) that lasted me the whole week, so it isn’t too much extra effort to expend. I’m not sure if a homemade lunch every Monday-Friday is sustainable for me, but at least three days of the week, I could probably do it!

I’m also really happy that I used this challenge to make shepherd’s pie! I’ve been really craving it recently, so when coming up with the week’s lunch recipes, I decided to try my hand at shepherd’s pie for the first time. It came out much better than I expected, and I will make it again… especially before winter ends!

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