how-to

Teaching my sister to make bentos to help deal with her hypoglycemia

This is a guest post by Nicole of Discojing. She tells us how she taught her sister to make bento lunches for herself to help to cope with hypoglycemia. What a great sister!

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Diseases that involve blood sugar often creep up on you. It wasn’t until my mother was older and my younger sister and I were well into our teens that we were exposed to hypoglycemia and Type II Diabetes. Type II Diabetes is a growing epidemic in the world, and most people don’t know that it’s actually preventable. My mother’s poor diet habits led her hypoglycemia to develop into Type II Diabetes. My sister and I both have hypoglycemia and are in trying to keep Diabetes at bay. Unfortunately, in a culture that advertises unhealthy and fast food at the same time as a thin=attractive mentality, it is hard to win this war.

By eating a well-balanced diet and eating when your body tells you to (whether this is three, four, or five times a day), great strides can be taken to eliminate the risk of developing Diabetes. I am currently in the process of helping my sister understand not only her disease and its risks, but also valuable life skills such as cooking and budgeting. My sister is just starting college and she needs to be able to budget the adequate time and money needed to planning her meals, as well as understanding what types of food she should and shouldn’t eat. I think bento does a great job of meeting all these requirements because it’s fun, transportable, environmentally friendly, economical, and is a medium for learning. continue reading...

Speed bento tips from a busy American mom

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This is a guest post by Amy Vander Vorste of Avlor’s Imprints.

Are you sure you don’t have time to plan or pack a lunch? Speed tips are here to the rescue!

Bentos are “the in thing” in lunches right now and for good reason! They provide a great way to pack a nutritious meal while providing reasonable portions.

As an American mom, I was frustrated at what our school was providing as a “healthy” lunch. I love our elementary school, but I don’t have an ounce of affection for the lunch program. I’ll spare you the details - but lunches are 9 times out of 10 full of highly processed food. Milk is also pushed - but not just plain milk. There’s strawberry, chocolate, and cookies-and-cream sweetened versions. Yipes! I hope you find it as humorously ironic as I did that the school district sent home reminders that a pop, chips and a cookie don’t constitute a good lunch.

I want better for my children who need to learn and pay attention in school. Last year my son’s teacher mentioned to me that my son was having troubles paying attention in class. After I started packing nutritious lunches, my son’s attention problems virtually disappeared. Quality food may not be the answer for all attention problems, but it’s helped us tremendously! Squeezing time in to make a lunch is essential for my family.

I wondered how my son would handle taking lunches that are different from the ones his friends have. But he’s enjoying it and even asks to take chopsticks. His quote, “It’s awesome!” There’s positive attention over his lunches (and the chopsticks) from his classmates, and not much of the negative “Eww is that broccoli?” He’s becoming very conscious of what is good for him and what is not. Could a mom be more proud? continue reading...

How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

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From the archives: This is a foundation post for anyone interested in Japanese style bentos based around rice. Edited and updated to reflect some safety related questions. Be sure to read the linked bento safety posts too. Originally posted in October 2007.

Rice is the base carbohydrate for most Japanese style bento lunches, but the idea of cooking rice fresh every day may be rather daunting. If you have a rice cooker with a timer that can be set so that the rice is ready when you want to make your bento it is easier (and recommended if you make bentos daily). Of course this does mean that you need to rinse the rice the night before.

While I prefer to wash the rice the night before and set the timer on my rice cooker, I often freeze pre-portioned packets of rice to use on extra busy mornings. Rice freezes very well if you make sure that it’s still warm when you wrap up the portions. This retains the necessary moisture inside the plastic. It’s also a good idea to use sturdy, microwaveable wrap such as Saran Wrap. continue reading...

Opposing cut or chigai-giri: The easiest ever decorative cutting technique for bananas, cucumbers and more

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A couple of people asked about the twist-cut banana slices that were tucked into a corner of the scotch egg bento. This is actually a very simple decorative cutting technique that can be done in a couple of minutes, even if you are a beginner. I learned how to do this cut back in my first year of middle school (7th grade in U.S. school terms, or when I was 12-13) in home economics class. It’s usually called chigai giri (違い切り) or ‘opposing cut’ in Japanese. I also call it the ‘twist cut’, since the business end of the cut looks twisted to me.

There’s more than one way to do this cut, but here’s the way I learned how to do it. It still works best for me. continue reading...

Where (and how) to buy bento boxes and accessories

(Originally published in April 2008, and updated continuously since. Last updated March 2011.)

A very frequently asked question is where and how to buy the bento items and boxes mentioned here, especially in the Bento Item Spotlight (formerly Bento Item of the Week) feature, as well as on other bento blogs and sites. I’ve listed you several options, which I hope will be useful.

Look locally first

As much as I love online shopping, I believe in shopping at your local stores first. You’re supporting your area’s businesses, and you don’t have to pay shipping costs. Besides, it’s arguably a bit better for the environment (especially if you take public transportation!) since the goods have already travelled to your area.

You might argue, “but I don’t have any stores near me that sell bento stuff!” I don’t either. But it’s always possible to find alternatives for lunch boxes, dividers, picks and other accessories. As I wrote in one of the earliest articles on this site, it’s not necessary to buy a box that is labeled as a Bento Box in order to bring bento lunches. You can use cupcake cups, paper or silicon, as bento dividers, picnic utensils, and so on. Check out the Bento Gear Flickr pool for a lot of creative ideas from fellow bento enthusiasts. continue reading...

Quick onigiri tip: Show what's inside on the outside

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Here is an ultra-quick and easy tip for how to identify the filling of an onigiri (rice ball) without having to crack it open. continue reading...

Fun with Japanese egg molds

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Something fun from the archives, in keeping with Easter. Incidentally, I haven’t been able to update Just Bento this week due to a sudden change of plans, but I’ll be back next week with frugal bento recipes and more. So until then…enjoy your weekend!

Egg molds are a fairly easy way to add some cuteness to a bento box. They are meant for kids’ bentos, but there’s nothing to stop you from using them for yourself of course. I usually can’t be bothered to make molded eggs for everyday bentos, but for picnics and parties they are quite a lot of fun.

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Egg molds are offered by various online sources such as J-List and eBay merchants (see the left sidebar for some listings), as well as at 100 yen stores. There are two types of egg molds: one has a simple clamshell shape with a fastener, and the other has a inner half-shell. You can use the latter kind without the inner half-shell too. Either way, be sure you get one that has the clamshell shape and the closing fastener - these features are what make an egg mold work properly. continue reading...

Carrot and cheese stars, flowers, hearts

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A very simple yet effective bento decoration, suitable for all types of bento. continue reading...