Japanese bento is the Western equivalent of a sack or brown bag lunch. Perhaps the major difference between the two styles of packed lunches is that bento lunches are typically neatly packed in a recloseable plastic container so that your entire meal is available for your enjoyment, not unlike a meal served on a plate at home. On the other hand, a sack lunch is often a number of lunch components packed in separate disposable or reusable plastic bags or storage containers and carried in a sack or lunchbox.
If you’ve never tried making your bento, the idea of doing so might seem challenging, but if you keep in mind the following five easy tips for packing a great lunch, you’ll be a pro in no time.
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Start With the Right Container
The bento box where your lunch will be packed can be as fancy or as simple as you like. A wide variety of bento box brands and styles with varied prices are available for you to choose from; however, keep in mind the following important features of the bento box as you select one that suits you and your lifestyle.
- The container has a good, secure recloseable lid.
- The container has dividers. As little as one divider to create two sections or as many as three to four dividers. Note: Bento can also be packed in a simple container with no dividers.
- While most bento containers are flat, other styles of bento containers are cylindrical with separate stackable compartments for both soup and solid foods. If you like soup or stews, this style of bento container might work best.
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The market for bento boxes and accessories is significant enough for consumers to choose from a wide number of items available via traditional Japanese or Asian supermarkets or online.
- Mini skewers or picks–for picking up small bites of food
- Food cups (or baking cups) in decorative silicone, paper or aluminum come in different shapes and sizes–for holding different types of food
- Food dividers (small, thin dividers made of silicone)–used to separate food with sauce from fruit for example
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With just a bit of planning, you’ll discover how easy it is to prepare a healthful lunch that both you and, or your children and family can enjoy five days a week! If you’re already planning your daily dinners with a weekly meal plan, it's more than likely that you’ve got a fair share of healthy foods available at your disposal. You might find that all you really need to do as far as bento planning is concerned, is to make an extra portion of your evening meal so that leftovers are available to pack into your bento the next day. Easy!
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Bento Can Be Used for Many Cuisines
The contents of your bento lunch are not limited to Japanese foods. Foods such as sandwiches, wraps, pasta, and salads may also be included in the bento. Other snack foods such as cheese and crackers may also be included. As mentioned above, soup and stew can also be packed in a bento lunch using special bento containers.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Balance and Aesthetics
One of the most important aspects of packing a bento lunch is nutrition. Add plenty of vegetables and fruit, and moderate amounts of lean protein and whole grains with a small portion of dairy. USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) recommends the following proportions for a balanced meal:
- 40% vegetables
- 30% whole grains
- 20% protein
- 10% fruit
Once the items for your bento have been decided, pack them neatly and tightly into your bento box container. Try and separate the vegetables and fruits by packing these in one section of the bento box, and the grains and protein in another section of the bento box. Use bento accessories (dividers, skewers, etc.) to separate foods and add aesthetics. Note, the tighter the food items are packed into your bento, and the less free space there is, the more likely your bento will maintain its aesthetics and food will stay neatly in place.