Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

In my brief absence (I was trotting through parts of Japan, doing serious bento research - honest! ^_^;) I’ve noticed quite a lot of new visitors to the site again. A lot of them are coming from this post on the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog by Samatha Storey, who wrote an article last year which helped to bring homemade bentos to the attention of a lot of people. There are also people coming from various forum threads, such as this one on Ravelry.

I could point all the new visitors and potential bento fans to various Getting Started articles here as I periodically do, but I’ve already done that over on the left sidebar (points over there). So instead, I thought I’d turn the microphone over as it were, to all the current JustBento readers and bento veterans. Tell the new people, why do you make bentos? What articles on JustBento do you find particularly useful? Which recipes do you like? What other useful bento sites are out there (self-linking allowed)? Help to evangelize the cult of bento! ^_^ Also, please let them/us know who you are (e.g. graduate student, full time mom, athlete, lawyer, etc), where you’re from (town/state/country etc) and general age, just so people know what kinds of people make bentos. (I know we’ve had posts like this before, but I plan to keep this at the top where new visitors can find it easily.)

For myself, I think the one post I’d point to to read first might be my Top 10 Bento Rules. And then the Bento Basics section and our friendly forum!

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a relative newcomer to JustBento. I am definitely not a newcomer to bento however. I grew up eating bento. As a japanese kid, that's pretty much all I knew. So, as I got older, my skills in cooking got better, and I started to make my own bento.

To me, making bento is just habit. But it's also an artistic outlet too. There are some really awesome things you can do with bento. Some take too long, but I think it's just fun. And who doesn't get a smile when they open up a bento and they see something really pretty and awesome. That's another thing. Anything that brings happiness when they eat my food is awesome to me.

That's why making bento is the thing for me.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I've never tried a Bento meal before.. and I'm honestly a bit nervouse, what do you guys think I should do? Should I buy one first and see if I like them o rshould I make one first...? I'm just kinda lost how it all works and stuff...

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I started Bentoing because I was working very long hours and eating terribly unhealthy lunches, and I am not a sandwich person. This let me bring a bigger variety of foods and eat much more healthy, interesting, filling lunches.

Now I'm a SAHM, and packing bento lunches for me and my toddler when we're out is actually pretty convenient, so he doesn't eat just cheese sandwiches (which I swear is 3/4 of the kids' menu at a lot of places when they're too young for hotdogs!) ... toddler food lends itself surprisingly well to bentoing, or to sharing a bento with mom.

And now pregnant with #2, I have to go to 6-hour meetings for a community organization every week. They feed us, but a lot of it is stuff I'm not allowed to eat because pregnant -- taking a bento lets me get around that, too! Plus it makes everyone think my dinner is awesome.

Sometimes I make my husband bentos to take to work, and everyone is jealous of his crazy-good lunch!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Good question, and there are probably as many answers as there are bentoists. I started making bento because I was astounded at the beauty and care put into making lunch. I am crafty by nature and love food, so putting the two togther seemed natural. Since starting out on my bento journey, I have focused more on local foods. I live in Sonoma County, California and we have an amazing selection of local produce, fish, meat, and artisan products. I love to highlight these things in my bento box lunches. I also love bentos for their built in portion control. Other benefits include less packaging, and saving money on buying lunch. Bentos are practical for anyone, and although I do make cute bento occasionally, my focus is mainly on seasonal, local food. I am a radio dj, in my late 30s, and make bento about 3 or 4 times a week. I love the Bento Basics part of JustBento for reference. Find great inspiriation from bentoists online at http://happylittlebento.blogspot.com and http://www.hapabento.com. Check out my site for local ingredient ideas! http://sonomabento.blogspot.com

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Sonoma Bento: What a great informative, yet concise, comment. I've just learned of bento in the past hour [came from a link at Quora] and I can relate to many of your reasons for making bento. Though, I am jealous of your location!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a recent college graduate in the American Pacific Northwest, and one of the major reasons I first got into making bentos was to save money. Buying food out for lunch during work was digging too deep into the Gas Money fund, which was already too much from communting to not only my (three) jobs but also Boyfriend's job with one car. One of the most useful things for me was to look at a bunch of pictures--just to see what people did. Because after that, the MOST important thing was to start putting them together, with whatever I had. Grasping the concept of smaller portions, variety, and delicious foods is something that really can't be fully learned by reading. At some point, you just have to jump into it.

Also, keep in mind that you should always put your own abilities first. Even if a bento seems to only take "15 minutes" for one person, it might take YOU 45 minutes because you don't slice vegetables quickly or are really unfamiliar with the recipe/style. At first, start with what you know how to do, then as you get faster, branch out. When you're ready to branch, try places like http://notabrownbag.wordpress.com/ and http://www.mybentolicious.com/ or just do a general google search~! =D

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm 24 and working full time. I don't have a lot of time or a lot of experience cooking. My standards seemed totally unattainable: I wanted tasty, healthy, cheap, fast and easy food. Bento lives up to all these standards (even if I don't ^^). I recommend the carrot kinpira, the mini burgers, the tuna tofu miso mini-burgers, the one-egg tamagoyaki, and the chicken misoyaki. I can make and freeze a lot of rice and mini-burgers for the week, buy frozen vegetables, make the kinpira and all I have to do the rest of the week is heating and packing. Sometimes I marinate and stir-fry some chicken or beef with green pepper the night before and pack it all up. Getting up early and cooking is doable, but I find I am more reliable in the evening. I am used to the meat, veggie and carb meal structure, but adding in that little extra protein (tamagoyaki) or veggie can make it so much more delicious.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I feel a bit of a fraud because I don’t actually make lunches in bento boxes but I love this site. My partner and I are retired and I find that lots of the bento recipes work well for our at-home lunches. The food is healthy and delicious and I especially like the advice on how to freeze and later thaw portions of great food. Cooking for 2 can result in lots of left-overs.

I have built up a ‘freezer stash’ so that it is quick to make interesting lunches. I particularly like some of the sauces (negimiso, dengaku, kaeshi, walnut miso paste and others) that have good storage time or can be frozen in portions. They add instant flavour and interest especially to vegetable dishes.

My all time favourite dishes have to be carrot kinpira, which is even better the next day, and tamagoyaki –wonderful omelettes which work well with simple vegetable side dishes. I also love simmered kabocha squash, which freezes and thaws beautifully.

When it comes to using the site I was initially a little confused but now I frequently use the sidebars as a start point. “Building up a bentomaking 'stash'” is a useful link. The search feature across the justbento and justhungry sites is great and I found that searching for ‘basics’ offered a useful set of links. The ‘Popular Articles’ sidebar on justhungry is a good indication of which articles others have returned to often.

Sorry Maki about being a ‘non-bentoing bentoist’ but I will enthusiastically fly a flag for an ‘Eat your bento style lunch at home’ group.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I like food, I hate bag lunches, and I really hate how expensive and uninspiring eating out at work is. Hence, bento!

Well, also, it lets me totally customize my meal according to what I need. On a day when I'm going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting, I can pack a carb-heavy larger bento to suit my energy needs. If I'm going to be standing in one place or sitting on my butt, I can pack something small. To me, I eat bento primarily for the customization and tastiness - the health is a secondary (but awesome) bonus. I don't feel bad if on a few days my bentos aren't totally balanced, because they ARE what I need for the particular job I'm doing.

However, I tend to not use bentos themselves, and instead pack bento-style in disposable containers, as my husband and I both have an annoying habit of misplacing our bentos. -.-

Why bento? Becuase it can be cute and yummy and saves you money

I have been having justbento (and justhungry) on my google-reader for just few months, but I have been doing the bento thing for around year now.
I started bento-ing because I was fed up with having to buy lunch in the store (ended up with sandwiches most of the time) and wanted to eat a little more healthier, and also I find preparing bentos fun.

Since I have been bento-ing, I lost a kg and also noticed that even though I buy more grocery, I'm actually saving money on food.

P.S.: Have been doing soya milk by your recipe quite some time now and every time after I make myself okara with tuna (from the can), a spoon (or two) of sour cream, dash of salt and (cooked) edamame (in ratio: okara: tuna: sour cream: edamame = 2:1:1/2:1) . Yummy.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I make bentos for several reasons.
- As I am a student, I am always on a budget. So eating out is rarely an option even if it is only the university cafeteria. Making my own bento helps me save money, use leftovers and have better food for less money than I would have gotten when eating out.
- The student issue comes in again, when it comes to time. Between seminars I don't necessarily have the time to walk over to wherever the food is sold, buy it, eat it and still make it back in time to the class room. When I bring my bento, I have it all with me and can sit down outside my seminar room and spend more time on eating stress-free. Since I always also pack lunch for my boyfriend, we can have lunch together sometimes.
- I hate not to know what people put into the food they're serving me. I know this is a bit control-freakish, but I hate things like flavor enhancers. I'd never use them and I really don't want them in my food. So controlling what I eat by making it myself is great.
- Also, I love eating self-made things. They usually taste so much better. I can change things around when I like and don't have to stick to whatever is served somewhere.
- I make bentos for myself and my boyfriend (even though I am not the housewifey type). He is always so happy when I put time into making a nice bento for him. It's a great way to say "I love you" (almost as great as when he does the dishes after I cooked ;)).
- Everyone will be jealous of your awesome looking, wonderfully tasting and healthy meal while they snack on their fries or granola bars. :D

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a student as well and just purchased my first bento box to start bento-ing. But I'm curious--how do you save money when you grocery shop. Perhaps a dumb question but I grew up on the "American diet" of junk food and fast food and so we did most of our shopping in the pre-packaged section which gets really expensive really fast. But it seems to me that produce is equally expensive. So I just don't know where to start--how do you buy good food that you can use for a lot of bento dishes and not spend a fortune?

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm still a novice bento-er, but it does save a lot of money. I'm a SAHM with two kids 2 and under and I make lunches for my hubby who is in college and works. I don't usually go out of my way to buy other than what I'm getting at the store, I just get a little extra for the bento. For example, when I buy chicken for a dinner, I'll get a couple of extra chicken breasts for bento lunches that week. I usually spend maybe an extra $10 a week for 5-6 days of lunches, where at my hubby can spend an upward to $30 or more a week buying his lunches. I have a pretty good "stash" built up of rice, noddles, etc. in the pantry, so for me, I just need to get the fresh stuff, like veggies and meat eat week.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm an american student too.
It is really all how you shop and are willing to spend your time. The key to healthy shopping in american grocery stores is 'periphery' shopping. Not going into the aisles with all the processed stuff. (Of course there are a few exceptions, like frozen veggies.) But you pay extra for the packaging and processing, basically the readiness to of the food for consumption. It is a convience fee.
With unprocessed foods you pay far less per oz.

I find I really enjoy my grains to be rice, millet, quinoa, bread, or pasta.
Protien: beans, lentils, eggs, spinach,chicken, beef, etc.
veggies: whatever is in season, or strikes my fancy in the frozen isle (but not the stuff already smothered in butter, cheese or oil; you can do that at home.)
Fruit: what is in season or applesauce.
Of course you will want a sweet sometimes, and that is fine, in moderation, just not every day. I like 1/4 c. pudding, a cookie or two, or a small square of cake.

Pretty much I set one day or afternoon aside to do all my cooking. Yes, yes,planning ahead can be annoying. But through the week I only have to cook maybe once or twice (just because I get crazy college cravings ;) )

Once you get used to actually cooking you will notice more 'colors' (natural, not dyes) and variety in your meals, and it gets easier with practice.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I used to be the same way, until I became a broke college student living in an apartment. Produce does seem a lot more expensive if you just look at the cost per pound, but Produce is [i]surprisingly[/i] filling. For example: I can eat 3 hot pockets in a meal, but only half a head of broccoli with some meat/cheese.

Just guesstimating, the hot pockets cost me $3-$3.50.

The broccoli is $1/lb so $0.50
A few spoonfuls of Velveeta or a slice of American/Cheddar singles $0.20-$1.00 depending
1/4lb burger: $0.60
For a total of $1.40-$2.10.

I recall a time when I only had $10/week to eat. I would go to Aldis and get a bag of potatoes (10lb), a bag of carrots (2lb), a bag of onions (3lb), a seasoning ($1), and some burger/chicken, and whatever else I had the money for. I'd make soups or roasted veggies or stir-fry. I didn't expect to be full, but I always was, even working a factory job!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Hi!
I've been around this site for a couple of years since i find Maki's ways of eating healthy and balanced, re-inventing leftovers and aswell presenting the different types of rice, miso, tofu etc. That's the articles i love the most!

Anyways, i am a student living in Sweden and with my hectic schedule i most often dont have the time to cook or eat.
Maki really helped me out with this, i've started making and keeping staples to get a quick meal (For example i always keep a few cooked eggs in the fridge for a quick salad or eat with some soysauce .
Or making a batch of onigiri in the morning and miso-soup-balls to bring to school, library or just munch on at home. No more sad sandwiches and low bloodsugars :)

New guys and gals! I guess you allready realized it; Maki's sites are so fun and inspiring!
For those of you who got a lot of time i think you will love Makis presentations of different charaben-bentos and decorative ones.
Last but not least, every now and then Maki adds really interesting articles (for example her visit at the "Ghibli museum" a museum of a great anime company! Many of you might recognize it. Or when she visited the Ramyun museum and presented the Japan of ancient times)

I truly want to recomend you not only to stay on this justbento, but also visit justhungry and makis personal sites where she introduces us to japanese culture in other ways than food.

konichiwa! Zandra

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

As with everyone above, I bento for several reasons.

The first is of necessity. My son is Autistic, and there are many sensory food issues that arise from that. When attending a fancy private school, he could always heat food up in a microwave, so we'd got into that pattern for years. Now that he is transitioning back to the mainstream he must get into the habit of unheated lunches.

Bento has always been something of a fun thing for me, as I've appreciated manga and anime for a few decades. It is treasured, it is cute. It is affordable, healthy, tasty, and an artistic outlet.

There is simply something very satisfying about actually Spending Time making something so unique just for yourself.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Why bento? I started because I changed job, and I knew all the food shops around my new office were just depressingly bad. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to rehearse "at home" for a few weeks before combining work and bentos, and I must say it helped me a lot to get organized. In these few weeks I did a lot of reading on the internet, and Maki's bento basics where certainly the most interesting and comprehensive piece of information I could find. Especially, the meal planners, the staple stashing post, and the streamlining process.
I carry on bento-ing because I found out that in addition to good food, it helped me shed a few pounds, which I really needed, but also not gain them back: every evening it forces me to plan my lunch rationally. This helps a lot for any diet: no temptation at lunch time, only good but healthy food. Besides, it saves money, and since I'm also bentoing for my husband, it saves us a lot of money, which we can reinvest... in bento boxes!
Last, I'm particularly glad to have my bentos now: my newest office is now very far away from all food shops, we have no refrigerator at work (we just moved in), no microwave oven (dito)... and while my colleagues spend their lunch break walking to the next shop to get a cold sandwich, I can sit down comfortably nagging my colleagues, enjoying a warm bento in my thermos bento box ;-)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I've been using a lot of the recipes here and on Just Hungry for about six months now, I felt like I was getting into a bit of a rut with my packed lunches for work (too many couscous salads!) and I wanted to vary my routine a bit. The recipes I turn to most often are the kinpira, mini tsukune burgers (I use turkey mince), and the tamagoyaki. For me, it's a great way to get more variety and more nutrition in my lunches, I'm eating more veggies, brown rice and veggie protein like lentils and tofu. And the envious glances help!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I work full time in an office.
- diet: I fell in love with bentos about 2 years ago, and initially found the idea wonderful for dieting. My personal trainer was telling me to eat 50% carbs, 25%protein 25% veg at lunch time, and I found it very easy to do with a bento box.
- money: it's much cheaper than buying lunch (and like Tasha, I am not a sandwich person)
- fun and creative: I got a mini cookie cutter set and in second I personalise my bento (I make one for my husband with nice messages too :) )
- special: I don't like doing thing like everyone else, and when I get out my bento box I know I will be the only person in the room with one. Moreover it's a great conversation starter :)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Hi Maki, I'm fairly new to bento lunches and this is my first time seeing such a post on JustBento :) I'm 37, vegetarian, and live in Brussels. I have just returned to work after maternity leave. With a baby life is unpredictable, so your Staples have really saved me. Our lunchbox philosophy is the same: good food, made within a minimum of time, on a budget and with a appetizing but simple presentation. The timetables idea on preparation is a revolution, although I have yet to make everything in the same time as you can. I fully agree that deciding on what to make is the biggest waste of time, but I haven't got around to trying meal planning yet--follisome, I know! My husband thought your peeled broccoli stem kinpira was made from asparagus. We loves kinpiras of every type, and I make stewed white beans regularly in the slow cooker. I love Japanese and Korean side dishes for their make-ahead, timesaving flexibility: whereas most stir-fried foods taste best freshly made, tsukemono and its Korean counterparts are ideal to fit into odd schedules when you cook whenever you have time, and eat later. Like everyone else cooking for others, it can be a challenge to please. It's nice to read your comments, I'm also living on my third continent and cook for a European husband who needs larger portions, although mine is still developing his taste for East Asian cuisine :)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Hi brussels sprout katharine.

I am delighted to see another Belgian bento lover.
I've placed your website on my favorites as I want to keep following you.
I'll start reading your fresh mom stories lately today.

I am also a fresh mom of a little 3 years old boy. We live and work around Leuven.
I'm half Thai so that makes my little one 1/4 Thai but you cannot see this as he is as blonde as one can be (o;

bye bye

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I started bento-ing at the end of the summer when I returned to college full-time. I also work part-time, and I'm a mom! I don't have time to do anything elaborate with my bento, but it's still so convenient, money conscious, better for the environment, and really keeps me eating healthy. I mostly bring leftovers in my bento, but hey - it cuts down on waste! When my son starts school (which is still a few years away), I plan on making bentos for him, too!

Thank you, Maki! Your sites are truly inspiring!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I pack bento to control costs, calories and healthy food options. It's also a fun hobby and I enjoy thinking up different combinations.

I am a married, middle-aged woman who works and lives in the Seattle, WA area of the US. I pack daily bentos for the both of us.

And to be clear...I'm a justbento.com-junkie...can't get enough of your information and recipes. Too many favorites to mention, sorry but you ROCK Maki. :)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

actually i first came to this blog when i was a grad student - i was living in a dorm and only had a tiny stove, freezer, and microwave. Some of the tips here, like freezing rice, and making side dishes that keep in the fridge for several days that work well with rice, helped me alot through school when i didn't have much time to cook, and yet was trying to save money. Freezing rice, especially, was a life saver. That was the one thing i learnt from this blog that made me very happy (i love steamed, soft, fluffy rice, but hate to use a rice cooker).

Then when i started work, i started branching out to actual bentos because my work place didnt' have a cafe, and working in texas, it's hard to eat healthy and maintain your weight. Bentos were my best option. The recipes here are very useful when you're trying to make dishes to go with the rice. Even better when you can make a huge batch of two or three main dishes, say, and stick them in the fridge so you can take small portions each day for the bento. Together with the frozen rice of course. Very \efficient when you don't really have time to cook over the week.

My favourite recipes off the top of my head (please google this site) are:
asparagus and scrambled tofu
chicken and carrot dumpling burgers
celery kinpara
mushroom rice! (really love this one)
vegetable kinpara
salmon furikake
tuna+tofu burgers

i usually fall back on these when i run out of things to cook or am desperate =)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I moved back to France after a few years in the US, working with a japanese post-doc. When I moved back, my extra pounds started bothering me, and I decided to take advantage of the great vegetables I could get here. For me, bento is the perfect way to enjoy a homemade, well-balanced and attractive meal at luch time. I'm tired of the local delivery meals, very heavy on cream and saturated with fat. I like to know what I put in my meals, and I always try to have a very balanced meal, with a protein source, carbs and vegetables.

What I love about Maki's websites is that she is really into balancing your meal, using different ingredients that I would not think of using, making your meals tasty and not too high in calory. I'm not into very cute bento, I like my meal to look like attractive food. I love using my leftovers different ways to vary my meals.

So I'm French, just turned 30 and working full time. Leaving with 3 roomates, I've been bentoing for 2 years now, and a follower of Maki's website for about as long. I'm a big fan of the carrot kinpira (as everyone seems to be!), the vegan burger and the savory muffins. All the bento basics here are very useful, and I love the timelines. I usually prep my box in the evening, as I'm always in the rush in the morning. If you want to take a look at my easy-going bentos (in French): http://bentosdegege.canalblog.com/

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I started bento making for my then 13 year old child. She is very hard to please food-wise, but she showed a big interest in bentos from watching anime and reading manga. When I saw the types of food that you can use in it I thought that this would be a perfect platform for balancing out her diet. She rarely eats vegetables or meat at home (except maybe breaded chicken and potatoes) so I put a lot of protein and vegetables arrange thoughtfully for her. Most of the time she eats everything, even if she would balk at it on the dinner table. She even eats the leftovers for breakfast, so there is a bonus. I also like that it is environmentally friendly because we use the same boxes over and over. I have only done a few cute ones, but I am considering trying to do one cute or more labor intensives ones once a week.
There are many websites and books I have used for inspiration and recipes. Just Bento, Just Hungry, Hapabento, Ohhay Bento, Lunch in a box and many more. I also have every bento book that is available in the states and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Just Bento cookbook. You can also take regular recipes from your own culture and make them small. I often will cook up some sliced potato and carrot and make a potato salad, or a carrot and raisin salad. I also make mini meatballs for my stash as well as some mini muffins and small quiches. all frozen and waiting to be used.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Wow, I'm honored and humbled by all your nice words I have to say ^_^; I'm glad so many people find JustBento useful!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I started using just hungry/just bento when I moved out and started cooking for myself. I was so excited to stretch my culinary wings and try some new things. I found the site initially because it catered to my desire to recreate some of the treats I had enjoyed the summer I spent in Japan during my undergrad.

I started bentoing earlier this year when I returned to Japan for a semester abroad as part of my master's program. Alone and in Tokyo, in order to fight the high cost of living (and plummeting dollar vis-a-vis the yen), and try to stay healthy in the face of internationally fatty college fare, I knew I'd need to cook for myself, and as "Nhon-teki" as possible. I amazed my classmates (Japanese and foreign alike) and amused the dorm staff with my bentoing. When you are a foreigner in Japan and eat very Japanese items like umeboshi and konnyaku, its considered somewhat of a novelty.

I decided that after I returned I would try to continue the bento boxes. Thanks to Maki's guidance I knew I could suit my boxed meals to "western tastes" and adjust to whatever was available back home. Because all of my classes are at night, and often after work, I need to bring at least one meal with me every day. Food in the city is way too expensive, and like other posters, sandwiches are not my thing. With a bento I am able to actually eat a varied, balanced diet, be a little creative, and the small form-factor of the boxes mean I can easily carry two meals worth of food in my side bag as I commute by bike!

The best advice I can give to new bentoists is two-fold:
1) Be adventurous. Embrace the culinary adventure! In the search for different colors/textures/tastes to fill your boxes, try new things! You'll find favorites you never knew you liked!

2) A bento doesn't have to be filled with Japanese food to be a bento. As this site and the people on it have proved, you can bento around the world with stupendous results.

(Although I really do miss things like atsuage, hanpen, okara, and komatsuai... oh well. At least I can afford fruit here. ^_^;;)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I suppose this is the most shallow possible reason for bento-ing, but I find anything tiny to be adorable. Although I don't have time or patience for the highly-decorated "charaben" style of bento, I'm a sucker for these compact little lunch "kits" which look like dollhouse food but are actually astonishingly filling. When I open up my box full of little dabs of this and that, I feel like I'm at one of those high-end cocktail parties where waiters offer you trays of exquisite bite-sized canapes. My favorite items for the cute factor are quail eggs, snow peas, onigiri, mini-muffins, and berries, among others. For the yum factor, I like spicy noodles, asparagus, broccoli, tomagoyaki, and anything donburi.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm very new to this site, only discovering it in September but I instantly fell in love with Maki's simple yet really healthy and delicious recipes. As a new grad student, one of my goals was to eat healthy homemade meals and not waste money on buying food and these work out perfectly. I'm not quite ready to attempt the artsy side of bento yet but I really do enjoy putting together different texture and color combinations for my bentos. It's inspired me to try new things and think quickly and creatively when it comes to making my lunches (and sometimes dinners) for on the go. I've even been able to talk my family into trying some of these recipes and they aren't to thrilled about trying anything new.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I have weight problems, so it's hard to pick the right foods to eat and I have school. D:
Even though we have an hour to eat, I'm usually coped up in the library the whole time doing a project or homework. And you can't eat in the library... so most days I didn't eat lunch.
I realize now how horrible that is. Avoiding eating will not help ANYTHING.

but I discovered justbento this year and I love it! So may health friendly recipes and ideas on here. I already have 2 bento's and I'm working on making one everyday. You've taut me to count my calories, and eat healthy, but in a fun way. Bento making is now a hobby for me. And it's helping me lose weight with portion control. I check for updates everyday~

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I just got into bento and I've been perusing this site for ideas, recipes and how-tos. I love it! I'm still learning, but it's fun, and a great way to use the little bits of leftovers I seem to end up with and don't quite know where to apply. It's nice to have a somewhat healthy lunch that is also attractive.

Today I went to an Asian market and they had some of those little triangular molds you put rice in and press, and I bought some. I made sticky rice for lunch and then made a bunch of onigiri with the leftovers, with little nori holders. Before reading Just Bento, I would not have tried it, or possibly not even noticed the molds in the store at all. Now I look at everything like "Will that go in a bento?" It's making food a lot more fun!

Thanks to Biggie for this site. :)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I apologize, I posted a comment with a thanks to the wrong person, on another site; but thank you too, maki!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a 30-something woman living in the Netherlands. I started becoming interested in bento about 2 years ago. I wanted to bring lunch to work more often since eating out was getting a bit too expensive and unhealthy.

Since I didn't want to bring a typical brown bag lunch to work every day, I got online to get inspiration and somehow stumbled upon bento. I'm quite picky too and have this quirk where I don't like different foods to touch eachother, so the concept of food dividers and cute containers was right up my alley :) All that kawaii stuff proved too hard to resist and over the past 2 years, I've managed to collect quite a selection of bento-gear...

I work 4 days a week and my goal is to bring my own lunch to work 3 out of those 4 days on average (although some weeks that's easier said than done...). I prefer more western foods over traditional Japanese ones and I try to include something from all the food groups in my lunchboxes, to keep things healthy and interesting.

For newbies: I recommend downloading the meal planner from this site, it's really handy. And don't get overwhelmed by all those beautifully done kyaraben - know your limitations :)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Your comment made me smile, as I don't like my foods to touch each other either, and my friends and coworkers always make fun of me :) So yes, you're not alone and I have also accumulated quite some cute bento stuff over the past two years!!!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Here is the story of how I came to bento. Just to be clear, I don't steer shy of Japanese foods entirely, but the food in our bentos is usually quite similar to what we would normally eat at home.

When my boys were in preschool they had to bring in lunch daily. I was searching for an alternative to normal bagged lunch as my normally good eaters would return most of their lunches uneaten. Food in baggies is not particularly appetizing looking and if I sent food in Tupperwares the lids invariably went home in someone else's lunch. When I started sending in bentos my children went from sending a sandwich and carrot sticks home to cleaning out their lunch of chicken, kale, couscous, and orange slices as they would at home. I never had to use charaben or even egg molds.

Now that my boys are older, they still hate lunch in baggies. One of them has a medical condition that makes him unable to eat most school lunches (needs a low-sodium diet). They love being able to bring grown-up food to school. They are also appalled at how much garbage the other kids are throwing out at lunch, whether it's a bunch of baggies when they brought lunch or the styrofoam tray and disposable cutlery if they ate the school lunch.

My husband and I were jealous of the kids' meals, to be honest. They are way better than what we would eat if we popped out for fast food or something during lunch. They're healthier as well, and we're able to compensate when someone has a health issue that requires tweaking the diet. The bento boxes enable us to keep the food in good, presentable condition and it's a pleasure to be able to sit at the break table, whip out a cloth napkin and real silverware, and eat food that is nicely presented (it doesn't have to be spectacularly fancy in order to look good). It's a nice mid-day break and you get to feel as if you've spoiled yourself.

Why do I continue to visit Maki's site? She has some great ideas, and I love to springboard off them. I have used a number of her recipes, and the pictures of lunches help keep me fresh in terms of variety. I like to cook and like to eat. :)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Hey, I'm a college student in my last year living in Florida. I bento not only because making my own lunch is cheaper and (usually!) healthier and lets me control my own portion size, but because it really helps me cement my bonds with the people I love and cook for.

I initially got into bento because I wanted to use cute boxes, but as I got more used to cooking and got more into food in general, I got more enthusiastic about being creative. I'm really close to my VERY southern grandmother, who has always shown love in feeding people. I inherited that, and nothing makes me happier than making something for someone, making it look nice, and having them eat it and tell me that it's good.

Being in college, it can be really hard to eat well, and sometimes my friends skip meals due to lack of time or funds, and making them a lunch is my way of taking care of them when we're otherwise on our own. I'm a decent cook, and because I'm not making a huge, hefty lunch, there's not much difference between cooking for me and adding two or three more to the mix.

Some of my favorite recipes are pan-seared, thinly sliced beef on rice, chicken yakitori, and peachy chicken with vegetables.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a bit of a foodie. And have always been. It's in the genes, as most of my dad's side of the family has at least a good palette, if not a profession in cooking. I think relatives were in possession of a total of 12 Michelin stars back in 2008, I haven't checked the current situation.

So my background is that of a person who lives for good food, and has learned, because of my Scandinavian upbringing, to appreciate seasonal and fairly natural ingredients (I make a lot of things, such as vegetable stock from scratch).

To get into why I like bento... I'm on the autistic spectrum, and already as a child, I did "quirky" things as my mother would describe it, such as eat a hamburger starting with the top layer, and then one item or layer at a time, until I reached the bottom. Somehow the system of reverse-engineering anything, even a burger fascinated me before I even went to school.

I've packed lunches on and off, using a very bento-like method for almost a decade, without really being aware of an entire culture existing for the practice! :D

I became better aware of the bento culture a few years ago, but I've always honed in for cute compartmentalised lunchboxes and trays, and somehow, that fascination went "oh, I want that, too!" when I saw my first bento.

I've been a collector of tea pots before this, now I've also started collecting bento boxes and bento apparel. I bought my first real bento boxes in Vancouver, Canada a couple of years ago, at H-mart on Robson street, which is the best stocked Asian supermarket I've seen. Sadly, two hours further south in the Seattle area, we're not as lucky.

My fiancé walked to work for 20 minutes each day, and I gave him a bento box to take with him to work while I was there. We saved $500 a month on me packing him leftovers and making salads he really enjoys helps me fill his green quota for the day. The drink bottle in the cooler bag helps me also get at least one portion of something else than diet pepsi into him during the workday.

Sometimes I pack him a "brunch bento" to take with him to work and a "late lunch bento" to cover for his late hours and his need to work late. I tend to put extra effort into these, as I like to remind him I still love him, despite his late hours.

I'm a visual artist and draw cartoon figures and doodles of my own design, so I started making little "collectible cards" with the day's menu on one side, and a cat on the other, and he's always looking forward to the surprise. Nowadays we live elsewhere, but my fiancé and his colleague at work, whose wife is from Korea were always scoring our bentos in a playful "Lunch War". Suitable for a game studio's employees, I'd say... :)

These days we live elsewhere, and the office my fiancé (husband 12 weeks from now!) works at is within walking distance. I tend to either let him and a few colleagues come to us for lunch, or if the weather permits, pack a bento for each of us, and walk with him to the park behind his office for a picnic.

The health aspect and portion control are a big deal in why I like bento food in general, the arts and crafts element of putting together visually appealing bentos contributes as well. I tend to make my bentos low gluten, low carb, and fairly high in proteins, and try to make sure that the fibre content of the lunchbox is proportioately high. As a rule, I have to put in a "meat" component to my fiancé to be happy, because he's a typical American carnivore, and "needs meat". I'm accommodating his wishes, but tend to pack lacto-ovo-vegetarian for myself. ;)

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

'Haicrescendo' [above] said "...cement my bonds..." which was a big help for me as I was struggling for a politically correct synonym for 'babe magnet.' I am older single male and I need all the help with cementing bonds that I can get and joining someone at the gym over a snack with my bento box is a guaranteed conversation-starter.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I recently started packing (non-cute) bento lunches for my eight year old son. He has autism and food allergies and was not consuming much of his lunch prior to the switch to bento. It seems that the visual appeal of a bento lunch has led to him consuming more of his lunch than in the past (he's now eating most, if not all, of his lunch).

After a short while, I realized that, with planning, packing a bento does not take very much time at all. I then began packing my own bento lunches. After being inspired by your mini-quiches baked in silicone cups, I have built up a freezer stash of mini salmon quiches and spinach quiches.

Thank you Maki. With this website, you've taught me to make healthy, visually appealing lunches, and this has had a very positive effect on our family. I am eagerly awaiting the delivery of your book.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a 30-something woman hailing from Austria. Early this year I decided to "reboot" my eating and cooking habits, and since I've always liked Asian food I started researching recipes online and eventually ended up here on Maki's site when looking for instructions for making onigiri. Somehow one thing lead to the other, I started browsing the recipe sections on justbento, and only two weeks later I bought myself my first bento box and some other gear (rice cooker!) and started making my own bento boxes. And have been hooked ever since.

So why bento boxes? I'm working fulltime (management and other stuff) and often have 50-hour workweeks, with only a 30 minute break per day to take care of meals. At the same time, the long workdays mean that whatever I'll be having at work will be my main (and sometimes only) meal on most days of the week.
There are many reasons why I'd never really considered bringing my own lunch to work which I won't go into in any detail now because that would be too lengthy... but as a result, my eating habits at work and so generally really deteriorated over the years. Mostly when at work I'd just go and buy whatever junkfood was available and quickly gobble it down, end up feeling hungry again two hours later, then grab a few chocolate bars to keep my blood sugar up, and so on. Probably needless to say that this wasn't very healthy; living solely on junkfood and snacks is also rather expensive in the long run.

By making my own bento boxes, I managed to really change those bad eating habits to the better again. At first I was a bit wary, thinking that packing a whole box of various different types of food every day would be too much work or too time-consuming. I honestly expected my initial enthusiasm to dwindle away quickly. But it didn't take too long to find out that by maintaining a stash of frozen/refrigerated foods and combining it with fresh veggies/fruit I could easily assemble my daily bento box in only a few minutes time, should I be in a real hurry. And yet it would still be an appetizing-looking and healthy bento box - there's always a bit of room left in a corner of the box to add a bit of colour with carrot slices and cherry tomatos, right?

So in a way you could say that through bentoing I discovered a type of lunch box that actually works for me and really suits my needs. Some more of the pros:
Packing small portions of several different types of food into the bento box means the meals never get boring. That's just perfect if you're the "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" type of eater like I am. There's also a much higher chance that your lunch will be well-balanced nutritionally that way, I think, and it's a great way to creatively use up whatever leftovers need using up.
The visual appeal of a nicely-packed bento box is important to me as well. Making sure my lunch looks nice only takes a little bit more time than just dumping everything into a container any old way, and I know I'll enjoy decoratively arranged food a lot more and will take my time to actually appreciate it instead of just gobbling it down. (Not to mention the ego-boost I get out of showing off my nicer-looking bento creations to workmates! ^_^)
And another nice side-effect of my bentoing, one I didn't really see coming but am rather pleased about: I lost 15 kg weight over the course of the first six months without even trying to diet and without ever going hungry at work - there were days when I'd come home with a few leftovers in my bento box even.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Hi There,

I'm a nutritionist living in Tokyo, and I've just coincidentally posted some great reasons on my nutrition and wellness blog, "The Hearty Heart". I think there are some amazingly sound nutrition principles inherent in Bento making!

Check them out at:
http://theheartyheart.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/the-japanese-diet-secrets...

Oishi!!

~Emma

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

i got addicted to this site and the flickr groups more for the cute factor than the food factor at first but then when i decided to start losing weight for real last year bento became a really effective way to both learn to cook and control my portions \o/

i'm a 20-year-old college student in new hampshire and while i've only started blogging my lunchboxes recently (at the bento lab dohoho SHAMELESS PLUG) i've lost sixty pounds and counting since i started and have tried a lot of new foods i wouldn't have even thought of if i was eating only from the campus dining hall hee

it takes effort to make things look nice and sometimes extra time in the morning allows for playing with shapes and characters and it's just really fun to me i dunno

tl;dr- it's fun! it's adorable! it's healthy! it's not expensive to start! do iiiitttt <3

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

Woah, 60 lbs! Impressive!! And I looove the OCD underpants ^_^

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I started a bento blog myself. http://obentobysully.wordpress.com/

I am not a veteran, I just stared recently but now I have addicted others too. I find it very relaxing and an enjoyable way to make and eat lunch.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I started making bento because I was looking for something to make food interesting again. I'm a diabetic and have spent years fighting with my weight.

The bentos allow portion control and healthy food. I've suceeded in losing 15 pounds. It has also helped me control my blood sugars better.

The extra benefit is I started making them for my son's school lunches. He actually eats his lunches now. I'm not throwing them out at the end of the day.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm no veteran, but I've been doing them sporadically for 3 years so far. It's quite a different foray into food, instead of cook and serve immediately on a big dish. I love putting everything together - the rice, furikake, meat, veggies (lots of veggies plz!), and a little treat sometimes of little corn cakes. Majority of what I make comes from this site, and there are more than enough recipes here to make every bento interesting! Best of all, as people here say, it's about health, and bentos really do help keep your diet healthy.

tl;dr: 3 years of making it, and still love putting bentos together and eating healthy lunches!

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

I'm a 26 year old female in Illinois and didn't officially get into bentos until about a year or so ago. I've been making my lunches for years since I started living on my own and working full time. In many ways I was already making them, but didn't know there was a term for it until I really looked more into it.

When I had a 45+ minute commute to work and only one restaurant within walking distance, it was a necessity to bring my own lunch. I was getting tired of lugging around a bunch of different containers and longed for a reason to own a cute bento box (or 4...). They keep things compact, food separated, save money, and are a great way to use up leftovers. Now that I live close to come home for lunch, I really haven't been making bentos.

The one thing I really love about bentos is that they challenge me to think differently about the simple act of packing a lunch, especially when using boring leftovers. Bento-ing is more than dumping something into a container--there's really a lot of emphasis on the aesthetics as well. This isn't to say you need to be an artist making elaborate kyaraben every day. Sure they look great, but a bright green sprig of parsley here or a sprinkle of black sesame seeds there can go a long way in enhancing the visual appeal of a bento. It's so nice to sit down for lunch and open your box to find something so attractively packed that it even draws attention (and even envy) from others.

A few tips I've learned from making bentos:
* You do not need to like/make Japanese food to make a bento. Absolutely any type of cuisine that you can figure out how to pack can be used. My bentos are pretty much entirely leftovers from the night before so I eat exactly how I cook--I never cook Japanese food beyond miso soup or Japanese style curry. You also don't need the cute (and sometimes pricey) boxes, but they're very nice to have. ;)

* To really cut down on packing time, pack your box(es) as you're making dinner. As dishes finish you can be taking some out or prepping extra servings to arrange in your bento.

*Made ahead items are great to have on hand and you'd be surprised what you can freeze (rice, who knew?). Unique items like Maki's vegetable or miso soup balls are great to tuck into an empty space and let you have delicious soup without the worry and mess of transporting it.

Re: Bento veterans, tell the new people - why bento?

"To really cut down on packing time, pack your box(es) as you're making dinner. As dishes finish you can be taking some out or prepping extra servings to arrange in your bento."

My goodness yes! I do this every night (I pack bento for my husband and son... and myself if I'm going to be out at lunchtime) and it saves a great deal of time.

I got into bento because they were CUTE. I'll be honest. Four years on, the cute doesn't mean all that much to me, nor do I usually use Japanese boxes. But I still like making a nice, compact lunch for myself and my family. I make them any time we're going to be out and about at mealtime. I do pay attention to aesthetics, and try to make my bento look nice. I also do wrap bento in some sort of cloth (often a bandanna), so my bento are inexpensive, healthy and eco-friendly.

We're going to be on an airplane in a few hours and we'll be eating bento on our flight. Fun! Fun!

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