“Bento” is a Japanese word that roughly translates into “box lunch” in English. However, there is nothing boxed or boring about these crazy lunches. Artfully decorated and creatively displayed, bento boxes are meant to put a fun spin on good, healthy food. Their design’s purpose is to entice the eater to finish their entire meal, so the concept is great for kids, especially your picky eaters! Here is IKO Community Management’s step-by-step guide on how to make an at-home bento box:
- Divide your meal proportionately. In traditional bento boxes, you can either go with a 4:3:2:1 ratio (4 parts of rice, 3 parts of a side dish, 2 parts of vegetables and 1 part of pickled vegetable or dessert) or a 1:1 ratio (1 part of rice and 1 part of a side dish, which contains a 1:2 ratio of meat to vegetables). When choosing ingredients, try to incorporate between 3 to 5 different colors, which will naturally create a healthy meal.
- If rice is not your chosen ingredient, substitute it with a type of sushi or cooked whole wheat pasta.
- Consider substituting some seasonal fruit or potato salad for the vegetables during the spring and summer months.
- If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider adding tofu or beans instead of chicken, beef or pork.
- If this bento box is for your kids, consider treating them with a pack of small pudding, yogurt or Jell-O for dessert.
- Add a layer of pretzels, carrot sticks and/or veggie chips on top for an easily accessible snack.
- Find the right container. Actual bento boxes can be found online or in Asian food stores. You can also find neat ways to pack and accessorize a bento box with this great list. However, if you want to keep it within the do-it-yourself theme, consider using household kitchen items like muffin and cupcakes tins or Tupperware with muffin wrappers or silicone cups. This will also help with portion control, so you or your little one does not munch on unhealthy food like regular chips or sodium-loaded crackers.
- Pack your brightly colored foods tight, especially if your box does not have actual compartments. This will ensure that the flavors do not mix together, and the presentation will stay compact and crisp.
- Paint your food with seasonings, condiments and spices. If this bento box is for your kids’ lunch, try adding food coloring to the toppings, such as cream cheese, butter, sour cream or frosting. You can make animal faces out of multiple foods, or add a garnish of your choice. Use cookie cutters to create exciting shapes instead of settling for plain edges. The more colorful and decorative the box, the more likely all of it will be eaten, especially by your little ones.
Bento boxes are designed to make lunchtime a little less boring, so do not limit your ideas to your children’s school lunches. Pack a special bento box for your workday and decorate it with your kind of perfect twist! Remember: Bento boxes are about expressing creativity with color, pattern, texture and flavor, so feel free to experiment and have fun with your food.
From all of us at IKO Community Management, happy bento boxing!