For the last month or so I have started packing bento-esque lunches for myself at work. For the most part I used to just eat cereal everyday, and despite my love a nice bowl of cereal, it can get a little boring. When I would get bored, I would end up going to the grocery store on my lunch and buying way too much to eat or hitting up a local fast food place. While in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to visit a Diaso Japan store, and went a little crazy.
I have been wanting to make bento lunches for a long time, but I was completely unsure where to find supplies locally. I could always order off the internet, but truth be told, I am an instant gratification kinda gal, and would hate the wait. So while in LA I went on a mini shopping spree and bought a little bit of everything I could possibly think of that I would need to make bento lunches.
Then came the hard part. What do I pack!? I am a super picky eater and will admit it until I am blue in the face. I won’t try and fool myself or you by attempting to like something when I clearly don’t. I am a creature of habit (see the part where I would eat cereal for weeks) and as a kid I pretty much had the same sack lunch from pre-school until 8th grade. Bento lunches are great for a few reasons, let me break it down for you why I think so…
1. It’s cute. Come on, who doesn’t love food in cute containers, food with faces, food presented in cute ways, etc. Part of why I love making bento style lunches is the creativity of turning an ordinary lunch into something fun.
2. Built in portion control. I struggle with this when it comes to food. It is not uncommon for me to eat an entire bag of chips, or two bagels, or a few more cookies than I should, but I don’t have that problem when it comes to lunch time. Everything that is packed is pretty much perfectly portioned. The bottom box I try to make sure that I have mostly protein and a side, then snack type foods for the top box. This keeps me from packing an entire box of cookies and chips.
3. I get a little bit of everything. I think the hardest part of packing a lunch is burn out, at least for me. I hate slapping the same thing together day in and day out, so I either eat something easy and simple like cereal or I go out eat. With a bento lunch, I get to pack all kinds of things that I normally wouldn’t.
4. It’s money saving. Because I am not going out to eat, I am saving money by bringing my lunch to work, and I am using all of the food I have at home. It forces me to buy things that I can use for lunch instead of just stuff I want to eat en mass while cross stitching infront of the TV. Because I am not using half a bag of chips in a normal sack lunch in a ziplock bag and only using a pinch in my bento box, I can stretch that bag of chips to cover over a weeks worth of lunches if I so please.
5. It fills me up. I was most skeptical of this one when I purchased these two boxes. The first night I put together my lunch, I stood in my kitchen and thought to myself “There is no way that this is going to fill me up.” Most days I feel like I eat just enough that I rarely eat dinner because I am still full from lunch.
So back to the hard part – what do I pack?! The sky is really the limit when it comes to bento lunches. There are no rules or guidelines as to what you can or cannot pack. It is definitely a challenge to present things in a smaller way that they will fit in the box, but to me, that is part of the fun. Some of the staples that I include in my lunch are things like:
|mini sandwiches||pizza||pasta||pot stickers||cereal|
|fruit snacks||cookies||trail mix||candy||apple sauce|
|dips||mini bagels||nuts||graham crackers||yogurt|
|crackers||mini cheeses||granola||mashed potatoes||peanut butter|
Like I said, the sky is the limit with what you can pack, but I always try to keep in mind that if it is something that needs to be eaten warm, how will it reheat since I store my food in the fridge until lunch time. I often make a little extra of whatever I am making for dinner to make into something for lunch. Tacos on Sunday are a ritual for us, so I always take some sort of taco dish on Monday. To keep it from getting boring I have made them in different ways for lunch. One week I made mini tacos by cutting mini soft taco shells out of a tortilla with a glass. One week I made cheeseless nachos (chips and meat, who am I kidding), and this week I spread grilled taco meat on a tortilla, rolled it up really tight and saran wrapped it over night in the fridge and cut it like a sushi roll in the morning.
In closing, here are a few tips I have learned in the last few weeks of lunch making.
– You can make almost anything bite size, it just takes a little creativity.
– Fun picks are a great way to make mundane things like fruit snacks cute. I make fruit snack skewers.
– Always make sandwiches day of to keep your bread from getting soggy
– Invest in some supplies upfront. Find a box you like, pick up some silicone baking cups in a couple of sizes, some picks, a few small sauce containers (I have a few designated that I always keep premade in the fridge and kitchen cupboard of things like soy sauce, taco hot sauce, salt, pepper, etc.)
– Make a list of lunches for the week. This will help not only help you possibly figure out what to make for dinner, but it keeps you from standing in your kitchen at 11 PM slapping together a crappy lunch because you feel obligated to make something.
– Your coworkers will be fascinated with your lunch and think you have tons of time on your hands when in reality it only takes about 5 – 10 minutes to the boxes together (if you have cooked things the night prior, etc)
– It doesn’t always have to be cute. So what if your mashed potatoes don’t have seaweed stars speckling them. Who cares, its your lunch.
– There are tons of inspiring bento internet resources.
Have fun with lunch!