So, about a year ago, I was inspired by a co-worker to get a nice boxed-lunch set for home. Since my wife makes bento lunches for my daughter, I looked up bento boxes on Amazon, and soon settled on this one: Zojirushi’s Ms. Bento. The problem was that I wasn’t paying attention and bought Ms. Bento, not Mr. Bento, but I liked it from the start so I kept it.
After living in Europe for a year, and also spending time in Japan, I realized that Americans tend to eat portion sizes that are too large. Especially me. Every time I come back from Japan, I find I can’t eat as much as I did before (until I get used to it again…), so I bought the bento to help control my own portions.
At first, I had trouble deciding what kind of foods to go in there. Before I bought the bento, I always just made sandwiches, usually two large sandwiches (way too much in retrospect), or I put all the leftovers from dinner in a cheap plastic container. But, I didn’t realize that I ate too much until I lived in Ireland, and saw how my co-workers ate much smaller portions. For example, I had a friend there who was French, and he would often eat one small baguette, a little butter, and some soup, while my Irish co-workers would eat a small sandwich and crisps (‘chips’ to us Americans). Compared to that, my two sandwiches seemed really big and kind of gross.
So, after I bought Ms. Bento, I started to think more carefully. It’s not unlike a math problem, where I have to carefully figure out how to get all the pieces to fit inside. However, as time went on, I enjoyed making my lunches more. If I made an especially good lunch, it’s a small exciting treat when I open it up at work. I also enjoy saving money by not paying to eat out, since I can often take my wife’s leftovers and prepare a lunch for the next day. Since late last year, I started working out at a gym next to work, and with a nice personal trainer who gave me good advice about portion control. So, that motivated me to use my bento set even more than before, and have more fun with it, which motivated me to write this post.
So here are some recent photos of Ms. Bento and some meals I prepared to illustrate. The first is the bento itself:
It has three containers and a nice “spork” (fork/spoon). This is one lunch I made recently:
On the right is some leftover oden my wife made, with some cooked rice, and some sliced tomato I made on the left. It turned out well, but the different oden items are all big and fluffy, so it’s hard to get enough for a good meal. Delicious though. I love oden!
Here’s another meal I made last week:
This has some nimono (煮物) on the right (boiled meats and vegetables in a light broth), some rice again, and a salad on the left I made using a pre-washed bag of greens. As you can see, my wife makes the good foods, and I just fill in the rest.
The smallest bowl is usually for miso soup, but often times I just use it as a third dish. To control portions, I put the meats or other proteins (beans, tofu) in the smallest container, and fill up the largest with salad and veggies. Believe it or not, I often don’t put in Japanese food into the dish, it just really depends on what we ate for dinner that night. If we had Mexican food, I put it in there too.1 The point is that with some careful thought, I can get a nice meal made over night, and in the morning I pack it up, and take it to work.
Lately, I started adding some umeboshi to the rice too. Umeboshi is pickled plum, and quite sour, but if eaten with other foods, the flavors really blend nicely (try it with curry for example). Also, I often take fruit with me, since it fits in the bag, to add some snacks.
I thought about buying a larger bento box, but I have to admit I like the smaller portions, and the extra challenge of getting a full meal. Boxed lunches are something you don’t see in the US until recently. My coworker, mentioned above, uses a more Indian style tiffin set for the same reason. The point, is that you can eat a lot healthier and have more fun with their food if you learn to make lunches ahead of time with a convenient bento or tiffin type set. Or, experiment on your own and see what works. As you learn to prepare your own lunches better, you’ll be more satisfied with them anyway.
P.S. If you’re looking for a good weight trainer in Seattle, plus dietitian, I highly recommend Breanne Curran. She’s been a huge help for me.