Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

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Bento contents:

  • 1 large slice boiled ham, 100 calories
  • 1 slice proscuitto, 80 calories
  • 1 small piece cheese (gouda), 80 calories
  • 2 small whole grain rolls, 160 calories
  • About 8 grapes, 30 calories
  • 1 Tbs. mustard
  • Mixed salad greens, 10 calories

Total calories (approx): 460 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 5 minutes in the morning

Type: Not Japanese, sandwich, nothing made in advance

With the school year approaching, or even already starting for some people, I see a lot of people linking to this site from kid- or mom-oriented sites, as well as the usual round of newspaper articles who have newly discovered this “bento trend” thing. The reactions from readers are pretty interesting to me. Some think it’s a great idea, but some hardcore naysayers see it as too much work, or even something that is bad for children. “How dare kids expect their busy parents to put in time making their food look cute or attractive!” they huff. “In my day, we got a bowl of gruel and we were happy to have it!” Well not quite those words, but you get the idea.

Of course, you can spend hours preparing elaborate bentos if you want, making them beautiful, or cute, or edible homages to your favorite rock star. As for the food itself, for the sake of variety and to save time in the morning, I recommend building up a ‘stash’ of ready-to-go bento friendly foods in your freezer, refrigerator or pantry.

But what if you are just starting out and don’t have a bento-food stash yet? What if you are too busy or too sleepy to be creative in the morning? That doesn’t mean you can’t bring a bit of the bento spirit to your lunch.

At the moment I’m still living without a proper kitchen, and only a tiny under-cabinet type refrigerator. So there’s no room to have a bento stash really, and little room to do much cooking. So this is the type of bento lunch I’ve been packing a lot recently, for our excursions out to look at kitchen cabinets at the local home improvement stores and such things. It’s really just a deconstructed sandwich; the rolls are sliced in the middle, but even that step could be omitted. It really just takes 5 minutes or so to assemble.

However, I do like to add little touches here and there to make the recipient of the bento - myself included - smile. Like using a pretty cloth to wrap my plain plastic box (the one I use when I want to pack a lot of salad) - the cloth doubles as a tablecloth. Like cutting a little heart shape out of the ham slice (the cheese is tucked in behind the ham, so that the color shows off the heart), using my favorite heart-shaped silicon baking cup for the grapes, and adding a cute little pick.

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I think that anyone can do something like that, without much effort or time spent at all, and it makes lunch just a bit more fun. Or how about just adding a little smile to a plain old sandwich?

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The idea is to not be intimidated. Don’t assume that bentos are too much work, or take too much time, or that they have to be based on Japanese food (as I’ve said time and again here they are not). It’s just about adding a bit of fun, color and whimsy to a meal that too often gets overlooked.

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.

11 comments

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Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

I love this post! Sometimes I want to take a lot of time to make a cute bento, but the last few days I have been rushed. I still manage to take time to put together a yummy bento, though. Bento stash is such a life saver, and I keep lots of veggies and fruits like grapes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and radishes that are easy to throw into a bento adding nutrition and color. Thanks for your inspiration Maki!

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

This is a great fast, simple, kid-friendly bento! Thanks Maki! I was just on parenting.com where AnnaTheRed did a bento spread and there was soooooooooooo much bickering in the comments! I get so frustrated by those people it makes my head want to explode!

Even at my son's preschool I had a woman snipe "Psshh must be nice to have all that extra time." After biting my tongue (nearly clear through it seemed) I had to leave without responding. This woman is a very well-to-do stay at home mother of 2 kids while I work full time at a crappy mall job to provide the sole income for my family and take the bus everywhere (major time suckers those 2 things are!). Yet I make a fresh, cute, fun, healthy lunch for my kid in all that extra time I have and it's apparently a massive labor for her to chuck a Lunchable in her kid's backpack!

Anyway, thanks for a reminder of how fast and easy cute food can be!!

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

Good for you erisgrrrl on all counts! ^_^

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

I am very glad you posted this. I have been doing bento for a less than 6 months, and most of my stuff is from everyday items I find. I mainly pack for myself and while some days I make cute faces or whatever, some days I just cram food in the box. A lot of time I like to just make artsy designs. My greatest compliment came from my 16 yr old daughter who is going into culinary at her career center. She wanted to pack all year and I said I wasn't going to buy her Lunchables every day, so she said as long as I packed her bentos she would forgo the Lunchables :) Keep up the GREAT work!!!

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

What are "Lunchables"?

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

Lunchables are an American thing, it's like a bento, but not as cute, and not as healthy, 'cause they're processed and full of salt.
One of them, for example, you get 10 Ritz crackers (or something, a long time since my Lunchable days! :P) and 10 slices of processed ham, and processed cheese.
And you just make cheese and ham crackers yourself. >.<

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

Thanks. We have something a bit similar in New Zealand called 'Le Snak' -not sure why the French language. They are not lunch-size and contain only 3 small crackers and a smear of cheese sauce stuff. Some children take then to school for morning break but some schools discourage them because of the packaging waste.

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

I make bentos for my husband all the time. While "cute" bentos are not okay ( he says the guys will make fun of him, sheesh...men ) I think anyone can strive to make food aesthetically pleasing. Whether that is with a happy face, a heart container, or simply through having lots of color, I believe it is always appreciated. A bento doesn't have to be a masterpiece of charaben but neither does it have to be a brown lump. No matter how good the food is, if everything is always some shade of brown or white eventually every person is going to get tired of it. People who put down bentos as too much work are either ill informed or they honestly are just searching for an excuse to be lazy. Bentos are like any other meal. Yes, you could spend 5 hours making a labor intensive holiday meal or you could also spend 5 minutes throwing together a sandwich. Does that make either one of those meals less worthy to be eaten? I sure hope not. I am just glad that this blog, in particular, is around to inform and change people's minds about what a meal on-the-go can be.

Re: Bento no. 74: 5-minute, no stash, beginner bento

this is a great idea and you can even make a face with sprout hair that piles all together for a second face. hmmm Two face bento :)

Quick and delicious

I make bentos for me and my little sister who's picky and only eats American food ( :p not Japanese or Brazilian or anything else )
And this is perfect because it is quick and American. And I've got more time for my food. :)

Beginner Bento = <3!!!

I've been looking for a easy at-home bento and this is great! I'm trying to get my mom to buy some Japanese food, but for now i'll do with what we have. I cut faces into my tortilla and filled it with peanut butter today, and checker cut apples. I also used your banana cutting technique for string cheese. I also put in a laughing cow wedge and popcorn - about 300 calories, great for a health conscious lunch.
THANK YOU!!! >.<

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