Bento boxes are like lunchboxes – but they are also SO much more. A Bento-box, originally from Japan, is a single serving meal meant to be carried with you and eaten away from home. Bento is a filling, healthy meal, covering all the basic food groups.
The idea of a Bento-box isn’t necessarily a new one, but with a little bit of planning, you can make it part of a novel “meal-away-from-home” routine that can help you smash your (and your family’s) 2022 nutrition goals.
Pack It Up
Packing your lunch instead of buying takeaways (or even worse – something from a vending machine) has many health benefits. Convenience foods are usually packed with preservatives, sugars, and unhealthy levels of sodium, not to mention the lack of fibre and any real nutrients.
A large burger and chips, on average, contains a staggeringly unhealthy 400mg of sodium – that’s nearly a third of the recommended daily allowance! (Health authorities recommend a daily sodium intake of no more than 1500mg).
However, most people in developed countries consume double that amount – upwards of 3000mg of sodium daily!
High levels of sodium in your blood can put you at risk for several serious health problems, including high blood pressure, stomach cancer, kidney stones, chronic headaches, osteoporosis, stroke, and heart failure.
Other high sodium culprits include take-away pies, fried chicken, and processed meat meals like Russians and chips or hot dogs.
Benefits of a Bento-Box
Bento-boxes are divided into different sized compartments. In a traditional Japanese Bento-box,
the biggest compartment would contain rice, with meat or eggs, and fresh or pickled vegetables filling the
Bento-boxes allow you to be creative and use what you have in your house. You don’t have to stick to
sandwiches. You can easily make a lunchbox from leftovers and any raw fruit or vegetables you might have
in the fridge.
For a South African approach, try using local seasonal produce. You can also adjust the contents of your box based on your dietary needs.
Pack a Bento with brown rice and grilled chicken and steamed or roasted broccoli.
Add a hard-boiled egg as an extra snack and a banana or a scoop of peanut butter for dessert.
Go Low Carb
Substitute the brown rice for cauli-rice.
For a vegetarian option add red beans or lentils to your rice and double up on roasted veggies.
Don’t like any form of rice or grains? – Never fear! Bento-boxes are infinitely customizable, and you can easily switch out the base starch for a savoury egg-muffin, keto pancake, wholewheat pasta, seed crackers, baked potato, or even spiralised veggies.
Packing a Bento-box allows you to visualize your entire meal. It’s the easiest way to take control of your family’s eating habits in the new year.
Sliced grapes, cucumber and carrot sticks, nuts and cubes of cheese are all fun add-ons for a kid-friendly Bento-box, that isn’t just another peanut butter sandwich.
Ecologically, Bento-boxes make sense.
- Fewer take-aways = Less single-use plastic packaging.
- Buying food in bulk, and then prepping and packing healthy meals for the whole family, doesn’t just help your budget, but also means less conspicuous consumption, less food waste, and fewer trips to the grocery store.
Most grocery stores sell reusable lunchboxes with compartments that can be used as Bento-boxes.
Many online stores also have a variety of plastic or stainless-steel Bento-boxes.
No Bento-Box, No problem!
Rifle through your Tupperware cupboard and find three or four different sized containers. (Hopefully, they still have lids!). Pack them, as if they were a Bento-box, with a balanced mix of different foods, add a bottle of water and put it all in a small cooler bag to take with you to work or school.