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.

Most regular Japanese bentos have quite a lot of rice in them - typically, at least 2 cups, compressed tightly to make room for the rest of the food (the okazu). 1 cup of medium grain brown rice (240ml, or 1 U.S. cup measure; around 7 oz or 190-200g in weight) is around 220 calories, so if you stuff in the rice following the norm, that’s quite a lot of calories. This is why I like to pre-portion the rice (by freezing or not) and limit myself to 1 cup per bento. (For my bigger spouse, I put in 1 1/2 to 2 cups, depending on what else is in the bento.)

Another factor to consider is that since typical Japanese bentos have so much plain rice in them, the okazu (the other food) tends to be quite salty. If you have less rice, you will not want as much saltiness because you don’t need it to make the rice “go”. (There’s even a common phrase for this to indicate if something is tasty to have with rice - gohan ga susumu). I try to keep the salt content down in the bentos I post here. Another tactic I use is to add vegetables that are barely seasoned, such as the plain boiled green beans and carrots in Bento no. 1.

Watch out for the saltiness in things like prepared pickles and furikake powder too.

[Edited to add:]

There is a small caloric difference between different types of rice. And as a commenter pointed out, I forgot to mention that by ‘cup’ I mean 1 U.S. cup, or 240ml. (For the sake of simplicity I just remember the numbers for brown rice, which is a bit more caloric than other types of rice. Overestimating a bit doesn’t hurt!)

Caloric values of one U.S. cup (240ml) or 100g of rice (source: CalorieKing)

  • Medium grain brown rice (the kind that I use the most): 1 cup = 218 cal; 100g = 112 cal
  • Medium grain white rice: 1 cup = 242 cal; 100g = 130 cal
  • Long grain white rice: 1 cup = 205 cal; 100g = 130cal
  • Sticky white rice: 1 cup = 169 cal; 100g = 97 cal

See also

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How much is one cup of rice?

Thank you for stimulating my imagination, as well as my appetite! Sorry to have to ask, but the concept of cups has always confused us in the UK/ Ireland: how much can you pack in? Why are there differences between US cups and Australian cups, and so on… Would you mind telling me how much one cup of brown rice weighs? (approximately, and imperial or metric is fine!) And next silly question: does one cup of white rice weigh less than one cup of brown rice?


My apologies for forgetting about the different capacity of a ‘cup’ depending on where you are! (For what it’s worth, in Japan a ‘cup’ is 220ml.) I’ve edited in the caloric values for different kinds of rice in cup and 100g units now. I hope that helps!

Re: How much is one cup of rice?

I know this is very old, but for reference for the future, if you google the FAQ there's a lovely section in there where multiple people weighed US volume measurements of common ingredients (flour, butter, etc.) to come up with reasonable estimates for what a US cup of X should weigh. It was very helpful when I was living in England and trying to make US recipes or vice versa.

(The reason for multiple contributors is that the weight of something like a cup of flour can vary depending on the humidity in the area and also how the cup is filled - if it's packed down or spooned in lightly - so taking the average of a few results gives you a better general number to work with than if you just go by a single person's results.)

Re: The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice ...

This is probably a silly question, but when you refer to one cup of rice, do you mean cooked rice or dry rice? Thanks!

Re: The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice ...

I mean cooked rice, unless specified otherwise.

Re: The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice ...

Rice cooked western-style, or japanese style? Because of the differences in the amount of water used, the amount of rice you end up with is different. In western-style rice, you use 2 parts water to 1 part uncooked rice, which results in 3 parts cooked rice. But in Japanese rice, you've said that the ratio is more like 1.2 to 1.5 parts water to 1 part uncooked rice, which results in 2.2 to 2.5 parts cooked rice. This changes the calories considerably - wouldn't 1 cup (240ml) japanese-style rice be more like 300 calories?

Re: The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice ...

The calorie amounts given at the end of the article are for cooked rice which is what you should go on, not uncooked. For Japanese style and other medium grain rice (e.g. Italian arborio, vialone, etc plain rice) and for long-grain rice (e.g. American Carolina rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice) the calorie counts are different. But the lower calorie count for long-grain rice doesn’t mean you should be eating that over medium-grain; I state elsewhere that for traditional bentos, long-grain rice is not appropriate since it dries out and becomes rather dried out and inedible after some hours, unless it’s stir-fried or otherwise coated with oil. Of course, YMMV.

How much uncooked rice makes one cup?

Hi Maki. I have Koshihikari rice which is 160 cal for 1/4 cup of uncooked rice. I made a whole bunch and froze it but I forgot to check how much cooked rice it makes. It will be a while before I have to cook rice again... But I would estimate that 1/2 cup of uncooked rice makes about 1 cup of cooked rice, which would be 320 cal, much higher than any of the numbers you put here. So what is going on? Is Koshihikari a very dense carb-y rice?

Also now that I think about it I wonder if it meant American cup... Probably I guess. I use the Japanese cup measurement that came along with my Zojirushi rice cooker. So probably my one cup is less than 320 cal, but only slightly.

Any ideas about why my rice is so high on calories? Or am I calculating it wrong?

Re: The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice ...

Thanks so much for this. It's just what's needed to know :)

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