Sunday, February 5, 2012

Welcome to Bento Buddy!

Hi and welcome to my first bento blog.

To begin with, I'll introduce myself. I'm a college student working toward an Associate of Arts right now, but I definitely plan to extend my education into nursing and eventually into Psychology. My husband works at Costco to keep us happy, so packing his lunches are a fun way to show gratitude while I polish off the degree. Our son, Danny, is a funny little guy with a few quirks. He has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and he is an incredibly loving little guy eager to try new things.

I started making bentos as a way to cut food costs. The initial investments seem surprising, but after even just a few meals, you'll start to see the value. Most of all, I try to aim for items that are in season or available for cheap. I also make bentos on days that I'm at home because eating the smaller meal and looking forward to it cuts down the snacking. I've lost about twenty pounds since I started doing this last year, and more importantly, my food choices have shifted to healthier options. I hope to shed more this year by being more consistent. (Moving and balancing a busy school schedule sabotaged the efforts last year, but overall, I was still enjoying the shift.)

I'll be offering recipes and ideas for packing the mini meals, but remember that these can be altered to fit your dietary needs. A general rule of thumb for traditional bentos is: 1/3-1/2 carbohydrates (such as rice or other grains), 1/4 protein, and 1/4+ vegetables. Most bento boxes that you can find on are measured in mL. As long as you're packing the boxes with those specifications, you'll be taking in as many calories as mLs, so choose a box that will accommodate your diet. Some will seem small, like 550-800 mL, but the rice and veggies will be filling enough that you won't miss the extras. The key is to find foods that offer nutrients for few calories, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a tasty treat!

The three pictures above show a few examples of bento boxes. The top is a oval-shaped double tier (the second half was filled with white rice and sesame seeds). It's a nice little box that you can pick off Amazon in a variety of patterns for under $20. It's machine washable and comes with an inner lid for the smaller portion, but it's not water-tight. Most meals will be cooled and dry before you pack them as moisture can breed bacteria, so the water-tightness isn't a massive concern. This is the box I use at home for myself. It's small but very filling.

The bottom box is another two-tier. This is an example of a "men's bento" because it's unadorned with flowers or silliness and holds a lot. I got this one from Amazon (notice any patterns?) for around $25. The lid snaps on snugly and fits a pair of chopsticks under the cover, easy to wash out, and it's microwave and dishwasher safe. It can hold liquids in the top tier, but I would rather take something else for soup. It's handled a runny curry just fine, though. Bob loves this one and gets a few envious stares. The only downside is getting him to remember to take it home.

The middle should be easily recognized. You know these, right? Gladware sandwhich-size. This is one of my Budget Bento experiments, but more than once, I've filled a few for Bob when he forgot his bento box. These are great, disposable if worn out, and won't break the bank. If you want to start bentos but don't have a lot of cash to slap down on a designer box, these can look just as nice. Personally, I don't love all the plastic picks shaped like characters, frilly designs, and odd dividers that other sites enjoy. For me, it's the recipes and presentation. Good food stands alone.

So, that's a little introduction. I have some tutorials that I'll put up and more to share, so keep checking back! If you're eager to try, go ahead and get started. Fill your box and tuck veggies into the corners to keep the food from sliding around. You'll have fun with the attempt and enjoy the meal a little more. Thanks for reading!