Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1
Welcome to Week 1 of the 5 week Getting Started Bento Challenge! If you’re new to the site, see the overall objectives of this Challenge .
The Challenge officially commences on Monday January 12th (Joining in later is fine too - just catch up where you can!)
Before we kick off Week 1, here’s a quick outline of this and upcoming Challenge weeks.
- Each week, we’ll be focusing on a particular aspect of making tasty, healthy and cost conscious bento lunches as efficiently as possible.
- There will be three task and goal levels: Basic, Going Deeper, and Weight Loss. Basic is what you should try to do at a minimum. Going Deeper is for people who are very motivated and want to take on more. Finally, Weight Loss is specifically for people who want to use the Challenge to kick start, or enhance, a weight loss plan.
So, on to Week 1!
Week 1 Focus: Getting Organized
My aim is to make most of my everyday bentos in under 30 minutes, with under 20 being ideal. While there are a lot of things we can do to make this happen, I’ve found that the most important aspect is to be organized. This means the following:
- Planning my bento lunches ahead. The difference in time spent when I know what I’m going to make for my bento when I get going on it in the morning vs. when I don’t have a clue is pretty big. Besides, I can’t think too clearly early in the day, so I really waste time waffling around between the freezer, refrigerator and the pantry, trying to come up with something. More often than not I’d get too discouraged by my indecision and decide to forget about making a bento altogether.
- Have the equipment and supplies ready to go. A well run restaurant, not to mention an efficient chef, always practices mise en place a term that means having the tools of their trade and the ingredients at hand before starting to cook. That’s how these restaurants can manage to make dishes on order in such a short time.
Here’s a photo of a recent mise en place I did, with bento boxes for The Guy and me, a small pan and a small frying pan. (I also use an electric water pot , but that’s always out on the counter anyway.)
This may sound rather complicated, but it really isn’t once it becomes a habit. It only takes me about 10-15 minutes to roughly plan my bentos for the upcoming week. And getting the equipment ready only takes a couple of minutes, once you know what you need.
Your tasks and goals for this week
Reminder: The week stars on Monday/Tuesday.
Whatever level you decide to tackle, you should do the following:
- Photo. At lunchtime, take a photo of your bento, and upload it either to flickr (and add to the Just Bento pool) or to your preferred photo hosting service. A record of your first bento steps!
- Report. At the end of the week, report back here in the dedicated forum and tell us how it went for you. (Or link to your blog post with your report.)
- Make one bento. If you’re just starting out, aim to make at least one bento this week. Yep, just one - we’re starting out slow and easy. If you don’t have a bento box yet, just use a nice plastic container with a tight fitting lid. We won’t even quibble about the contents for this week. Your aim is to just do it!
- Mise en Place. The night before every day that you plan to make bento, make your supplies ready. Have your bento box out with your eating utensils, plus the pots and pans you’ll need. In addition, if possible have the food item you’ll either be cooking or just packing into your bento box at the front of your refrigerator, freezer or pantry shelf so that you can just grab them.
In addition to the Basic tasks:
- Pre-plan. Plan out your bentos for the week. You can use the simple Weekly Bento Planner , or the more comprehensive Weekly Menu Planner , or whatever works for you. Try to plan for bentos with at least 1 protein, 1 vegetable and 1 non-sweet carb. (For people who tackle this level, it will be interesting to compare what you planned to make and what you actually ended up doing. It will help you pinpoint any problems.)
If one of your goals for this Challenge is losing weight, consider these additional tasks:
- Figure out how many calories you really need. There are several studies that show that eating too few calories can actually sabotage weight loss efforts. So you want to make sure that your daily calorie goal is appropriate to your height, current weight and activity level. There are lots of online tools where you can figure this out. Here is one I like .
- Measure your bento box’s (or boxes’) capacity in mililiters (ml). As a general rule of thumb, if you pack a bento box tightly, the capacity in ml gives you the capacity in calories. You may not always have a tightly packed bento though, so you may want to have a bigger one for loose food like salads. In any case, it’s good to know just how much your bento boxes can hold.
For this task you’ll need a measuring cup with ml markings for maximum accuracy. Take out your bento box. Fill each up with water, and empty out that water into the measuring cup. Read the ml. amount, and write it down somewhere. If you don’t have a ml. measuring cup, you can use regular U.S. measuring cups; 1 cup is 236 ml. It won’t be as accurate but you’ll get a general idea. (You may want to read Easy Diet Bento Rules if you haven’t already.)
- Move? This is not strictly bento related, but this is a good time to start or re-start a good exercise program.
(And of course, before starting any kind of weight loss plan check with your doctor or other trusted medical professional, especially if you have an existing medical condition.)
So, to sum up:
Basic: Mise en place, at least 1 bento, photo, report.
Going Deeper: Pre-plan, mise en place, 1 more bento than you’re making now, photo, report.
Weight Loss: Caloric needs, measure bento, pre-plan, mise en place, 1 more bento, photo, report.
Just tackle the level you feel capable of. And I’ll see you at the end of week! (I’ll be around during the week too, doing the challenge along with you and hanging out of course.)
Bento Challenge Week 1: My report
My Week 1 in a nutshell: I met my bento-oriented goals for Week 1, but failed to meet my fitness goals.
Bento wise, I did pretty well. I met my goal of planning ahead for the week, making a bento every weekday for The Guy as well as myself (though he didn’t need one on Thursday or Friday), and for keeping my bento calories under 500 (my set goal for lunch).
I did fairly well with planning. Chicken thigh meat was on sale at our local butcher, so I bought a couple of kilo of it and cut it up into bite-size pieces. I used chicken twice during the week. I also had some frozen shrimp that had to be used up, which I did. Chinese broccoli made its appearance twice, as did spinach, as well as my old standby carrots.
I did make a few changes on the spot, but more or less followed my plan. (Dinner plans did change quite a bit from my plans though.)
One plan that didn’t work: I meant for the stewed root vegetables I made for Thursday’s bento to go in at least one more bento round next week, but uhm, they’ve already been eaten! I guess this is a hazard you face if you have hungry humans other than yourself around the house!
I’ve already posted them to the flickr pool , but just to have them all on one page:
Monday bento (described in detail here ), about 450 calories:
Tuesday bento, about 450 calories:
Wednesday bento, about 420 calories:
Thursday bento, a vegan bento about 400 calories with the clementine (I didn’t eat the mini-onigiri, which would have added about 50 calories):
Friday bento, around 400 calories:
What I need to work on
- As I said at the top, I failed to meet my exercise goals! I have no good excuse except that I was super-busy, have a slight cold and well, it’s so cold outside! But in Week 2 I will do better - I have to!
- Bento was fine, but dinner and snacks went a bit awry. I have to watch the mindless snacking much better, and look at dinner portions. (Pasta may have to go for a while…) I also felt I didn’t eat enough fruit.
How did your week go? Share your thoughts, and see how other people participating in the Challenge did in the Just Bento forum !