We fully support the classic lunch special: a sandwich, because who can say no to two slices of bread filled with a totally customizable roster of ingredients? But sometimes, inspiration can get a little stale (pun intended), and perhaps you or your kids aren’t always looking to have a sando moment. So, we present to you: the bento box! Bento refers to a Japanese, single portion meal, packed to go, usually lunch. And, unsurprisingly, the box is what contains it.
We love bento boxes because not only can you fill them with a full meal, but the box is often separated into different sections, so you can pack multiple things at once. Bento boxes are also known for their beautiful food art, and though we’d never claim to be potato Picassos, we have a few tricks up our sleeves.
Keep it balanced
Bentos don’t just look cute, they’re also providing a full meal. So, make sure you keep the bentos balanced—don’t just fill one with fried rice or another starchy carb, mix it up so that you’ve got protein, starch, and veggies all together. You can put the sauce or protein right on your rice or noodles. Combine zoodles with a Bolognese sauce or maybe some turkey meatballs over rice ensure that the base soaks up all that delicious flavor.
Think outside the (bento) box
Bentos are a fun place to actually play with your food (!), so go wild with color, and even shapes. Using simple tools like cookie cutters (think: stars made of carrot or ham slices) and thin knives can make for an extra-attractive look for lunchtime. Top a salad with a variety of differently shaped veggies and your kids will forget they’re eating greens.
Take texture into account
When you’re packing items together, you’ve got to consider the enemy of any packed lunch: sogginess. Though the airtight seal on a bento will keep things nice and crisp, certain items are prone to turning soggy. In addition to no-brainers like don’t pre-dress your salad, also consider draining ingredients that may leak water like steamed spinach and other greens.
Work in advance
One thing we truly appreciate about bentos is that you can make things in advance and then pair them in your box day of, mixing and matching your prepped goods. Leftovers, of course, are great, since you can just throw some of last night’s dinner mix into one section. As far as advanced prep, think sliced peppers and cucumbers, cooked pasta, cut up fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and your creatively-cut sandwich shapes. This will save you time with a busy schedule.
Mix and match and snack it UP!
Be mindful of flavors going together, of course, as things may combine, or at the very least are consumed together in a bento. But, if you’ve made some mains and sides and snacks in advance, feel free to mix and match the different dishes together. Chicken and rice one day can be chicken over salad the next. Add berries on Tuesday, but an apple and peanut butter the next. Need one more? Throw pita and hummus in on Thursday, but make that a hummus and turkey roll up the next.
The options are (actually) endless.
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