Bento to the rescue!

While we were on vacation, there was much foodie geekiness. Santa Fe had great food, and we continued the quest in Olympia when we arrived here, which has many exceptional restaurants also. In between, we geeked about Gretchen’s fabulous home cooking, farmer’s markets, sustainable organic food, gluten-free recipes, and the virtues of bento. This last had me up late at night reading Just Bento, among other things. Gretchen has been making bento boxes for my brother to take to work for quite a while, which you can see pictures of here. They’re amazing. And healthy. Brad is very happy, Gretchen’s having fun making them, and all their friends are jealous. Not to mention that they’ve both lost weight.

Bento is sort of the ultimate portion control, since you can only eat what fits in the box, and you can buy boxes that are the right size for your needs. As long as you don’t put ridiculous things in there (like fried foods or chocolate cake), you can pretty much put in whatever you want, and it will work – no counting required. I’ve thought for a long time that the Japanese diet is pretty much right for me – low-fat, about half carbs, plus fruits and veggies, and small amounts of protein, mostly in the form of seafood, veggie protein, and eggs. To that I add high-fiber cereal, nonfat milk, and espresso in the morning, and I’m good to go.

So the more I talked with Gretchen about it, the more I thought this could be really fun. Not only is it healthy, it would get me to be more mindful about my food and have more fun preparing it. I would have more different things in each meal, unlike my current habits, which are kind of make whatever is easy and eat that one thing (sometimes for several meals). We talked a lot about how to have a variety of different things always available to put in each box, even though the boxes themselves are really tiny. Another goal is aesthetic pleasure and color contrast, which also contributes to the healthiness of fruit and vegetable mixes.

A good proportion is 1 cup or so of some kind of starch, typically sushi rice, other kinds of rice, pasta, roasted new potatoes… lots of choices. That goes in the larger side of the box, and just about fills up that side. There can be other tidbits of things in there to pretty it up and add flavor. The other side of the box has protein and veggies, and fruits if it will fit. Brad’s lunches are bigger than mine, which are 600 ml. But my dinner box will be slightly larger at 750 ml, so I may be sticking mostly to carbs, veggies and fruits for lunch, and adding protein for dinner.

Here’s my first day’s lunch bento (not the best photo, but I’m still learning my camera!):

We had just gotten back from vacation and had no time to shop, so this was an experiment with whatever was in the house. The larger side has leftover couscous with chickpeas and roasted root vegetables, and the smaller side (which stacks above the other side) has a lettuce, beet, and goat cheese salad. Just a couple of days later, I am headed to a conference where there will be lots of lunch meetings and little opportunity to get lunch anywhere. I decided to try bringing everything I would need for bentos for the three days, since I have a small refrigerator in my hotel room. Here’s the lunch I had today, which I have also packed for tomorrow on the way to the conference, since I need to use up the ingredients:

This one has a slight variation on the salad above, which is beets, goat cheese, and green onions (no dressing needed). I really like this one, so don’t mind eating it twice in a row. There are also strawberries on that side, in the cute little silicone cups that are ubiquitously used in bento (they can be baked, frozen, and are largely nonstick – very handy). In the lower half is a store-bought (but well-made) sushi roll, since I did go shopping today, mixed with fresh snap peas. For my lunch tomorrow I’ll use up the rest of the roll (it’s all cooked, so safe if kept cool) and add in the pickled ginger and soy sauce packets from the store for traveling. This picture also shows the top of the box, which stacks over the other two layers and has a black elastic band to hold it all together.

For the other two days’ lunches, I made mushroom risotto and carefully measured out two cups to take (one per day), then froze the rest for future use. For the other side of the bento I have a clementine orange and strawberries with yogurt, and a mix of snap peas and water chestnuts – all things that will keep well. I’m kind of pleased that this was all easy to put together and I won’t have to be running around trying to figure out where to get lunch. This conference is stressful enough without that.

I’ve been traveling so much lately that I’ve inevitably put on weight (three meals a day out for a month in New Zealand didn’t help). This should be a big help and fun too. Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoy making them :)

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One thought on “Bento to the rescue!

  1. gretchen says:

    I really like using the snap peas as a space filler in with the sushi; they fit in there so well and add a lot of pop both visually and flavor-wise. And that beet salad looks so yummy! I’m glad that you were able to figure out a good lunch solution for your conference, too.

    I’m excited that you’re having so much fun with this. (And I have to pick up some of those rainbow mini-cups now; they’re so cute!)

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