Getting started with bento making: Aim for balance
One of the best reasons to make bento lunches is that you can eat a lot healthier than eating fast food or restaurant food. However, it doesn't happen by magic. It's just as easy, or even easier, to make a cute box full of unhealthy food.
The main thing to keep in mind that you should always aim for a good balance between the main food groups: carbs or starches, protein, and vegetables and fruit. I always try for a 1:1:1 ratio between carbs, protein and vegetables - if there are more vegetables, all the better, but never too much carbs or protein.
Let's look at this in practice. Here is the first bento featured on Just Bento.
It's quite easy to see the balance here. The brown rice takes up about a third of the box. The protein components, the quail egg and the fried tofu, take up another third or so, and the rest of the box is filled up with vegetables.
In Bento no. 6 the balance is a little harder to see, but it's still there.
The carb component is the pita breads. The proteins are the mini bean burgers and the yogurt. The veg/fruit are the salad and the mixed apple and pear chunks. (Note that I try not to use fruit instead of vegetables most of thee time, since fruit does contain sugars, though it's still good for you!)
Balance your sandwich lunch
If you're not ready to try making a full-on rice based bento yet, you can still ease into it by balancing your brown bag sandwich lunch. Let's say you have a peanut butter and jelly (jam) sandwich. If your usual accompaniments to that are an apple and a brownie, that's not very balanced since it's too carb-heavy. The sandwich has bread (carb), peanut butter (protein and fat) and jelly (sugar, which is a carb). It's quite carb-heavy still, so you need to balance it out. For example -
- PB and J sandwich + small container of low-fat or fatfree yogurt + steamed broccoli stalks left over from dinner
- PB and J sandwich + Mini Babybell cheese + readymade mixed salad
- PB and J sandwich + a few almonds or other nuts + carrot sticks with a non or low-fat dressing for dipping
- PB and J sandwich + roasted chickpeas + baby spinach with a lemon wedge to squirt on
Adding these extra things doesn't take that much effort (the roasted chickpeas do take a little effort, but they can be made in advance). And the health and satiety factors for your lunch are given a bit boost. Taking it a step further, if you make the sandwich from whole wheat bread, it becomes even more nutritious with no extra effort on your part. Changing the innards of the sandwich also takes no extra effort, beyond having to buy the ingredients.
So, try practicing balance with your usual bag lunch first, and see how it goes!
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