The music concert at our elementary school is pretty lit. Who would have thought that an elementary school concert would be such an event? We have assigned seating, an intermission, an epic bake sale, a giant raffle, and even food trucks. It’s the main event of the year where everyone and their families attend. To make it convenient and enjoyable for everyone, the PTA tries to make sure there are not only food options, but good food options. With the school being a Japanese/English immersion school, we always try to represent both cultures. In addition to the food trucks, the PTA decided to make and sell Japanese bento boxes to include with the bake sale. And somehow, I found myself at a three hour planning meeting discussing content, container sizes, color, price, and presentation.

For most people, being at a 3 hour planning meeting for lunch boxes for an elementary school would be torture. But to me, this was huge! I was invited into the inner circle of the PTA elite. This wasn’t a general work session meeting, this was a meeting where decisions were made. And they asked me (I may have volunteered but this is how I choose to remember it)!

We needed a well-rounded filling meal that would be valuable to someone willing to buy it. It had to have a nice mix of carbs, protein, vegetables, and color. That’s one thing I really appreciate about Japanese cuisine; the presentation. It’s all about the presentation. This wasn’t just throwing a bunch of random foods into a box and slapping a price sticker on it, this had to look good!

The committee decided on a preliminary menu of yakisoba, potato salad, edamame, honey soy chicken, rice (with a cute face on it), and a cherry tomato. For the follow-up meeting we would bring a sampling of the food and work on prototypes. We were going to prototype this! For an elementary school bake sale! How hardcore is that?

We arranged the foods in three different containers. Once we decided on the final presentation, we weighed each food to be consistent and maintain quality control once they went into production. And after I thought everything was decided, the other members were discussing something very intently. It was all in Japanese and my best guess was the price. But it wasn’t price that was the issue, it was color. The bento needed a pop of color and they were discussing cost effective ways to add that into the mix. Yellow. It was missing yellow. In the end, adding corn into the potato salad was the winner.

Finally, with everything decided, the cooking tasks were divided between other parent volunteers and a date was set for the massive assembly line.

But that was last year. This year we needed a bigger bento with more food and more variety. We added extra items, made four prototypes with various configurations, talked about the pros and cons of each and then voted.

Between the attention to detail to the over-thinking of how the families would be willing to spend on it, I realized something. This is my group. These are my people. I might not always be able to speak the same language, but this is where I belong. 

I really like being a part of this group because it really challenges me. Historically, I’m not a planner. I’m a thinker. I usually design it and build it all in my head before putting anything on paper. And when it’s time to make a move, I hope for the best and use ink. That’s part of the thrill for me. The not knowing for sure what will happen. But after working with this group of parents that prototypes lunch boxes, I’ve learned the importance of a well thought out plan. It adds value to the project. When you’re planning lunch boxes with the same effort as planning a NASA shuttle launch, you’re bound to treat it with more respect and care. In the end, it’s the details that make the difference between something that’s good, and something that’s great.

This added value paid off too (literally and figuratively) because we had a total of 74 bento boxes that all sold out within an hour, and we even had teachers reserving some ahead of time so they wouldn’t miss out while they got their students ready. We’re already talking about upping the game for next year, and increasing production quantity too. Call us crazy for this layered and serious process, but the effort shows and the incredible feedback we received makes it totally worthwhile.

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