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What Is a Bento Box and How to Make Them

Looking for a simple meal prep method for packing lunches? Find out how a bento box could be your favorite solution and just how to make them!

What Is a Bento Box and How to Make Them


The traditional bento box was crafted for ideal convenience. It became popular among many social classes and occupations due to the variety and versatility that could be created by organizing meals into simple compartments.

Today, the bento box goes above and beyond! It helps offer balanced, portable nutrition and healthy meals in an easy package.

Read on to learn how to make bento boxes, and for the best bento box ideas for adults.

What Are Bento Boxes?

In their most basic form, bento boxes are simply lunch boxes with special compartments designed to simplify the assembly process. They are a great option for on-the-go lunches for kids and adults alike since they offer a nutritious meal in a neat little package.

The Japanese bento is the one most people are familiar with, and it embodies many Japanese ideals in its form with distinctive lines and harmonious style. Easy to clean, easy to carry, and easy to compartmentalize, today's bento box can easily accommodate almost any meal.

The Traditional Bento Box

Derived from a Chinese word meaning "convenient", bento boxes became a cultural symbol in Japan as early as the 13th century. It was ideal in many ways by providing a portable, single-portioned, package-less meal option that gave the consumer a perfect nutritional boost.

The basic Japanese bento is generally characterized by at least two sections, one for rice and the other for any assortment of side dishes. In the years following the 16th century, bento boxes received several upgrades such as being made out of more versatile materials and expanding to become capable of carrying everyday meals. They served their consumers well, including everyone from school children to military men to travelers and sightseers.

Many bento box variations exist today, but a basic box contains multiple compartments to carry many food groups. Some modern bentos offer many other features, including:

• Stackable tiers so that the box can be customized or expanded to fit the occasion or fellow diners
• Attachments such as a soup bowl or utensils
• Easy washing or reusing capabilities

Overall, bentos offer major convenience and are equipped to carry so many bento lunch recipes, including the ideas right below!

Bento Box Ideas for Adults

The general formula that made traditional bentos most successful, and the same style that works today, is to focus on cultivating a basic container with four main food compartments:

1. Carbohydrates: nutrient-rich items like brown rice or quinoa take a fun twist on classic dishes.

2. Protein: lean, grilled meats like grilled chicken or turkey are excellent choices

3. Vegetables: made in batches beforehand or from frozen for easy additions

4. Fruits: prepared in bulk beforehand or from frozen, like vegetables, to help keep cold dishes cold

1. Carbohydrates

• Whole wheat or whole grain bread
• Wraps
• Pita
• Crackers
• Homemade muffins
• Pasta
• Potatoes
• Rice
• Grains
• Tortillas
• Chips
• Noodles

2. Protein

• Homemade trail mix
• Meat
• Poultry
• Seafood
• Chickpeas
• Lentils
• Black beans
• Refried beans
• Cheese, cheese cubes, etc.
• Yogurt
• Cottage cheese
• Canned tuna
• Canned salmon
• Hard cooked or boiled eggs
• Tofu
• Nut and seed mix

3. Vegetables

• Raw veggies
• Leftover cooked veggies
• Grilled veggies
• Vegetable-based soups
• Salad
• Snap peas

4. Fruits

• Frozen berries
• Canned unsweetened fruit
• Dried fruit
• Cantaloupe
• Honeydew melon

5. Combo Ideas & Other

• Sandwiches (pre-cut and prepared)
• Cheese and crackers
• Pre-portioned hummus and whole-grain pretzels

• Pre-cut fruits and veggies
• Apples and nut butter
• Pasta salad
• Pesto chicken and noodles

Themed Bento Ideas

Picking a theme for the bento box can often help to generate ideas for a more complete meal. Here are some of our favorite picks:

Mediterranean: greek salad, hummus, pita, and grapes

Tropical Taco Salad: whole grain chips, avocado dip, layered taco salad with meat, corn, and some sort of tropical fruit like kiwi or pineapple medley on the side

Sushi Undone: edamame, grilled shrimp, salt and peppered cucumber, rice, and sesame seeds

Rainbow: colorful and pre-cut fruits and vegetables (such as seasonal berries or squashes) plus string cheese and meat, avocado dip for the fruits and veggies, and a small helping of dessert to complete the color wheel

Picnic Favorites: nuts and seeds mix with easy grilled fruit and meat kabobs, pasta salad, and finger food fruits and veggies on the side

Seafood: tuna or salmon salad with whole-grain crackers, carrot and bell pepper sticks, and grapes on the side

Breakfast for lunch: essentially any breakfast food that fulfills the 4 categories mentioned above

The Classic: tofu, rice, and vegetables with a side of seasonal fruit

Whatever the combination, bento boxes deliver variety whilst maintaining balance, and it is all perfectly packaged into neat compartments. Nutritious meals have never been easier when they come in a bento box!

References:

Cubbison S. Choosing a Japanese Bento Box: All You Need to Know. Japan Objects. 2018. https://japanobjects.com/features/bento-box.

Eating Well Staff. Easy Bento Box Lunch Ideas for Work and School. Eating Well. 2019. http://www.eatingwell.com/gallery/13659/easy-bento-box-lunch-ideas-for-work-and-school/.

Holwegner A. Bento Box Lunches. Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. 2015. https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/bento-box-lunches/.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on January 05, 2021. Updated on January 21, 2021.

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