The word “bento” or “obento” is Japanese for a meal served in a box. If you’ve noticed the compact lunch boxes popping up on cafeteria tables near you, than you’d likely agree that the bento trend has officially reached Western culture.
According to Deb Hamilton’s popular bento blog Lunch in a Box, a bento lunch is a “compact, balanced, visually appealing meal packed in a box.” Hamilton, who lived in Japan for nine years and speaks fluent Japanese, began creating bento boxes as a creative meal option when her husband was diagnosed with celiac disease.
Though bento lunches are inspired by Japanese cuisine, it is easy to pack a bento box with your favorite foods that delivers a number of benefits over traditional lunch fare.
Portion Control: The average bento box is 600 ml so you can exercise portion control and track the calories in your meal. Hamilton typically packs hers with 3 parts carbs, 1 part protein and 2 parts fruits and vegetables.
Reusable Containers: If you or your kids tote their lunch in brown bags or plastic baggies, switching to bento-style lunch is a great way to reduce lunch waste and help conserve environmental resources.
Budget, Budget, Budget: If you add up all the disposable bags and containers you’ve purchased over the years, you could probably afford a vacation or two. Save money by investing in one or two sturdy bento boxes and enjoy additional savings on the money you might have spent on restaurant meals by packing healthy homemade lunches.
Our Favorite Bento Ideas:
Cheese & Crackers Bento: 1 ounce of low-fat cheese with whole grain crackers, a serving of grapes and a small portion of your chicken or turkey salad.
Fall Comfort Food Bento: Use dinner leftovers to pack a bento box with homemade chicken tenders, glazed baby carrots, Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes. Great at room temperature, it would also be delicious heated up if you have access to a microwave.
Salad Bento: 1 cup fruit salad, mixed green salad with cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken, 1 medium apple.
Middle Eastern Bento: 2 small or one regular sized pita bread, 1/4 cup hummus, fruit salad (sliced apple, pear and grapes), 1 container low-fat yogurt, mixed salad (lettuce, carrots, red pepper, tomato) with low-fat dressing.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy bento lunches?
image via rodale.com