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Bento Lunches

Updated on July 26, 2007

A little over a year ago I discovered bento lunches and marvelled over how people were making the most humble foods look absolutely amazing just by using a little creativity. For a long time I was a silent observer (or, really, an admirer). It wasn't until earlier this year when I started to make my own bento lunches.

First of all, you might be wondering what, exactly, a bento lunch is? At a very basic level, it is a traditional Japanese boxed lunch. There are rules for packing traditional lunches, but with the rising popularity of these beautiful displays of food, the rules can sometimes be bent.

One basic principal that I try to pay attention to, however, is the concept of goshiki (five colors). This means that the person preparing the lunch should try to include one dish from each color group. We know that we should vary the colors of our food in order to obtain optimal nutrition, and when it's displayed in a bento box, you can easily see what you're missing. Another thing I love about bentos is that you can pack small bites of several different things so your lunch stays interesting while you eat it.

Meal Ideas

Here are some of my favorite things to pack:

  • Different kinds of raw fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, seedless grapes, chopped kiwi, etc. or any mixture thereof. (If you're slicing up apples or pears, soak them in lemon or lime juice prior to packing to prevent browning.)
  • String cheese or Laughing Cow wedges and whole-grain crackers
  • Cut up raw veggies like carrots, different colored peppers, celery, zucchini, and radishes with a small container of dressing for dipping
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Rolled-up deli meats or bite-sized chunks of leftover chicken, pork, or steak
  • Pasta salads
  • Muffins (and not just fruit muffins -- savory muffins are delicious as well)
  • Green salads made with baby spinach or spring mix, nuts, dried fruit, and a little cheese
  • Bagel with cream cheese
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Bean salad
  • Any kind of leftovers

Really, the only limit is your imagination! There are also several bento photo groups on Flickr to help inspire you.

Bento Boxes

There are a variety of bento boxes for sale in Japanese import shops and on sites such as E-Bay. Some of the more traditional boxes can be hard to find unless you live in an area with a large Japanese population, so you might find that online sources have the best selection.

However, there are many containers that you can find right in the aisles of your favorite store that are suitable. Companies such as Lock & Lock, and Fit & Fresh makes divided containers that are perfect! Tupperware also has a few containers such as their Lunch 'n Things (pictured above) and Crystal Wave divided dishes that work well. I have even repurposed take-out containers to use for bento lunches -- this is a great option if you are going somewhere and would like to use something a bit more disposable.

One other great thing about bento boxes, though, is that by using one you're not using plastic bags, foils, or other wraps. It really is an environmentally conscious choice!


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    • profile image

      gulam safdar43 

      9 years ago

      Easy to read, well done. I think these Bento boxes are a great idea!

      Easy to read, well done. I think these Bento boxes are a great idea!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Easy to read, well done. I think these Bento boxes are a great idea!

    • profile image

      Marye Audet 

      12 years ago

      awesome! I am about to begin doing these for my husband's lunch...yikes! But you make it seem simple enough. :)

    • profile image

      Biggie @ Lunch in a Box 

      12 years ago

      Thanks for the great feedback on the containers, Carol. I won't list that second container on my site, then. Cheers!

    • Veronica profile image


      12 years ago from NY

      I'm new to the world of Bento. Thanks for your articles and pics. I'm having a lot of fun experimenting. I think for anyone on any kind of portion controlled diet like Weight Watchers, bento is the way to go.

    • Carol Bancroft profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Bancroft 

      12 years ago

      My husband LOVES the Lunch 'n Things container, but he is happy eating pretty much anything cold or at room temperature. I am a little pickier about temps, so the only drag is that you can't heat up just a portion of your meal. It's also quite long and doesn't fit in many of my bags. Other than those negatives, I am pretty happy with it. The dividers go all the way to the top and so far neither DH or I have had any spillovers into the next compartment. As for the other container, I liked it, but it's made of really cheap plastic and did not stand up to more than a few washings (and I handwash my dishes). The "seams" (can't think of the right word here -- the connections maybe?) cracked pretty easily. A friend also had this container and it warped/melted in the dishwasher. I wouldn't reccomend it.

    • profile image

      Biggie @ Lunch in a Box 

      12 years ago

      Thanks for the shout out on my speed bento blog, Lunch in a Box! Quick question -- how do you like the Tupperware Lunch 'n Things container and the other sandwich container? I've been looking at them but haven't actually held one to inspect. What do you think?


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