A bento lunch is a compact, balanced, visually appealing meal packed in a box. Bento, or o-bento, refers to a packaged, single-portion, portable meal that is usually eaten at lunch, but also comes in larger sizes meant for use at picnics, dinner, and parties. A bento generally consists of rice or noodles and some form of protein (e.g., meat, poultry, fish, tofu) accompanied by side dishes of raw, simmered, or pickled vegetables. There are many different types of bento boxes, ranging from traditional handcrafted wooden lacquer ware, stainless steel, plastic and disposable containers. Most bento boxes have compartments or internal dividers for separate dishes. Bento is an art form in Japan. Japanese women spend a good part of their mornings preparing bento for their families. The variety of designer bento boxes, food liners, wiener and cookie cutters, egg molds, food picks, and other bento-ware used to create these mini-masterpieces is amazing and overwhelming. Bento boxes come in a wide variety, as today they can include almost any type of meal. Often bento boxes are used as an artistic expression, and might include elaborate snacks that have been shaped like cartoon characters or animals, usually according to a central theme. These are usually prepared for children, so the emphasis is on healthy foods and portion control.
- It’s a fun way to entice picky eaters.
- As you prepare them regularly, you can be sure you are eating the freshest meals, without additives or chemicals.
- The variety of bento boxes is virtually endless. There are different shapes, styles, colors, materials and themes. There are boxes with flowers (kimono bento boxes) for women, with samurai themes for men and with animal shapes for children. Some people have even bento boxes collections!
- A Bento Box is also helpful for counting calories, carbs, and fats by making it a breeze to monitor portion control. The Bento Box packing method boils down to:
- One part protein
- Two parts fruit and vegetables
- One part sweet
- Eco-Friendly – Bento box is reusable; therefore, you can reduce the amount of plastic bags, disposable containers, and waste.
History of Bento:
The origin of bento can be traced back to the late Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333), when cooked and dried rice called hoshi-ii (糒 or 干し飯, literally “dried meal”) was developed. Hoshi-ii can be eaten as is or boiled with water to make cooked rice, and is stored in a small bag. In the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568 to 1600), wooden lacquered boxes like today’s were produced and bento would be eaten during a hanami or a tea party.
In the Edo Period (1603 to 1867), bento culture spread and became more refined. Travelers and sightseers would carry a simple koshibentō (腰弁当, “waist bento”), consisting of several onigiri wrapped with bamboo leaves or in a woven bamboo box. One of the most popular styles of bento, called makuno-uchi bentō (“between-act bento”), was first made during this period. People who came to see Noh and Kabuki ate specially prepared bentos between maku (acts). Numerous cookbooks were published detailing how to cook, how to pack, and what to prepare for occasions like Hanami and Hinamatsuri.
In the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912), the first ekibentō or ekiben (駅弁当 or 駅弁, “train station bento”) was sold. There are several records that claim where ekiben was first sold, but it is believed that it was sold on 16 July 1885, at the Utsunomiya train station, and contained two onigiri and a serving of takuan wrapped in bamboo leaves. As early schools did not provide lunch, students and teachers carried bentos, as did many employees. “European” style bentos with sandwiches also went on sale during this period.
In the Taishō period (1912 to 1926), the aluminum bento box became a luxury item because of its ease of cleaning and its silver-like appearance. Also, a move to abolish the practice of bento in school became a social issue. Disparities in wealth spread during this period, following an export boom during World War I and subsequent crop failures in the Tohoku region. A bento too often reflected a student’s wealth, and many wondered if this had an unfavorable influence on children both physically, from lack of adequate diet, and psychologically, from a clumsily made bento or the richness of food. After World War II, the practice of bringing bentos to school gradually declined and was replaced by uniform food provided for all students and teachers.
Bentos regained popularity in the 1980s, with the help of the microwave oven and the proliferation of convenience stores. In addition, the expensive wood and metal boxes have been replaced at most bento shops with inexpensive, disposable polystyrene boxes. However, even handmade bentos have made a comeback, and they are once again a common, although not universal, sight at Japanese schools. Bentos are still used by workers as a packed lunch, by families on day trips, for school picnics and sports days etc. The bento, made at home, is wrapped in a furoshiki cloth, which acts as both bag and table mat.
The bento made its way to Taiwan in the first half of the 20th century from Japan, and remains very popular to the present day. The Japanese name was borrowed as Bendong (Taiwanese: piān-tong) or Mandarin Biàndang (便當, “convenience pack”).(Wikipedia)
You can make beautiful bento boxes without investing in a lot of “stuff” by packing lunches with beautifully colored fresh fruits and vegetables and arranging food attractively, but there’s no denying that all of the tools and accessories for bento are a big part of the fun. Basic Bento supplies are as simple as a knife, cookie and veggie cutters, silicone baking cups, sandwich cutters, small boxes and containers, egg and rice molds. Decorations such as food markers, food dividers, food picks and lunch box notes. The creativity is endless with a Bento Box!
Bento Boxes: We currently use a Cool Gear EZ-Freeze Collapsible Bento Box. I love that it has a removable freeze try to keep lunches cold. But there are so many options out there such as the Bentgo All-in-One Stackable Lunch/Bento Box, Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar, or the Stainless Steel ECOlunchbox.
Silicone Baking Cups:
Fruit, veggie, lunch meat and cheese cutters:
All the fun Bento items I have posted can be found on Amazon and most ship FREE with a Prime Membership! I LOVE my Amazon Prime Membership, if you don’t have one you can subscribe with this link. Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now or if you are a college student, Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now.
Remember making a Bento Box Lunch is all about fun and creativity, so have a blast creating a special lunch for your child or yourself!
I also made Fun Things to do in Central Mass Bento Box Pinterest board, you can get some inspiration here.
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