Lindsey: Bowled over by bento boxes

Last week, Miss Weighapie linked me to The World According to Eggface – a WLS website full of amazing recipes. She specifically linked me to a blog post featuring a bento recipe. That was it, I was inspired!

One of the problems I’ve experienced whilst trying to lose weight is what to take to work for my lunch. It’s simple enough in the winter, as I usually just grab a can of soup and I can vary my lunches by taking different kinds of soup with me. Over the summer though, I get stuck in a cycle of cheese with rye crackers, couscous salad and peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It gets a little bit boring after a couple of weeks.

But now I’ve discovered bento!

If you do an internet image search for bento, what you will come up with is pages and pages of elaborate, kitschy bento boxes, with tiny pikachus made of rice and detailed scenes made of carefully trimmed vegetables. Don’t let this put you off. Kyaraben or charaben, meaning cute bento or art bento, might be the most famous style of bento, but they are certainly not the most common. Most Japanese people don’t take these kind of lunches to work with them every day.

A bento box is basically a packed lunch. You can buy one tier or two tier bento boxes, and the idea of them is to be able to pack lots of different portions of food into one lunchbox. Don’t be fooled by their dinky size either. Because you pack them tightly in order to stop things moving around and ensure they still look attractive when you reach your destination, you can fit quite a lot of food into a bento box.

My friend bought me a bento box for my birthday and a book on kyaraben (Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes), plus all the stash I’d need to create elaborate bentos: like tiny cutters and little plastic figurines. The book is amazing, but I really don’t have the time to create a masterpiece like that every day. I also bought myself another book (The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches to Go) which features over 150 recipes with lots of selections to choose from. But a bento box is great for just salad, or leftovers, or something else just as simple.

Before I got my bento box, I had to bring my salad all mixed up together in one box, or in lots of separate tubs, which wasn’t very inspiring or creative. My bento box is already split into three containers, and I can make it into four or five by using silicone cupcake cases. So it means I can bring some couscous, and also some portions of cheese – two things I wouldn’t have put together into one box before, but now I can keep them separate. By keeping everything separate, it seems to keep it fresher and crisper, and makes the salad way tastier. If you have time to be playful and make them look more fun, then that makes them even more enjoyable. I liked adding a few ham stars to my couscous, cutting out miniature sandwiches, and making my initials in beetroot!

A bento is also a great way to monitor the balance of your portions – with the box divided into three, it’s really easy to pack it to a ratio of (for example) 1:1:2, for carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. You can adapt a bento to your own dietary needs and likes, you can even pack a portion of fruit salad as dessert, or a small container of soup as an appetiser.

So far, I’ve packed two salad bentos, and I’m completely hooked. I’m never going to take salad to work all mixed into one box ever again! I’ve never looked forward to my lunch as I looked forward to the bentos. It’s more like lots of little snacks, which seems much more fun to eat than one big container of salad or a sandwich.

You don’t have to stick to salad either, you can use your bento for cooked food, including leftovers. You can store pre-cooked rice portions in the freezer to go into your box, plus leftover pastas, casseroles or even mini hamburgers and meatballs. I currently have five portions of rice in the freezer for future bentos, plus two portions of leftover pasta with a tomato and chilli sauce. Bento boxes are usually microwave safe, so you can heat your leftovers up if you don’t want to eat them cold, although traditionally Japanese bentos are eaten at room temperature.

My first effort at a cooked bento included steamed rice, super spicy teriyaki chicken (I love spicy food), lettuce and some cucumber sticks to help cool down my mouth after all the chilli! It’s nice to take something completely different to work for lunch and a cooked, more Japanese style bento also gives me the chance to use my super-cute chopsticks!

Who is Lindsey?

Hi! I’m Lindsey. Although I haven’t had WLS, I have struggled with my weight since childhood. I’ll be blogging here from time to time with updates on how I’m trying to keep myself trim, my ups and downs at the gym and lots of other weight-related issues.