Today I'm starting a new series on the blog titled 'How to Make a Bento'. I'm going back to basics and will be sharing everything I know about packing bento lunches. I hope that by the time I've finished I'll have built a really useful resource to give you all the tools you need to learn how to pack a bento box, whether it be for your children or yourself.
If you're new to packing lunches or bento boxes or want to learn more about bento, this a great place to start!
I'll be adding all of the posts to a special How to Make a Bento page, so be sure to hop over there, bookmark it and check back to learn more about bento as I add to the series.
That leads me to the first question I usually get asked - what is bento?
Bento is a Japanese word, meaning ‘convenient’, and it refers to a meal, packed in a box, most commonly for lunch. It’s basically the Japanese equivalent of a packed lunch.
What makes bento different from the packed lunches that we are used to here in the UK though is that all of the food is packed tightly into one box and arranged so as to be pleasing to the eye as well as the taste buds. There is no need for any excess packaging such as cling film, tin foil or sandwich bags, and you can be really flexible with the kinds of foods you pack, which means that packing a healthy lunch couldn’t be easier.
Bento boxes have been used in Japan for hundreds of years and Japanese bento boxes can range from the simple to the incredibly elaborate. In recent times Japanese parents have been making bento lunches for their children with ever more fantastic designs, sculpting rice into cartoon characters or even portraits of famous people! Some of them are a real labour of love and true works of art.
The idea of bento has also been taken up in other parts of the world, such as America, Canada, Australia and recently here in the UK, as bento offers an interesting and healthy alternative to our ‘traditional’ sandwich style lunch.
Japanese bento boxes are most often filled with the rice and vegetables that comprise the usual Japanese diet, but when it comes to the kind of foods you can put in your own bentos, there are no rules, just endless possibilities!
You don’t need a huge amount of equipment to make a bento style lunch; all you really need to start with is a suitable box. It doesn’t have to be a box specifically designed for bento, although if you can get your hands on one they are generally perfectly proportioned for the job.
You can use little pots or silicone muffin cases to separate foods within the box when necessary, and there are also various designs of lunchbox available that have in-built separate compartments.
I'll be going into more detail about how to pack bento boxes and sharing my recommendations for the best bento boxes to use in my next few posts in this series.
In short, bento boxes are awesome for packing lunches because;
- They are eco-friendly - they don’t require extra packaging such as clingfilm, tinfoil or sandwich bags.
- They are incredibly flexible - you can fit most types of food into a bento box.
- Their flexibility makes it easy to create a healthy and balanced meal.
- They can make food look very appealing - great for encouraging picky eaters.
- They are really of fun, both for the creator and for the children eating them!
One thing that can sometimes scare off beginners is the fun food art element to packing bento boxes. I can't stress enough that the added fun is entirely optional, bento boxes can be as simple and fuss free as you like. If you don't feel inclined to make food art, bento boxes can still be for you, remember bento means convenience - just food in a box!
Next week I'll be sharing my recommendations for my favourite bento boxes for kids and where to find them, so if you're keen to learn more be sure to come back. In the meantime, why not go and bookmark the How to Make a Bento home page!
PS Packing lunches? Come join our friendly Facebook community to share your lunches and pick up new ideas from our members!
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