A bento a day keeps the nutritionist away

Posted by in Mary's blog

I have recently been exploring the world of bento making. Bentos are a common part of Japanese cuisine. There are two types of bentos: cute bentos and everyday bentos. For a long time I believed bentos were too difficult and took too much effort to make.

But I really wanted to learn how to make bentos because they are super nutritious, convenient, and their overall attractiveness makes you want to eat them up.

This blog helped point me in the right direction.  She makes everyday bentos that don’t require hours on end to make or great artistic talent. Here’s a link to a post she made on how to make bentos.

I picked up a few supplies from some ¥100 shops.  I bought the bento containers themselves, an onigiri mold, silicone cups for keeping foods separate, sauce containers and cute picks/skewers that I used for beans.  I invested around ¥1500 in this endeavour.

Last month we enjoyed a family vacation to Nagano Prefecture.  When we’re on vacation we typically spend the morning enjoying an outing with the kids, and when 12:00 rolls around we feel the pressure of finding a good place to eat lunch pronto.  Packing a bento for the family removes the pressure of finding a place to eat, ensures a healthy nutritious meal, and allows us to be flexible with where and when we eat.  Hence, a great opportunity to try my hand at making bentos.

Here’s how it went:

I put these bento lunches together by trying my best to keep them balanced with 50% carbohydrates (rice), 25% protein and 25% vegetables.  I made the rice into onigiri for the kids every day and I seasoned it with rice vinegar, salt and furikake.  Rice is the “main dish” in Japanese cooking, not the protein.

I made most of the protein foods ahead.  We had (in order of appearance): Chamchijeon (tuna pancakes), tamagoyaki, basic freezer meatballsdoubanjiang and miso chicken stir-fryyangyeom tongdak (spicy korean chicken) and miso marinated pork.  I was able to use many of these more than once.

I put two vegetable side dishes in every bento.  We had coleslawsautéed spinachshishito peppers jjim, a mixed vegetable salad that I got from the supermarket (don’t judge me) and kimchi cucumbers.

In order for bento boxes to work, they have to be full.  If there’s any extra space, the food won’t stay put and disaster awaits!  Also hunger.  I tried to keep the some “fillers” of different shapes in the fridge to plug any holes.  The kids can be picky about what they eat, too…so I wanted to include some of their favourites.  The Turtle is a tomato monster.  I used flower carrots, cherry tomatoes, apple slices, edamame and cucumber slices.

We ate our delicious bento lunches everywhere we went:  Highway stops, a museum, an onsen, a department store, and even a ski resort (with “no outside food” signs in English)!

I learned that advanced preparation makes bento making A LOT easier and quicker.  The meatballs, miso chicken, and fried chicken were all prepped and frozen in advance.  The coleslaw, shishito peppers, and carrot flowers were prepared and stored in the fridge. And the sautéed veggies were sautéed the day before and put in the fridge in individual servings.

I’ve been keeping a pinboard of ideas for more fun things to add to my family’s lunches, as well as bento tutorials and food safety tips: http://www.pinterest.com/marysalvatore/bento-lunches

In the end, the bentos were a great success!  I can see this becoming a way of life for us.