Why make a bento lunch if you work at home?

Like a lot of web-monkey types who sit in front of their computers all day, I work from home at least several days a week. But I still make a bento lunch in the morning for myself whenever I can. Why bother? you might ask. There are lots of good reasons for it, but here are my top five. continue reading...

Bento no. 3: Spicy Korean-flavor noodles under 300 calories, for the 'day after'


(click image to see larger version)

Bento contents:

  • Shirataki noodles, 1/2 to 1 pack (5-10 calories or so!)
  • Firm tofu, 1/2 block (about 90-100g) (100 calories)
  • Kochujang (Korean red bean paste) based marinade (10 calories)
  • Vegetables of your choice - green onions, garlic chives, ginger, garlic, peppers, cabbage, spinach, etc, with sesame oil (150 calories approx.)
  • A small apple (50 calories)

Total calories (approx.) for the noodles only: 270 calories; including the apple: 320 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 20 minutes

Type: Asian-fusion with mainly Korean flavors continue reading...

Onigiri On Parade: A guide to onigiri (omusubi) rice ball shapes, types and fun


Onigiri (or omusubi, the other name for the same thing), the cute little rice ball, has really become popular outside of Japan in the last few years, in large part it seems due to its iconic status in anime and manga. While the onigiri is not limited in Japanese food culture to just bento use, it’s an indispensable part of the bento maker’s repertoire.

Previously on Just Hungry, I’ve explained how to make onigiri twice: the traditional, hot salty palms way, and an easier method using plastic wrap and a cup. And you can always use a plastic onigiri mold if neither method appeals. However, I have never really gone into depth about the different shapes and kinds of onigiri. So, here it is - a parade of different kinds of onigiri: shapes, coverings, fillings, and more. continue reading...

Streamlining the bento making process: Preparation and washing up

As you read about making bento, you might wonder how this is all possible to do in the busy morning. It is possible, since millions of Japanese people do it every day - and no, not all of them are stay-at-home mothers (and who is busier and more time-constrained more than a mom anyway?) Practice makes perfect, so the more you make bento the faster you get. But a little bit of preparation and forethought goes a long way towards streamlining your bento making. continue reading...

How to: Make Salted Salmon (shiozake)


Salted salmon, called shiozake or shiojake (塩鮭), is so ubiquitous in Japan that when people just talk about “salmon” (sake or shake) they are usually referring to the salted kind rather than the raw kind (which is specifically called namazake(生鮭)). Salted salmon is a staple ingredient of bento, used as an onigiri rice ball filling, flaked on top of or mixed into rice, or just grilled.

shiozake_cooked.jpgSalted salmon is cheap and easily available in Japan, but not so outside of Japan. So I’ve been making it myself for some time now, and it’s quite easy. All you need is a typical refrigerator that has low humidity. (If yours doesn’t have excess condensation in it, and old leafy vegetables get dessicated in the corner of your vegetable bin, then it’s ideal.) continue reading...

The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice and the salt content

In Selecting the right bento box, I talked about how important it was to select the right size of box, especially if you are using bento lunches as a tool to lose weight. The other critical factor is to control the amount of rice you put into the box, if you are making Japanese style bentos. continue reading...

How bento calories are calculated on Just Bento

Each complete bento presented on Just Bento has a calorie count. This is derived from the following information:

  • Official nutritional information labels on packaged foods
  • Online nutrition information databases, such as the ones at Calorie Lab and CalorieKing
  • English language nutritional databases often have inaccurate or misleading information about Japanese foods, so I rely on the official food nutrient database (五訂食品標準成分表) which is published by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and is the standard nutrition information text for dieticianss and other food professionals in Japan. (There are several consumer-friendly versions of this very useful publication available in Japanese. I use one with lots of cute pictures.)

Keep in mind that all calorie counts are approximate, since portion sizes may vary.

Most of the complete bentos (the numbered ones) are around 500 to 600 calories or lower. They can easily be made bigger or smaller just by increasing the volume of each component. (I frequently show larger “Guy” variations.)

Cup measures and weight and such

The capacity of “1 cup” varies from country to country, in a maddening way. In the U.S. it’s about 240ml (236.588238 ml); in Japan it’s 200ml; in the UK it’s 436ml. I use 240ml (standard U.S. cup measure) as an approximimate middle ground, especially for rice. If you are very concerned about every single calorie, it’s best to invest in a good kitchen scale.

Bento no. 2: Chicken and vegetable donburi-style bento

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Bento Contents:

  • Brown rice (1 cup, 220 calories)
  • Chicken and vegetable stir-fry (250 calories)
  • Glazed baby carrots (50 calories)

Total calories (approx.): 520 calories (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 15-20 minutes

Type: Japanese continue reading...