Looking to shake up your lunch hour? Try some bento lunch box ideas

Looking to shake up your lunch hour? Try some bento lunch box ideas

Bento lunch box ideas are starting to take hold in the west. In Asia, bento boxes have been a cultural mainstay for the last nine centuries. Bento (“convenience”) boxes originated in Japan, and they are divided into sections for rice, fish or meat, and cooked or pickled vegetables. Not only is this arrangement very healthy (the Japanese have some of the lowest obesity and cancer rates in the world), it’s pleasing—bento boxes are often arranged with care and creativity. Rice balls become pandas or popular manga characters (these are called “kyaraben”—character bento), and sometimes the whole bento is arranged as a pastoral landscape. Can’t do that with a throw-it-all-in-together lunch box, or bag.

Bento Lunch Box Ideas

If you’re new to bento style eating, we’ve got a few bento lunch box ideas to get you started. A quick Internet search will give you thousands of possible characters to try (bento boxes have a long and celebrated history in Japan, and Korea), but first we’ll cover a few of the techniques behind making food into characters and scenes. To turn a sandwich into a cat face, all you need are two round cookie cutters, one smaller than the other, and two pieces of bread. The larger bread circle makes the head; place the smaller circle on top to form a muzzle (one slice of bread will usually yield two small circles—cut the other in half to make two ears). Carrot, banana, or strawberry slices make good cat eyes (many other fruits and vegetables work too), and carrot strips or seaweed work well as whiskers. When you’re making a character inside a bento box, you don’t have to worry about perfectly securing the parts together—the box itself will hold the face together. Small cheese slices atop the bread ears make the cat face fuller. Another slice of cheese, cut in a half circle and placed on a cracker, makes a cute mouse. Needless to say, a good sharp paring knife to shape fruits and vegetables is very handy.

Rice balls make fun faces

When making a cooked sticky rice ball into a face or body, a small spoon is a helpful tool. Use the flat side of the spoon to flatten and shape the rice. In Japan, rice balls are often wrapped with seaweed to hold them in place (and often decorated with seaweed shapes). Tamagoyaki, a cold egg omelet, is a frequent feature in bento boxes; it’s made with soy sauce and sugar, so it’s both salty and sweet. Usually, these omelets are folded in half and placed vertically in a bento box.

One of the unspoken rules of making an attractive bento box is to choose colors that work together—if something clashes visually, the uneasy feeling it creates spreads to other senses, and you won’t want to eat the clashing food. Black and white foods go together, pastel colors generally compliment these. If you decide to dye a rice ball with food coloring (to make a pig, or chick, or frog), go easy on the color—pastels are more appetizing to eat than primary colors.

Our Slimline Bento Lunch Box, which comes with an insulated bag, is a great starter bento box. Its three leak-proof compartments and BPA-free plastic construction will keep your food art safe and pretty. Keep checking back with us for more bento lunch box ideas.