If you’re tired of cafeteria food, flying through the drive-through, and the temptations of lemon bars in the staff lunchroom, we have an alternative.
Pack yourself a snazzy lunch. We like bento boxes, Japanese lunch boxes that keep food tightly packed and therefore not squashed. You can use leftovers or do some weekend cooking to have basics to pack during the week, and get your lunch packed in about 15 minutes the night before.
We bought our first bento boxes in Little Tokyo in L.A., but you can get them online:
- Amazon has a bento box with bag, cute Panda Face bento box , and sophisticated bento boxes. Also lots of tools, like special cutters and rice presses. You can see a rice press in the photo above — push hot rice into it and your end up with a teddy bear made of rice.
- SuperBuzzy has bento boxes from Japan with surreal not quite English sayings like, “welcome to our home party!” They’re also an excellent source of super cute bento toys. Selection varies a lot, though.
- If you like the convenience of bento boxes but not the cuteness, Laptop Lunch has utilitarian sets, and LunchBots does modern streamlined ones in stainless steel.
Bento boxes have little stacking trays for all your food. There are moveable dividers in many bento boxes, and you can also use lettuce leaves, cupcake liners, or special bento dividers like the elephants above. Pack rice, pasta, or other grains tightly into a bento container while it’s hot and then let it cool before closing the container. This gives you a solid foundation. Add protein foods like eggs, small wrapped cheeses like Babybel or Laughing Cow, slices of meat, fried chicken nuggets, or cut sandwiches next to the grains using a divider. Put stews in a separate container.
Tuck in fruits and vegetables. Be sure to fill all the spaces tightly; if you have empty spaces, add small fruits or veggies to keep everything packed and not moving. Salad dressing and sauces can go into small bottles like those shown above, or you can use picnic packets.
Tightly packed in your bento box, your lunch will not end up soggy, squashed, and unappetizing. There’s room for a whole plateful of food (traditional estimates say a typical two-tier bento lunch has 300-500 calories), and you can plate it and microwave it if you prefer to eat that way. We think you can put any kind of food in your bento box, except soup (Thermos containers are your best bet for that), but there’s also an art-oriented bento subculture, as well as a cute food movement.
Online resources for these hardcore approaches to bento lunch:
- Cute Yummy Time: 70 Recipes for the Cutest Food You’ll Ever Eat
- Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go
While the sheer cuteness of our bento gear may have you thinking that this is girl stuff, we think guys need good lunches, too, and a well-packed lunch box gives you healthy and filling alternatives to the cafeteria or fast food. Just pick the larger size of bento box designed for guys. If even the manly bento boxes don’t hold enough food for you, tiffins work on the same principle.