Getting started with bento making: Are bentos right for you?
[Note: This is my New Year's message from 2008, but it's just as applicable this year. I'll be posting a brand new New Year's post tomorrow later on, but in the meantime, if you are thinking of making bentos part of your routine this year, this is worth a read I think!]
If one of your New Year's resolutions is to incorporate bento lunches into your life, this is the first part of a mini-series on how to get going.
Are bentos right for you?
I know that a lot of people get seduced by the idea of jewel-like little boxes of food greeting them for lunch. But before you embark on the bento route and start collecting bento boxes and cute supplies and so on, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have the time? Do you really have the time to make bento? Even with the speed bento tips that are featured here and on other bento sites, there's no denying that making bento lunches on a regular basis does take a bit of time and effort. If the idea of waking up 20 to 30 minutes earlier in the morning to assemble your bento just sounds unrealistic to you, you may want to consider if bentos are really for you.
- Does your lifestyle or workstyle allow for bentos? I've already talked before about the benefits of making bentos if you work from home. But what if you have the type of job where you are always taking clients out to lunch? Is lunchtime an important socializing time, where you spend time gossiping with coworkers? Do you have a good cafeteria already? Perhaps you will just want to make a bento once a week or so, or concentrate on picnic bentos for outings on the weekend.
Reasons for making bento lunches
If you answered yes to the questions above, let's look at the main reasons for making bento lunches:
- For healthier eating, or to meet specific dietary needs. Bentos are great if your main goals are to eat healthier, to keep up with your specific dietary requirements (dealing with allergies, vegetarian/vegan, etc.). The best way to achieve this is to cook most things from scratch, rather than relying on pre-made foods, so expect to dedicate a little more time to your bento making than people with other goals.
- To lose weight. Related to the above, making your own bento lunches is a great way to stick to a weight loss plan, as I've written about already. If this is your main goal, make sure your bento box is the right size to start with, and also be prepared for a little extra effort to prepare fresh vegetables, whole grains, and so on. Also, beware of high calorie prepared foods, even if - or especially if - they are Japanese! Things like korokke (breaded and deep-fried potato or cream croquettes), tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets), gyoza dumplings, shuumai, and so on are featured quite a lot in bento books and blogs, but just because they look cute tucked into a box doesn't mean they're healthy! (There are ways of incorporating these goodies into your bentos, but that's a bit more advanced.)
- To save money. Making your own lunch can save you a lot of money compared to eating out at restaurants or buying fast food. If this is your primary goal, you do want to be careful not to go overboard on ingredients, cute bento supplies and such. Also beware of prepared Japanese foods, which are cheap in Japan but not really elsewhere.
- To learn new cooking skills. Perhaps your main goal is to learn more about, or refine, your Japanese cooking knowledge by making bentos. Not many restrictions for you here, but again, those beautiful jewel-like bento boxes take some time and effort, so be prepared for that.
The bottom line is: committing to making bento lunches regularly does mean you will have to invest some time. But the payoffs are worth it!
Incidentally, the main goals I have for my own bento making are the above, in the order they are listed. So chances are that this site will suit you fine if they are your goals too.
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