Brown bags to bento boxes: how to make the most of your lunch

You’ve been there: soggy lettuce, crusty bread, warm veggies, oozing sacks and melted chocolate….your lunch from home. Calling all brown baggers! Lunch can be fresh, appetizing, fun and nutritious using bento boxes! 

Bento boxes have been used for more than 700 years. They are a way to keep foods compartmentalized and have now evolved to be a palette for intricate food art. Those who fancy this style can take an average of 45 minutes to create one bento box that has healthy, high quality foods shaped like flowers, animals, cartoon characters and landscapes. If that’s for you…then by all means, savor this opportunity! For those of you who need lunch in a hurry, but still want to luxuriate just a little during your break, then bento boxes can still work for you.

First things first! What is a bento box, and where can I find one? Traditionally, bento boxes are wooden lacquered boxes compartmentalized to keep foods separate and convenient. You can now purchase boxes made out of aluminum or plastic. They come tiered, round, with or without patterns….your options are numerous.  Bentos were sent with those going out to hunt, fish or even heading off to war. They were traditionally packed with a Japanese ratio of 4:3:2:1 (rice: side: veggie: pickled item or dessert), but you can customize to fit your meal preferences. Bento boxes can be purchased online and many stores like Cost Plus or Wal-Mart have them as well. Many are microwaveable and include levels meant to keep foods warm or cold and some have containers inside to help sort the dishes.

Aesthetically pleasing dishes are much more exciting to eat and share and you won’t get tired of the same old lunch with a bento box. Choose brightly colored foods for nutrition and beauty and use different items, like sauces or finger foods, to play with textures. You can make simple sandwiches in fun shapes and expand your palate by trying tiny bits of new foods. Food choices are not just for children's tastes and many diet styles can be accommodated easily. Using a bento box helps with portion control as well.

Follow bento box blogs for new ideas and to help make the process as easy as you want or need it to be. We have to eat, so using the bento box style provides just a little more joy.

This blog post was written by Labor of Love Contributor Catherine Roth CCHW.

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