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Make A Bento Box Lunch!

Updated on September 13, 2015
relache profile image

Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

Bento for Lunch

Grilled salmon, gyoza, tempura and more... Delicious!
Grilled salmon, gyoza, tempura and more... Delicious! | Source

A Bento Box Is...

... a traditional Japanese lunch box container

... a multi-item mid-day meal, offering a mix of flavors, colors and temperatures.

Bento boxes are fast becoming popular as a modern Western lunchtime option. These small meals offer lots of variety and can be created from very healthy ingredients. If you are making them yourself, the recipes are fantastic for using up odds and ends of dinnertime leftovers in creative ways. They can run the gamut from totally traditional to post-modern inspiration, so be sure to check to find out just what you're getting if you are ordering them from a restaurant or food service. Tired of the sandwich routine and brown paper bags? Try a Bento Box!


Onigiri - The Building Blocks of the Bento Box

Onigiri are literally the foundation of a bento box lunch. At their most simple, they are a deliberately-shaped ball of seasoned white rice. Many variations include a strip of nori, toasted seaweed, or a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Frequently, the shaped balls are stuffed with something savory, both meat and vegetables. A tangy option is an umeboshi plum.

Flavorings/Stuffings

  • Onigiri can be flavored by mixing spices with the rice before it's shaped or by sprinkling it with vinegar. Once shaped, the rice balls can be sprinkled with or rolled in sesame seeds (light or dark) afterwards
  • Fill with grilled and flaked fish, cooked beef or pork shreds, umeboshi (pickled plums), bonito flakes, cod roe, chopped vegetables and just about anything you like.


Onigiri Ingredients

  • 1 lb white rice, medium grain
  • sea salt
  • nori (dried seaweed sheets)
  • sesame seeds, brown or black (toasting optional)
  • fillings as suggested above

Onigiri Variations

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Slices of carrot, bits of nori (seaweed) and rice stained pink as decorationtiny bits of nori turn these simple onigiri into comical characters!Animal shapesHappy pandas
Slices of carrot, bits of nori (seaweed) and rice stained pink as decoration
Slices of carrot, bits of nori (seaweed) and rice stained pink as decoration
tiny bits of nori turn these simple onigiri into comical characters!
tiny bits of nori turn these simple onigiri into comical characters!
Animal shapes
Animal shapes
Happy pandas
Happy pandas

Instructions For Making Onigiri By Hand

  1. Cook the rice and let it cool to the point where you can touch it without it being too hot for your hands.
  2. Wash your hands, leaving them wet and then rub your hands with salt. This keeps the rice from sticking too much.
  3. Take a palmful of rice (anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and shape it into a ball, a triangle shape or a cylinder (see instructions below for how to make shapes).
  4. To fill the rice ball, press a hole into the ball with your fingers, fill with desired stuffing and press closed again.
  5. Finish by wrapping a narrow strip of nori (trim down the full sheets) or sprinkling on toasted seeds.

How Was This Recipe?

4.4 stars from 8 ratings of Onigiri Recipe Rating

How to Make Different Onigiri Shapes By Hand

Here are pictures to show the different ways to shape round, triangular or cylindrical onigiri rice balls.  They can be left plain or stuffed with a filling.
Here are pictures to show the different ways to shape round, triangular or cylindrical onigiri rice balls. They can be left plain or stuffed with a filling.

Make Your Own Onigiri Video

Take A Tour of a Real-Life Bento Box!

Assembling Your Bento Box

As people with non-Asian culinary sensibilities explore the idea of the bento box lunch, you're going to find all sorts of variations and experimentation as traditional and non-traditional bento box foods are utilized and explored. Go as traditional or non-traditional as your tastebuds desire.

The traditional ratio of contents in a bento box follows a 4-3-2-1 pattern. Four parts will contain rice, three parts have meat or fish ingredients, two parts will contain vegetables and the last part will be either something pickled or a dessert. Japanese desserts are not as sweet as what you'd find in Europe or the US.

  1. Rice - traditionally every (or nearly every) course in a bento box lunch contains either steamed or fried rice.
  2. Noodles - consider swapping out a portion of rice for something with noodles instead. Thin rice or buckwheat noodles are perfect for lunch.
  3. Meat or fish - a bento box is a great way to use up dinner entrée leftovers such as beef, chicken or fish.
  4. Fruit - whatever fruit is fresh and in season is perfect for a bento box.
  5. Baked goods - steamed buns or rice crackers are good additions to your bento.
  6. Sauce - A little bit of hoisin, mustard, sweet and sour sauce or soy sauce can be nice.

Remember that heat rises and cold falls, so if you have a bento box that stacks, you want to put the cool items on the bottom and the hot ones on top!


Bento Food Traditions

Goshiki ("five colors) is an idea of balance found in Japanese Buddhist thought. It is interpreted as a way of balancing nutrition and aesthetics by having each meal incorporate five colors via the foods chosen: white, red/orange, yellow, green and black/brown/purple.

Goho adds further balance by having each meal incorporate five ways of cooking, choosing from boiling,frying, grilling, pickling, simmering or steaming.


Bento Box Bulletin Board

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    • Jean Rogers profile image

      Jean Rogers 5 years ago

      I am lucky to have a Japanese sister-in-law that makes amazing food. I have been thinking about trying to put together Bento lunches, but haven't yet done it for lack of knowledge. You have inspired me to learn how to do this. Japanese food is so beautiful and delicious!

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      I didn't know what a Bento Lunch box was, so the title caught my eye. Now after reading this hub I feel like trying my hand at one!

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Oh. Okay. Won't try that then. I will stick to fresh rice. Thanks!

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Sharkye, freezing rice tends to make for extremely bad-textured rice unless you've got the capability to flash freeze it.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      True. Especially if you went ahead and made it while cleaning up after dinner. Do you know if the rice could be frozen in large batches for later use? That would make a really great quick meal for my toddler.

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Sharkye, if you use leftovers from dinner, it becomes very easy to do regularly.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      That looks very interesting. Definitely fresh and tasty, but I don't know how easy it would be to make it everyday if you were busy. Love the recipe ideas!

    • profile image

      vaforever1987 5 years ago

      yummy!!

    • Lovelovemeloveme profile image

      Lovelovemeloveme 5 years ago from Cindee's Land

      thanks for the HUB! this is soo cute! if i had the time i would totally give this a try.

    • MissyGear profile image

      MissyGear 5 years ago

      What an informative article. I absolutely love everything bento. They are so fun and creative. Tasty to boot. I'll have to go make some onigiri for myself right now!

    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 5 years ago from Cardiff

      We had some in China, and I love the idea. Really want a bento box!! Ive been making my own little ones with salad stuffs for a while, but would love to learn to make real bento boxes. Great Hub, Voted up!

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      Wow. I had never even heard of a Bento Box before. That just kicks the pants off the standard 'Tupperware' with a sweaty cheese sandwich and a packet of chips inside it!

      Not only is it great to look at but the ideas for things to cook sound delicious - and healthy too. I kind of regret that I work at home now so I don't need to take a pack lunch. On the other hand there is no reason why I shouldn't use these same recipes and make up a 'Bento plate' is there?

      Excellent - lunch problem solved!

    • PenHitsTheFan profile image

      Amy L. Tarr 5 years ago from Home

      I personally prefer Jasmine or Basanti rice over white rice. It sticks together nicer and has a softer mouth feel.

    • viking305 profile image

      L M Reid 5 years ago from Ireland

      I must be honest I had never heard of a Bento Box before I read this article. But the food looks so simple to prepare and tasty for lunch so I will definitely be giving this a try

      Thanks for SHARING. Up and Awesome

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      This is a great hub full of great tools and information! I am working on bento lunches for my kiddos and am currently writing a hub on this. I will add a link to yours!

    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Great hub ! I have always wanted to try this, but I didn't know how.

    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Nice article , thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      vaishali sabnani 5 years ago

      Nori is not available in India..so what else can u suggest?..love these Bentos...have seen my daughter preparing these in Japan:)

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Mir, traditional bento boxes don't have raw ingredients that can spoil, as fruit and veggies can last until lunchtime. You can also look for a style of box that retains cold to help. But there should be no raw meat or fish in a bento box.

    • profile image

      Mir 6 years ago

      Does this have to be kept with an icepack? I'm thinking of packing one for lunch at school, but I don't want it to spoil.

      I guess if all else fails, I just won't pack any perishable foods.

    • selfdefenselesson profile image

      selfdefenselesson 6 years ago

      Man I miss japanese food! Thanks for this, starting on my bento box now.

    • Tatara profile image

      Tatara 6 years ago from Asia

      Yummy! Arigatou!!!

    • happypuppy profile image

      happypuppy 6 years ago

      I feel hungry now. Bento boxes are so appealing! Thanks for sharing the wonderful tips on making your own bento box. Will definitely give it a shot.

    • happypuppy profile image

      happypuppy 6 years ago

      I feel hungry now. Thanks for sharing the useful tips! Will definitely give it a shot.

    • Karkadin profile image

      Karkadin 6 years ago from Middle of Nowhere, USA

      I have always wanted to try this, but I didn't know how. Great hub. Thanks for posting it. :)

    • Jennie Demario profile image

      Venture Boyz 6 years ago from Floating in the clouds

      I love bento boxes! I am totally going to do this over the weekend. Ah, now I am hungry! Now I just better sharpen up on my cooking skills. Thank you, relache.

    • profile image

      AlienWednesday 6 years ago

      Oh, I really need to get on top of doing this. Always looks so yummy! Great hub!

    • profile image

      mattandangela 6 years ago

      this is SO CUTE!

    • Chris Crow profile image

      Chris Crow 6 years ago

      Wow, that looks like such a nice way to serve and eat lunch. Maybe one day I will be able to pull it together and enjoy lunch that way!

    • Linda Tadlock profile image

      Linda Tadlock 6 years ago from Atlanta

      Love Japanese food. Thank you for the onigiri tips. Great hub.

    • profile image

      teri nolen 6 years ago

      i love all things beautiful and inspiring and bento boxes are both!

    • craigmissuea profile image

      craigmissuea 6 years ago from USA

      It appears to be a delicious lunch. I am hoping to try it very soon.

    • profile image

      Luci Falke (Falcon) 6 years ago

      Um...i'm going on a fast (a period of time where you only eat nuts/seeds,rices,fruits and vegatables and I think Gandi did it too O_o) and I cant eat any meat,fish,or practically anything like that...gosh i wish i could eat fish and seafood again...

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Renee, as this Hub points out... You just make your own.

    • profile image

      renee 6 years ago

      y cant we have bento's in alabama because i want 1

    • profile image

      smakram 6 years ago

      Really inspiring and the step my step info is so easy to follow - thanks!

    • BartCougy profile image

      BartCougy 6 years ago

      This hub is officially Otaku-approved. I am going to have to bring one of these to work and show off to my coworkers, haha! They will be impressed by my extreme techniques and sweet as food. By the way, rice is the greatest food in the world, haha!

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Nori can be found in your grocery store, in the Asian foods section, or in health food stores.

    • profile image

      prussianhero 7 years ago

      this rly helped. thnx. but can u tell me where i can get nori?

    • profile image

      reduce stomach 7 years ago

      this is an awesome article. i love it.

    • It's just me profile image

      It's just me 7 years ago from Alaska

      I survived off of bento box lunches through college, thank you for rminding me of good memories and of a way to eat and feed my kids in a healthy interesting manner.

    • profile image

      YuuriHakafuriShibuya 7 years ago

      OMG!!!! Thank you so much for this hub! :3 I just recently bought a bento box from jbox.com and I needed to know how to make a proper bento lunch! I never knew what that red round thing in the middle of the rice was and now I know!!! Thank you :D

    • babyhudson profile image

      Michelle Ofiana 7 years ago from Baguio City

      Hi. I must give this a try. Thank you for the tips and the how to's. I love Bento during my days in Japan. Your Hub really gave me lots of ideas. Thanks a million.

      babyhudson

    • vaguesan profile image

      vaguesan 7 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      nice hub.

      I sometimes teach english at a kindergarten here in Japan and I have to each lunch with the kids. I`m often so amazed at what the parents come up with in their kid's bentos. I've seen pikachu onigiri, octopuses made out of hotdogs and carrots cut into ABCs.

    • CulinaryFool profile image

      CulinaryFool 7 years ago

      Wow, I wish my kids were little again so that I could learn how to make this for their lunchbox!

    • adorababy profile image

      adorababy 7 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      The Bento boxes all have compartments which I love because you could easily organize all your viands and rice in different parts in one compact organizer.

    • Youngcurves19 profile image

      Youngcurves19 7 years ago from Hawaii

      looks pretty ono(ono mean yummy) ^_^ thanks for sharing

    • dtoombs profile image

      dtoombs 7 years ago from Tasmania, Australia

      What an excellent hub! Very informative, with lots of added resources. I teach Japanese & love the food. I might even show your hub to my students - I give you A+

    • betherann profile image

      Beth Morey 7 years ago from Montana

      I love using my bento lunch boxes!

    • lender3212000 profile image

      lender3212000 7 years ago from Beverly Hills, CA

      Excellent hub! I can't wait to give it a try.

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Yes, you eat the nori. Have you ever eaten sushi and it has a little strip of green seaweed around it, or really thin pieces of what seems like a green paper on top? That's nori.

    • profile image

      nikolai16 7 years ago

      This article is great! But i was just wondering, can you eat the nori? I didn't know if you we supposed to or not. :D

    • profile image

      Amnesiantoinette 7 years ago

      Oh, this is making me 'home-sick' for Japan!

    • hypnodude profile image

      Andrea 7 years ago from Italy

      I promised to myself some years ago that as soon as I can I'll go visiting Japan. This hub is wonderful. Made me to check Expedia for the first flight to Tokio. Thanks.

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 7 years ago from Michigan

      I get bento boxes at a local restaurant and they are great, thanks for this advice on how to make one.

    • Unique Kids Stuff profile image

      Unique Kids Stuff 7 years ago

      Wow, I dont' think I'm talented enough to make cool stuff like that.

    • tim-tim profile image

      Priscilla Chan 7 years ago from Normal, Illinois

      Love Japanese Bento Box. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      dizuckai 8 years ago

      I love bento boxes! :D , I gave my sister one for christmas and she hasn't used it :( so i will put it to use myself!

    • profile image

      deeli82 8 years ago

      wonderful, i will try this as soon as i can.

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Rice is most often colored with spices or by cooking in specific vegetable broths/juices.

    • profile image

      jewelerbogey 8 years ago

      What did you use to die the rice?

    • profile image

      notorious_HAI 8 years ago

      love it! I'm going to share this if you dont' mind.

    • johnr54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 8 years ago from Texas

      First time I was in Japan I had one of these and it had shitake mushrooms and I had no clue if it was animal or plant (or fungus as it turns out.) In spite of that I enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      Sacramento Homes 8 years ago

      Thats alot of work but I bet it is worth it in the end. Not really bachelor food though. Wheres my left over Stir Fry!?;)

    • nancydodds1 profile image

      nancydodds1 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Interesting article!

    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 8 years ago from USA

      Relache, thanks for this info. This is a terrific hub.

    • Rice Crispy profile image

      Rice Crispy 8 years ago from Roslyn, NY

      really cool hub. The food is beautiful. I want to try this out.

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      sunforged, I can't do anything about it when the RSS feed from Google freaks out.

    • sunforged profile image

      sunforged 8 years ago from Sunforged.com

      I had only read about these, I never imagined they would look so fun...just found my next culinary project

      your bento box news (box) is showing some odd behavior

    • Braids profile image

      Braids 8 years ago from Kansas city Missouri

      Thank you. I have been trying tofine out how to make a bento but with no luck tell know. I can't wake tell lunch time.

    • budwood profile image

      budwood 8 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Very nice to see something both artistic and (presumably) tasty described in such delicious detail. Thanks.

    • profile image

      wgsu007 9 years ago

      So that's where Bento the Mac App got its name....

    • Lidian profile image

      Lidian 9 years ago

      Great hub! I like the onigiri with little faces the best - so cute!

    • profile image

      VinceSamios 9 years ago from Australia

      So cute! I love it!

    • misshardy profile image

      misshardy 9 years ago

      Perfect Bento box! Great hub..very helpful videos and illustrations.

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      The pictures alone make me hungry! I love to make California rolls and sushi with my daughter. We'll be trying out these ideas very soon!

    • profile image

      Shy Nichols 9 years ago

      Wow! You really put this together well...it's like everything to is right at my fingertips to get started making the contents for a Bento Box. Do you have any favorite recipes?

    • raphanius profile image

      raphanius 9 years ago from Derbyshire, UK

      I love Bento Boxes they are so colorful and pretty.

    • seamus profile image

      seamus 9 years ago

      Interesting. I'd like to know more about how to get the cute shapes in the the little "rice people."

    • imarketing4s profile image

      imarketing4s 9 years ago

      great resources, thanks for sharing! now this is making me crave japanese...

    • Kylyssa Shay profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 9 years ago

      Oh, this is awesome! The pictures are adorable and I love your ideas!

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 9 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I like to use bento themes especially when I make summer lunches. And the goshiki theories are great for putting together bits of dinner leftovers into a lunch combo.

    • daoine profile image

      daoine 9 years ago

      Bento is a great reminder to slow down and appreciate simple arts like preparing food and making a "take-away" experience into something more memorable. Those pictures are so pretty, though, I'm sure I'd not want to spoil it by eating it! Although it does look really appetising.

    • relache profile image
      Author

      Raye 9 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I know "nori" is seaweed.

    • profile image

      nori monster 9 years ago

      btw nori is seaweed (japanese)

    • profile image

      nori monster 9 years ago

      cool!! make one about sushi and sashimi next^^ or kimbop

    • bihargyan profile image

      bihargyan 9 years ago from India

      Hope will be helpful for the kids.They are so demanding?

    • Veronica profile image

      Veronica 10 years ago from NY

      Thanks so much for the great article about Bento! I received my first bento box as a gift from a friend in Japan a couple of months ago. I've been trying out different things and enjoying the bento artwork of others. I even make a little bento box for my one dog when we travel.