Gluten-Free Bento Boxes: No More Paper Lunch Bag!
After many years of mild stomachaches, skin rashes and headaches, I finally figured out that I have a sensitivity to gluten, a protein which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. This discovery was a little sad, since I love crusty French bread with butter, flaky raspberry pastries, crackers and cheese...
Being gluten-free is fairly easy, but there is a downside, which is convenience. It's easy to whip together a regular PB&J for lunch, snack on dry cereal or crackers, and use pasta as the base of a dinner. There are gluten-free versions of all of these things, but they're harder to find and are also much more expensive. I don't usually mind the convenience aspect, and I can get around the cost by making food myself from scratch, but it takes a long time! Where lunches are concerned, though, it's a real pain - especially since I am usually rushing to get out the door on time. Last year, I discovered something that makes gluten-free lunches fun and easy - and inexpensive!
Lunch the Japanese Way
In Japan, bento boxes are a very popular way to pack a lunch. A bento box has compartments that separate the food, and they can be one or two tiered. They are kind of like Tupperware containers, but with built-in compartments.
My favorite thing about packing a bento is that it's all self-contained. You don't end up with two small Tupperware containers, a plastic bag, and a banana, for example. A bento can include a lot of different food, but it's all in one neat place. If the foods can touch each other, like chicken chunks and cherry tomatoes, for example, you can put them in the same compartment. If you want to include more foods that can't touch but you don't have enough compartments, you can separate the food further by using wax paper, silicone baking cups, and more. Use your imagination!
A typical bento lunch in my house might include cheese chunks, salami slices, grapes, gluten-free Chex cereal, and some almonds. You can also go a more traditional route by using a rice base and some stir-fried meat and veggies. Leftovers are also great in bentos! A bento also makes it really fun to eat an eclectic mixture of foods, because of all the little compartments, so it's a very good way to use up little scraps of food that you might otherwise throw away.
An adorable two-tiered frog bento for kids!
Simple and inexpensive. If you need more separation, you can use wax paper or silicone baking cups.
This one is very customizable.
12 cups for $10, that's a pretty good deal!
Browse Around for Some Bento Supplies!
In this last section, I have included some Amazon links to bento supplies. If you go with a plastic bento box (good for kids, and also really light), I'd recommend purchasing a BPA free box. BPA is the plastic that is getting a lot of bad press lately. I'm not a scientist, but why risk it when you can buy something safe?
If you have kids, a bento box would be a great way to pack lunch! Not only is it fun to eat out of little compartments, none of the food gets squished in a backpack the way it can in a soft lunch bag. I read a great blog called Wendolonia, which chronicles the bentos a creative mom makes for her two young kids. Check it out if you want some great and simple ideas.
I hope you have a great time experimenting with bentos! If you don't want to jump right in and buy an official bento box, you can do the same thing with a regular plastic container. Have fun!