My school schedule this semester requires that I bring my lunch to school with me or else brave the cafeteria. The campus cafeteria is a luring oasis of unhealthy, expensive food. A simple salad can rack up to $10 in no time. Plus, they have Ding Dongs there. And Ho-Ho’s. And bags of Doritos. Me likes the cafeteria. It’s the Las Vegas of campus, a place for sin.
The cafeteria is not a good habit to indulge on a daily basis.
In an attempt to stave off the lazy convenience of the cafeteria and inspire a consistent and healthy lunchtime habit I started making a bento box for lunch hoping that it would make my “bag lunch” a little more fun. After several months of bringing my bento I can tell you that, indeed, my “bag lunch” kicks the cafeteria’s patoot! I love busting out my little bento for lunch. I really look forward to it and get a kick every time I pop the top off my lunch box. Even my lab mates have taken to asking me, “Sooooo, what do we have today? Oooh. That looks good!”
It’s not that the food is so spectacular, usually I just have leftovers, but the presentation of a bento is so visually appealing that it makes ordinary grub look appetizing.
For those unfamiliar with the bento box, lemme ‘splain …
… bento boxes are packed meals originating from Japan. You can buy them pre-made in the store or pack your own from home. They will always include more than one item or dish, each separated into its own compartment to keep them from mushing together and contaminating one another. And with the typical Japanese drive for perfection, the presentation of food in a bento makes all the difference in the world. After all, we eat with the eyes as much as the mouth.
You can find all kinds of incredible bento box designs ranging from the expensive enameled boxes to the cheap plastic boxes shaped like a panda head for kids. There are also all kinds of accessories: dividers, sauce containers, cutie toothpicks and cutouts.
Personally, I just use a medium-size Tupperware and these silicon cupcake cups in regular and jumbo sizes as little dividers.
And if I’m toting salad dressing, dip or sauce then I use a small jam jar or these crazy little squeeze bottles, which are perfect for soy sauce. They’re shaped like fish and pigs. Their cuteness KILLS me! You can find them online for a couple bucks. From an entertainment perspective they’re totally worth it.
I keep my bento super simple. Here are my tips:
- Always have 3 or more items. I almost always do 3. The proportion packs easy and gives good variety.
- Always include a treat. For me, that’s dessert.
- Don’t forget to garnish. It takes only a second, but adds that little bit of polish that sets bentos apart.
My bento usually takes no more than a couple minutes to put it together. But even if you spent five minutes on it, the payoff is exponential in enjoyment.
And if you have kids … holy cow! Bentos are amazing! What a great way to get your kids to love eating all kinds of food (including healthy fare). Fun food is good food!
Check out these amazing bentos bloggers >>>
Here’s Wendolonia who has a great roundup of Halloween bentos that are ADORABLE!
Here’s Happy Little Bento. She goes all out with darling cutouts, characters and themes. Her kids must love eating their lunch every day!
And for all the rest of us adults, check out Just Bento by Makikoh Itoh. She is the queen of the everyday bento. When I first started doing bento I scoured her site for ideas and inspiration. Thank you, Maki, for transforming my lunchtime experience.
If you’re toting a “bag lunch”, start packing a bento. I guarantee you lunch will be more fun!