Since my last post introduced four good options in bento boxes, I thought this would be a good time to share some ideas and tips that may be helpful as you pack your next brown bag lunch in your new bento box. 

The bento box meals that I am most interested in making are the practical, everyday bento boxes, not the ornate or super-creative…I am usually Super-Hungry, not Super-Martha or Super-Paula.

I am looking for meals that are…

  1. Inexpensive
  2. Neat and appetizing
  3. Quick and easy to prepare
  4. Reasonably healthy and nutritionally balanced
  5. Tasty

Planning ahead always helps save time and money…so when it comes to bento boxes, base your plan on…

  • what ingredients you will need from grocery stores…
  • what meals you will be cooking throughout the week
  • what you already have in the refrigerator

A well-packed bento box should at least have four types of food:  carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, and fruits.
Sticking to a specific ratio like this can help with nutrition and weight loss. A good ratio would be four parts carbs, two parts protein, one part vegetables, and one part fruits.

1.  Carbohydrates…Fill half of your bento box with carbs….such as bread, brown or white  rice mixed with frozen peas and a splash of soy sauce, couscous mixed with olive oil and Parmesan, pasta with pesto or peanut sauce, roasted or boiled baby potatoes tossed with olive oil and herbs, sandwiches, and wraps. Let any hot ingredients cool completely before closing the bento. Otherwise, the steam will condense inside the box and make the food soggy.

2.  Proteins…Fill a quarter of your bento box with protein…such as boiled eggs, cottage cheese, edamame, tuna salad, beef, chicken, pork, tofu, and beans.

3.  Vegetables...Fill half of the remaining space with cooked and cooled vegetables, or raw vegetables that won’t wilt such as steamed asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and carrot sticks.

4.  Fruits...Finish filling your bento box by adding fruit…when choosing fruits, choose bold colors to provide visual impact…good choices would be apples, grapes, strawberries, plum, raspberries, nectarines, oranges, lemons, banana, and kiwi.

Once you have chosen the foods to include in your bento box, it is important to pack the foods tightly so that the food doesn’t shift around, leaving a pile of “garbage”  in the bento box. You don’t want to see messy bento when you open the bento box at lunch time. 

Pack your bento as a three-step process. First pack pre-shaped or bulky food…next, more flexible-shape food…finally small accent foods like cherry tomatoes and steamed broccoli to fill in any small gaps and prevent food from shifting.

Here are some tools that will help when packing your bento box…
1.  Cups…such as this set of five silicone cups from Bento USA…keep wet things away from dry things and hold loose items like blueberries in one place. These are reusable and come in many different sizes and colors.
2.  Dividers…such as these from BentoLand…separate one food from the other, without mixing up the flavors. These are also reusable and come in many different sizes and colors. Lettuce leaves and other produce can also be used instead of paper or silicon.
3.  Picks...such as these panda picks from Little Bento World…come in many shapes, patterns, and colors and help keep small foods, such as meatballs and berries, together.

4.  Sauce Containers...such as these from Bento USA…store sauces separately so that food stays dry until lunch time.

    They say that learning to make a bento box…a lunch that both looks and tastes delicious…requires time and effort…and that you should start with basic bento and then “work your way up.”

      So join me each month as I learn to make bento and work my way through Just Bento Cookbook (preview coming up).


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