Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her hypoglycemia

This is a guest post by Nicole of Discojing. She tells us how she taught her sister to make bento lunches for herself to help to cope with hypoglycemia. What a great sister!

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Diseases that involve blood sugar often creep up on you. It wasn’t until my mother was older and my younger sister and I were well into our teens that we were exposed to hypoglycemia and Type II Diabetes. Type II Diabetes is a growing epidemic in the world, and most people don’t know that it’s actually preventable. My mother’s poor diet habits led her hypoglycemia to develop into Type II Diabetes. My sister and I both have hypoglycemia and are in trying to keep Diabetes at bay. Unfortunately, in a culture that advertises unhealthy and fast food at the same time as a thin=attractive mentality, it is hard to win this war.

By eating a well-balanced diet and eating when your body tells you to (whether this is three, four, or five times a day), great strides can be taken to eliminate the risk of developing Diabetes. I am currently in the process of helping my sister understand not only her disease and its risks, but also valuable life skills such as cooking and budgeting. My sister is just starting college and she needs to be able to budget the adequate time and money needed to planning her meals, as well as understanding what types of food she should and shouldn’t eat. I think bento does a great job of meeting all these requirements because it’s fun, transportable, environmentally friendly, economical, and is a medium for learning.

The first step for my sister was to acknowledge that she needs to start taking better care of herself. We set in place some emergency foods that she should have on hand at all times (mini-energy bars, ginger candies, glucose tablets, etc). The amount and type of “emergency” foods will vary for everyone depending on the severity of their blood sugar issues.

The second step is to make it as easy as possible. My sister knew what bento was long before she started making it herself since made them for her and my brother during middle and high school. She was familiar with the portions and equipment, but had no idea how to plan meals. I took her to the local Asian super market and walked her through the aisles, seeing if she could pick some things out on her own. We left with some simple and filling dishes, including curry, okonomiyaki mix, noodles, and furikake.

Before teaching her how to make dishes, I opened the refrigerator and showed her how there were leftovers that could be reused into bento. It was important to let her know that bento can be comprised of leftovers from the night before or recreated as ingredients. This was key to making bento seem less over-whelming. We scrounged through the refrigerator and found vegetables for okonomiyaki and leftover chicken cutlets to dress some restaurant-bought salad. I watched as my sister made the pancakes and then quizzed her on what she thought should go into the bento to make it more balanced. So far we had some fresh light vegetables, protein, and hearty pancakes. We agreed that something to snack on that wasn’t too un-healthy was needed and decided on some fruit cereal, chocolate candies, and a ginger candy.

My sister only requires bento two to three times a week because of her current class schedule. I took this opportunity to show her that you can make bento whenever you have free time, not only the night or morning before classes. I had done most of the work in the first bento (above), but I made it my sister’s job to execute the second one as independently as possible. She decided on sesame noodles topped with some of the same chicken in the other bento and some furikake. Even though these are packaged noodles, I told my sister she could drain almost all the broth to make them healthier. After the noodles, my sister was stumped as to what to put in. I asked if she had any fruit and we cut up some oranges. While I placed the oranges into a foil cup, she remembered that some black and white animal crackers would go well with the bento—noting the color contrast. I smiled as she gently layered the crackers into another foil cup.

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My sister had never had these particular noodles before, and she loved them. Bento is another way to try great foods, since half of the battle is presentation.

I periodically check up on my sister to see how things are doing in school, including how her bento-ing is going. She often asks me questions about what things go together, or how to transport a particular dish. I keep reminding myself that a few months ago my sister never packed her lunch and only knew how to make grilled cheese. She’s come a long way in such a short amount of time. I’d like to believe that bento has made her more conscious of money, time, and her health. Most importantly, she hasn’t gotten sick since school started and she’s feeling more comfortable in the kitchen.

Even though these bento might not be the most beautiful, colorful, or well put together, I try to stress a balance that is obtainable by those that are starting out in the kitchen.

About the author

discojing_sister.jpgNicole is the writer for a food-centric blog titled Discojing. On her site, she chronicles her experiments with recipes and restaurants as well as bento. This all stems from her family who is ethnically Chinese and Cherokee, but culturally Hawai’ian.


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10 comments

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Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

Are those cookies and white noodles really hypoglycemic friendly?

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

This is a wonderful post on the benefits of packing your own lunch, but I must point out that hypERglycemia (or high blood sugar) can eventually lead to diabetes. HyPOglycemia is low blood sugar and can cause other issues like dizziness, palpitations and seizures.

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

I think the comments so far have missed the spirit of this article. Yes, the terminology of hypo and hyperglycaemia seem to have been transposed and the advice regarding emergency glucose mainly refers to diabetics on insulin who can go hypo. However, teaching someone to think about how they eat is a gradual process and these bento contents may not be perfect yet from a health perspective buy they are a great deal better than grilled cheese everyday. People with diabetes (type 1 or type 2) manage their condition so much better if they understand the effects of what they eat on their blood sugars and this is learned over time and no, they do not have to be paragons of virtue all the time! Well done Nicole for trying to teach your sister to appreciate and understand food.
P.s- i'll come down off my soap box now- sorry!

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

thanks for the comments so far!

@rene & anon:
my sister (and my family) all have hypOglycemia, which is low blood sugar. My mother didn't really understand hypoglycemia when growing up and that, coupled with another factor or two, lead her to develop Type II Diabetes. An unfortunate symptom of a "incident" of hypoglycemia is that it's usually not treated until too-late, so after being treated there is a huge spike in glucose, followed by an even lower crash if not attended to correctly. (Think: yo-yo diet)

When we don't take time to eat balanced meals or don't pay attention to our body saying "please put something in me! and not chocolate because I'll crash 5 seconds after!", we get incredibly sick. I have learned to take care of myself and notice the warning signs, but my sister has ended up in the emergency room before and gotten so sick as to throw up at special events (unfortunately, this includes trips with non-family members and even her high school graduation) from sheer nausea, dizziness, etc. I didn't want to have to hear about my sister in a restaurant bathroom, on the floor, convulsing and shivering, unable to orient herself because she didn't take care to eat right and eat on time.

The solution for us is to a) listen to our bodies and b) eat something that isn't singularly sweet and is longer-lasting. This means something with preferably natural sugars that will digest slowly in the body. *This* is what I mean by "balanced". I'm not a diabetic expert or anything, but I'm sharing what works for our family and others I know with this same condition. As part of the "balance" in lunch, I think it's important to reward yourself a little and not deprive yourself of all sweets! Plus my sister is usually good and eats more natural sweets like fruit or yogurt.

@jw: thanks for the kind words! you got exactly what I was trying to portray in the article. I think it isn't feasible for my sister to have 100% super-healthy food (it's hard enough for normal people in ideal circumstances!). Hopefully, she can add a few things into the cart when at the store with my parents, and take the initiative to use bento as portion-control and a catalyst to care what she eats instead of going out for fast food or not eating enough or at all. Educating on healthy-ER was my goal, as only so much can be done when you're not 100% in charge of what's in your house or pantry. <3

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

The main reason I liked Nicole's post so much is the good advice she has for anyone, not just people who suffer from blood sugar issues, about having balanced, small meals or snacks, and the caring way she taught her sister to use bentos for this. It's a story of sisterly love more than anything. :) Thank you Nicole, for the post and your detailed reply.

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

maki wrote:

It's a story of sisterly love more than anything. :)

I agree. It's a wonderful story of sisterly love and care. I commend the author for that, but I would have prefered less emphasis on that aspect and more on bento making. It reads like a great personal blog article, but not so hot as a cooking blog entry. I also don't think Fruit Loops and chocolate covered cookies are good choices for blood sugar balance, but that's a whole other topic.

Having said that, there were some good tidbits in there, not just for those concerned with blood sugar issues, but everyone.

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

Thank you for this entry! My husband, as well as my four year old son have hypoglycemia and I have just recently started researching bento as a way to help them learn to eat properly. It is SUCH an underrated condition and it's nice to see that you are helping your sister to see how serious it really is.

Best regards,

Ali W.
Phila, PA

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

Your article is nicely written, and it is wonderful to see sisters caring about eachother. I could not help but notice that the nutritional advice you are giving your sister may be inaccurate. Eating small, frequent meals is important, but filling the bento with "junk food" isn't really helping anyone. Froot loops, animal crackers, heaping piles of noodles, and chocolate are not good options for someone with hypoglycemia. Simple sugars like those break down quickly and relase a burst of glucose into your bloodstream that can cause reactive hypoglycemia. There are numerous websites that offer dietary outlines for those who suffer from hypoglycemia. They list foods that allow a even, steady release of glucose into the system and give suggestions on foods to avoid. I wish you and your sister the best.

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

Thanks so much for this! I too, suffer from hypoglycemia, and it can be a challenge to figure out what to pack for lunches. I found that packing fruits, veggies, meat, and rice in equal portions works very well (although I know that each person's body is different!) I usually used to carry just Glucose Gel with me, but now I've got not only more ideas for my bentos, but more ides on what to carry for an emergency sugar crash. Thanks again!

Re: Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her ...

As a high school junior with hypoglycemia who has asthma and allergies and other such fun general health problems and does theater and band and also is president of our anime and manga club and therefor practically lives at school ,i have noticed that because of my health problems i don't generally feel like eating when i getup and don't usually have time to eat before school so bento is usually a better idea for me because i can manage what food goes in it and pack it the night before so that i'm not eating out unhealthy and processed sugar filled school lunches and i still have to carry glucose with me incase i end up needing it because i don't usually get a lot of obvious warning signs since one of mine is migrains amd i get those anyway.

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