Shawn P. Conlin

Losing It!


Current Weight Loss
Starting Weight: 275 Lbs
Target Weight: 200 Lbs
264 lbs
The Beauty of Bento

Lunch. The bane of our existence. We don't have enough time to make it on most mornings. We rarely have time to eat it during the week. We certainly don't have time to sort out and balance our nutrition when we do have it. What if I told you there was a solution? Something that is quick to assemble, roughly balanced by design, and even makes you look fancy when you sit down to eat it. Enter the bento.

I started making bento when my eldest child took a strong interest in Japanese culture. At first, we were taken in by the time-consuming but incredibly cute lunches that are so popular. We would spend hours (days?) planning, prepping, and assembling ornate food to take on an outing or for school lunches. It was worth it to know that the kids had food they were excited about and would eat. The problem was that it just wasn't sustainable. That was when we decided to dig a bit deeper and learned some of the secrets of bentos.

Bento #32: Piggy With Sweets | For more description see here… | Flickr

One of the most important things we learned was that we should either pre-cook the contents or use leftovers from the previous day to build our lunches. Some of my favorite tricks are making a large batch of rice and then freezing 1 cup servings in baggies, cooking seasoned ground beef (soboro) to be bagged in single servings and frozen, and keeping a tray of fresh or pickled veggies on hand. With these simple ingredients, you can build a nutritious and filling lunch in about 3 minutes. It may not be really pretty but that is a plus since you won't feel as bad about eating it.

One of the reasons that bentos are an excellent choice is their recommended ratios of ingredients. A bento is typically divided into 3-4 groupings of food—sometimes physically, sometimes not. The groupings consist of carbs, vegetables, protein, and (if desired) a sweet. To further the balance and nutrition aspects, you should use either the 4:2:2 or 3:2:1 ratios (Carb:Protein:Vegetable) to build a filling box that will get you through the day. One of my favorites has been 1 cup (8 oz) rice, 1/2 cup (4 oz) sliced pork, 1/4 cup pickles, and 1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries. Protein doesn't have to be meat, if that isn't your preference, but you should still attempt to have the correct ratio using beans, eggs, or tofu.

When it comes to calories, I regularly aim for around 500-600 calories for a lunch. The bento I described above weighs in at 589 calories. Swapping the pork for chicken and possibly the rice for a tortilla can reduce the count to 500 or less. Another favorite of mine is tuna wraps, which also come in around 500 calories. If you are horrified by the idea of a 500 calorie lunch, how about this one? 4 oz of rice, 1 hard boiled egg, 6 baby gherkins (pickles), 2 Tbls ranch dressing, and 1 carrot cut into sticks for a total of 389 calories. I'm sure that you can adjust ingredients and portions to achieve any calorie total you are seeking; it just takes some planning.

Despite what some say, bento boxes do not have to be filled with Japanese cuisine. Sure, they may no longer be traditional but they are still serving the purpose of putting a healthy meal in your stomach when you need it. I've filled my boxes with everything from onigiri to hot dogs and from sushi to lasagne. It's more about what you have on hand that also fits your requirements. For some excellent recipes and ideas, I highly recommend The Just Bento Book by Makiko Itoh.

The last thing I should point out is that you don't need a fancy lunchbox to make a bento. You can build them in any food-grade storage container you have. That said, the various types of boxes are very nice and can be a little addictive. Below is a portion of my bento box collection featuring multiple sizes and styles. One even includes an ice pack.

Assorted bento boxes

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