Bento Boxes

It’s back to school time!  When it comes to the daily grind of the school year, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by your schedule.  Sometimes, we tend to take shortcuts when it comes to packing lunches for our kids.  Lunchables might be a quick solution, but how healthy are prepackaged meals?  Well they can be really healthy if you make them yourself.

Let me introduce you to the humble bento box.  Bento is a single-portion takeout or homemade meal common in Japan.  A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables in a box-shaped container.  The word “bento” originates from a Japanese word meaning “convenient”.  There are two characteristics that make bento boxes a unique style of boxed lunch.

The first is the boxes themselves.  In fact, these stackable boxes have made their way into many American homes as plastic containers.  The key is that they stack and are self-contained (see photo).  In Japan they range from disposable plastic containers to beautiful, handmade wooden containers.

The second characteristic is how the boxes are prepared.  A typical bento consists of small portions of multiple items all tightly packed and arranged to look pleasing.  Usually a bento will at least have a fruit, vegetable, meat, and a starch like rice or bread.  Bentos can be elaborately arranged in a style called “kyaraben” (character bento) to look like anime or cartoon, comic book, or video game characters.  They even have bento design competitions!

The benefit of bento boxes is that they can be prepared in advance (or at least individual components).  This means you can do most of the prep work one day a week instead of trying to spend a ton of time each night/morning.  Give these time-saving boxes a try this school year.