• Tue, Aug 7 2007

Back to School Bento


I love Japanese food. Eating at an authentic Japanese restaurant is one of the pleasures of life for me. I just adore the bento boxes, with the assortment of yummy foods in them.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that bento boxes would make even ordinary school lunches seem extra-ordinary. I know I would enjoy lunch so much more if it were packaged in a pretty way, even if the lunch was only a sandwich and a piece of fruit. I knew I wasn’t the first one to think of this, and I was right! I sought and found a great variety of ideas for bento lunches and containers.

Before going into the practical issues, here’s a definition of “bento” from Wikipedia:

Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables as a side dish. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. While bento are readily available at convenience stores and bento shops throughout Japan, it is still considered an essential skill of a Japanese housewife to be able to prepare an appealing boxed lunch.

Bento can be very elaborate, aesthetically pleasing cuisine arrangements. Often the food is arranged in such a way as to resemble other objects: dolls, flowers, leaves, and so forth.

The Equipment

The traditional Japanese bento box is lacquered, and thus not microwaveable. These days, you can find bento boxes made of plastic or metal. They can be tiered or not, but the best ones to use have small compartments for the different parts of the meal.

Check these out:

bento box3 large

This 10″ Japanese bento boxes has a black wood grain style lid and a beveled edge, a single red lacquered plastic tray that fits inside the box and is removable for easy cleaning. via Japanesegifts.com


The main compartment of this bento lunch box holds five containers of varying sizes to separate different foods. Some have covers to keep liquid food in, while the other containers can hold solid foods in place by the fold-down lid. Comes with a spoon, fork, and guide to nutritious eating. Dimensions: 9″ wide, 7″ tall, and 2″ deep. This is available at lunchboxes.com and laptoplunches.com.


This style has stacks for larger lunches. Measurements: 7.5″ tall; bottom layer is 2.5″ x 6.5″ x 6.5″; middle layer is 2.5″ x 6.5″ x 6.5″; top layer is 1.5″ x 6.6″ x 6.5″. Availalbe in square and round versions at plasticashop.com.

The Lunch

While bento is traditionally composed of rice and accompanying dishes, there’s no reason to adapt it to your favorite lunch. There’s no way I can write up all the things you can do with your bento box, so I’ll just show you some examples, and point you to sites where you can get more ideas.


For younger children, ham, radishes, red peppers and dried seaweed, lovingly prepared by mom. More photos from PBS.org.


Pasta, pineapple and blueberries from Lunchinabox. This site has tips, recipes and information galore about packing lunch in a box:


This is a fritata lunch, also from Lunchinabox.


Chicken nuggets, rice, tomatoes, beef curry and baby bok choy, from Cooking Cute. This is another great site dedicated to bento.

For even more lunch ideas, here are some sites to visit:

* If you want to know about making the traditional Japanese bento, Airandangles has all the information you need.

* The bento box group on Flickr has more than 1000 members, so you’re sure to never run out of inspiration.

* RecipeZaar has recipes for bento lunches.

Are you hungry for a bento yet? I hope this will will help make the school year’s lunches fun and more nutritious for you and your kids. Yum!

top image by Kanto at Flick

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  • http://www.momadvice.com/blog Amy

    This was being talked about on another blog I read (LikeMerchantShips.Blogspot.Com) and I had never realized that this was an art form. It is very inspiring and I love the ideas for doing it. I have always done it, but didn’t think about it as being so cool. Now I can think that I am the coolest mom on the block ;) I do need to invest in cuter containers though!!

    I love your blog and just happened upon it. You should swing by my neck of the woods sometime. We have a lot in common :) I love it over here!

  • http://www.declutterit.com Julie

    This is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time. I have never heard of this before! I am definitely going to go visit that flickr group. I was telling someone else that I now have 3 lunches to fix everyday. I need some creative ideas. This is a GREAT post!!

  • http://www.offbeathomes.com Jennifer

    This post rocks! I LOVE the items you found. It totally reminds me of one of our favorite movies around here; Totoro (have you seen it) — in it the little girl makes their lunches in little boxes like this. My son loves this movie and will dig this idea big time. I never would have thought to do this. Thanks.

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  • http://www.keepingthecastle.com/ Maricar

    Hi Amy, Welcome to KTC! I’m glad you stopped by. I’m off to visit your blog… :)

  • http://www.keepingthecastle.com/ Maricar

    Hi Julie! Hi Jennifer!
    I’m glad you like this post. I’m not on the school lunch brigade yet, but I will in a few years. I’m definitely doing this for my kids.

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  • http://toni.marikit.net Toni

    These are great ideas and you sahred wonderful links! I’ve recently been curious about bento boxes. Several of the blogs I frequent have been into this. I don’t know if I have the patience to sustain packing a bento box to work, but I sure do have the curiosity to try it out!

  • http://www.keepingthecastle.com Maricar

    Hi Toni,
    Thanks for dropping by. You’re right about the patience in packing bentos, but I think with some advanced planning, it will be easier. I wish I’d done this when I was a grad student. For now, nobody in my house packs lunch, so I can’t practice. Hmm, maybe I will anyway… :D