Editor’s Note: This story has been revised. An earlier version stated the price of a MiniBento meal is $6. The actual cost is $5 plus tax for a small meal or $6 plus tax for a large meal.
Every school day morning, Sammamish mom Ela Cwalina wakes up early to pack lunches for her two children. A self-proclaimed “organic freak,” she takes time each week to plan and shop for these lunches, making sure the foods are both high quality and appealing to her young picky eaters.
“It seems like a small thing, but it’s hard work,” she said.
School-served lunches do not meet Cwalina’s standards for appealing healthy options, and she said she could not find any store-bought prepared lunches that are both attractive to her kids and made with all-natural ingredients.
To fill this niche, last month Cwalina and her friend, Redmond mom Karolina Janczuk, officially started MiniBento, a business dedicated to creating fresh boxed lunches for kids using all-natural ingredients. They hope their business will eventually give parents a more convenient alternative to home-packed lunches.
To prepare the meals, Cwalina and Janczuk enlisted local chef Sunshine Dunning of Sunshine’s All Naturals, a Seattle-based meal delivery company. Dunning shops at local farmers' markets for many of MiniBento’s ingredients, including apples, pears, cucumbers, meats and cheeses.
There are six different lunches available featuring a variety of finger foods, including tortellini, tortilla wraps, frankfurters, chicken, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat pancakes. The Italian lunch option contains whole grain crackers, all-natural ham, organic salami, smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, carrots, apple wedges, and grapes.
“We make sure all the colors are there, all the shapes are there. We are kind of tricking the kids,” Cwalinae said. “We’re making (the lunches) attractive to kids, but also healthy.”
Each lunch container is also completely recyclable.
Recently, MiniBento partnered with Redmond’s , a youth enrichment center that hosts playgroups, birthday parties and day camps, to provide lunch options for their two weeks of spring break camps.
Parents who enrolled their children at the Orange Blossom Society were able to order lunches from the MiniBento website, and each meal cost just over $5. Fewer than 10 lunches were ordered, but Orange Blossom Society founder Sharman Ghio said she received only positive feedback from the parents and children who ate the meals.
“I had one myself, and it was great,” Ghio said, saying the meal was both attractive and satisfying. She liked the convenience of the lunch delivery because she does not always have time to leave for lunch.
“I would look forward to working with (MiniBento) this summer if they’re up for it,” she said.
Cwalina and Janczuk would someday like to see MiniBento as a nationwide brand, but right now their focus is on local children. They are currently talking to Sammamish private schools about a possible partnership.
“I’d like to see MiniBento anywhere,” Cwalina said. “I’d like MiniBento to be a food you can trust.”
As of April 18, anyone will be able to place orders for MiniBento lunches online on the company's website. MiniBento is currently unable to deliver to individual homes, so interested parents will need to work with their child’s school to arrange for delivery. MiniBento also delivers to camps, organized group facilities, and birthday parties.