As you discovered in my last post, Funky Finds 3, where I focused on Bento Boxes, I LOVE LOVE LOVE all things Bento. In case you’re unaware, Bentos are single-portion meals that are typically offered as takeout or homemade for school/work lunches in Japan. Bentos are fun because there are variety of boxes, accessories, and meal styles to choose from. This post proposes to give you the basics on how to prepare and enjoy your own Bento meal.
But first, you may be wondering, why bother? Here are a few simple but enticing reasons:
- Bentos are designed to be single-portion. This means that as you prepare your meal, you are more portion-aware. This is a plus if you are on a diet or just want to eat more mindfully.
- Bentos are more appealing than a typical bag-lunch. When done correctly, a bento has color, texture, and flavor in abundance. Not only more appetizing, but also more balanced.
- Bentos are flexible. They can be sophisticated and artful or silly and fun. They can be quick and easy or layered and complex. Really, your imagination is the limit.
Further, Bentos are ideal for little eaters! I began making my first bento boxes when I started sending my daughter to daycare. The Bento form allowed me to be more mindful in planning her meals while at the same time having a little fun. Throwing together a healthy and interesting lunch for beginning eaters and preschoolers can seem overwhelming especially if you work full-time. Little ones can be picky, want what their classmates are eating, or would rather play than eat.
Bentos help with each of these problems. Bentos are interesting to little ones; they capture their attention with color and shapes. Just as a little one enjoys fitting puzzle pieces together or dropping and removing blocks from a box, the Bento encourages them to touch and try the food inside. The containers and trays are small, often with just enough room for bite-sized food and ideal for finger eating. And believe it or not, they are easy to prepare. Put a little of last night’s dinner in one of the boxes and already, it’s more exciting than it would be in a regular ole’ Tupperware bowl. Plus, there are lots of tricks you can learn that make preparation easy, quick, and fun.
First, The Equipment
Traditionally, a Bento Box is composed of one or more trays which may or may not be divided. Bento boxes can be stacked or single-tray. They can be made of a variety of materials but are best known as being served in lacquer or woven boxes, a carry-over from the Edo Period fashion in Japan. Bentos are typically carried around in a furoshki, or sack-wrap but today you can purchase ready-made lunch boxes and bags.
Bentology, also known as Bento Buddies is my favorite Bento Box brand for the American market. I purchased one of these sets early on for my daughter and because they made such cute lunches, I have a gazillion photos of tiny toddler meals that I prepared in them. I like them because an original set comes with 5 containers of varying sizes (see photo above), but you can also buy add-on kits that have different sized and shaped containers. So basically, you can build the perfect Bento any way you like it. Because the containers are separate, that means you can refrigerator some and not others. This is useful because I almost always prep lunches the night before. Also, separate containers mean easier cleaning and no special treatment – just pop them in the washer or hand-wash what you need. A basic set will cost you $20.
But, you don’t always have to fork up the cash for new stuff. If you put a little creativity into it, even the containers you already have can work for making Bento meals.
As a soup-lover, I need some sort of insulated food container in my bento kit. But if you prefer cold meals, no need to spend the dough. When it comes to insulated containers, Hydroflask products are by far my favorite. They’ve withstood the 24 hour test when it comes to keeping ice water icy, the 12 hour test for hot coffee, and the dropped-on-pavement test for durability. I can’t recommend them enough so I would safely go to any store and pay the $30 for one of these vacuum food containers. Other great brands to try are Stanley and Thermos.
Second, The Accessories
Once you’ve chosen your designated Bento Box, you’ll need to gather a few accessories. There are tons of stuff out there that a simple internet search will reveal. I’m going to list the essentials below.
Pretty basic, but you’ll find you’ll need utensils. This doesn’t mean you need to purchase new gear. The set on the left is made by JAVOedge and runs around $10. But, just as effective, are the fork or knife already in your silver drawer or camping kit. Also popular for school lunches are decorative food picks. And, toothpicks are a must!
When it comes to Bento boxes, silicone cups are a must-have accessory. They can be used to hold wet or dry foods and can add extra compartments to your trays as needed. This set is by The New York Baking Company and 24 cups will cost you around $12. Plus, you can also use them to make muffins and cupcakes. This is an all-around useful product.
Another nice thing to have in your bento kit is a condiment container. Because of the variety of condiments you’ll likely use them for, you’ll want glass or metal – materials that absorb flavors easily. These condiment containers are from LunchBots and a 3-pot set will cost you around $25 on amazon.com. I think that’s a little much to swallow but finding good-looking containers for Bento can be challenging if you’re an adult and don’t want to cart around cartoon characters or little bottles with frog heads.
Hoe to Bento continues here.
And now, it’s your turn. What bento equipment and accessories do you swear by?