Bento boxes I covet and my actual bento boxes

 

I like the idea of funky bento boxes but I rarely buy them because they are not all that practical for me. Most bento boxes are based on the assumption that you will have rice in one compartment, not anything sloppy or juicy. I don’t eat a lot of starches but I do eat a lot of stews and they leak when I use normal bento boxes. Bento boxes aren’t that sandwich friendly either. I don’t eat a lot of sandwiches but when I want to make them I have nothing to put them in.

What’s important for me when choosing lunch containers:

  • shape – will it fit the types of foods I eat
  • size – not too big as to encourage overeating but not to small as to require extra containers
  • leakiness - I eat a lot of soupy things so leak proof is a must (both levels in case of a multi level container)
  • aesthetics -  I have yet to find something both functional and beautiful but I keep up hope. I always have and always will choose function over form.

What I covet

bento box

  1. Lego bento box - I don’t really need to explain why I covet it. It doesn’t look too leak proof so I will have to satisfy my lego love by picking up some lego chopsticks next time I go to the lego store. I just bought the fork and spoon set for the resident toddler. Image source.
  2. Wooden bento box - I love wood. I have a wood for and spoon set that I use at home all the time. I can see this getting stained by something tomatoey or leaking all over my bag. I would buy this if I drove to work everyday and could keep my bag flat at all times.
  3. Slim bento boxes – I had one. When I bought it I thought it would fit in my bag better than a wider box but discovered that it didn’t. These also have a leaking problem. The bottom level is for rice and the lid for that doesn’t stop leaks, even from things that aren’t saucy. If you only use the bottom for really dry things you will be fine.
  4. Donburi bento box – I love the shape and the non-pink ones look cool. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t eat a lot of starches so there is nothing that will absorb excess juice from stews. I have a feeling these babies will leak.

What I actually use is pretty boring but effective. All links are for Amazon Japan.

my bento boxes

  1. Larger bento box with rubber around the inside edge - (top left) this one is for meal salads. Sometimes I put smaller containers, sans lids, inside so I can take things like humus and chickpea salad without mixing.
  2. Bento boxes with rubber around the inside edge – (top right) this is the one I have for non-salad meals. It is perfect for stews, pastas and curries. I would choose the black version if you eat a lot of tomato sauces as it could get stained over time. Mine hasn’t but I don’t make tomato sauce that often.
  3. Ziplock screw lock containers – these have never leaked on me, even with soup. I have all three sizes. The large ones are great for salads, you can layer the ingredients with the dressing and the hard veggies on the bottom and the leafy stuff on top. Then you just shake it up at lunch to get everything coated. No extra containers and no soggy lettuce. I use the middle size one the most.

What do you use for your lunches? If you have any product recommendations please leave them in the comments below.

 

Frozen bento fillers

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I take my lunch to work and most days I take a large salad. I love salad. My son, on the other hand, is two and is not a bit fan of raw vegetables. Lunch making takes a bit longer since I have to cater to his twoness. When I moved a few weeks ago, I picked up some frozen veggie side dishes to use for the first couple of days. They came frozen in individual muffin cups, perfect for his bento box. I thought it was a great idea decided to give it a try.

In the picture is leftovers from a quick side dish I made with spinach, tomato and canned tuna. I decided to freeze leftovers instead of making a whole batch of something to freeze. Who wants to have the same side dish for three weeks? I picked up some reusable muffin cups at the local supermarket and have been using those. I’ll soon have quite the collection going. The best part is that since it is summer, I don’t even need to thaw them before I put them in his lunch. It’s over thirty degrees everyday, they’ll be thawed before he gets to school…

Do you freeze small quantities of food for lunches? Please leave a comment below with what you freeze. I’d love to see all of your ideas.

Freezer bento fillers

bento freezer ideas

The last three months have been full of making lunches. I’ve had to up my game as the kiddo probably wouldn’t appreciate eating the previous night’s dinner for lunch every day. Or meal salads every day… I have a tiny freezer but I’ve been keeping as many bento fillers in there as possible. Because there are those days when all of the energy you have is to move things from the freezer to the bento box. Or those days when you want eight different things in your lunch. I am usually fine with two. Here are some things that work well from freezer to bento box. If you have access to a microwave where you are going to be eating the bento, you don’t even have to defrost. In summer you probably don’t have to defrost anything. If you don’t have microwave access at lunch, defrost your fillers when you are making your lunch.

Mini burger patties - they can be veggie, bean, beef, chicken, pork or any mixture you want but they are versatile

  • top with salsa and cheese
  • top with gravy
  • top with bbq sauce and canned pineapple
  • top with ponzu and grated daikon
  • cut up over a salad
  • add to a lettuce wrap

Daikon steaks – easy to make and they get soft after freezing (something I consider a good thing)

  • eat as is
  • mix in with simmered veggies (nimono)
  • dice and mix with canned tuna and mizuna – no dressing needed

Steamed broccoli – or any veggie that freezes well

  • eat as is or topped with dressing
  • top with cheese
  • cut up and mix in pasta

Grilled sausage – grill cocktail sausages and then freeze

  • eat as is
  • slice and serve over a salad
  • top with bbq sauce, “sauce”, mustard or ketchup
  • top with cheese
  • roll in lettuce

Shumai/gyoza (dumplings) – just freeze leftovers anytime you have them

 

Sauces – have a little bit of leftover sauce from dinner? Freeze it in an ice-cube tray for quick bento toppings

 

Cheese – grated or cubed

  • eat as is
  • sprinkle over salad
  • sprinkle over pasta
  • sprinkle over Japanese curry

Baked Stuffed Red Peppers

I have been working on the rice cooker cookbook nonstop for the last little while and have scarcely had time to cook non-rice cooker meals. This may be the first time I have used my oven in about a month. I baked these in the pre-lunch heat since it really doesn’t make a difference when your living room is already 30 degrees to begin with.

Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t cook or eat stuffed peppers. For some reason I used to strongly dislike the taste of cooked green peppers and that kept me from exploring all kinds of peppers. I now quite like cooked green peppers and enjoy them in a variety of dishes. I decided to go with texmex seasoning and red peppers today as it is hot, hot, hot.

stuffed-red-peppers

Stuffed Red Peppers

2 red bell peppers
150 grams ground chicken
1/2 cup spinach ribbons
1/3 cup panko (aka bread crumbs)
1 1/2 teaspoons taco spice
1 sleeve tomato paste (1 tablespoon)
1 egg
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and take out the seeds while leaving the shape intact. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the remaining ingredients  with your hands until fully combined. Divide the mixture into four balls and stuff each pepper half with a ball. I like to press the meat into the corners of the pepper but you can leave the mixture in ball form and set it in the pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the meat browns on top. Serve when cooled to a suitable temperature.

This would taste great topped with cheese and salsa. 

Tomato paste in Japan
Tomato paste isn’t that hard to find in Japan. Look for トマトペースト (tomato peesuto) near the canned tomatoes. You can find it in small cans and in one tablespoon sleeves which I prefer. I love the sleeves because I usually only need a tablespoon at a time. The box of six sleeves is under 200 yen (at the time of writing this post).

tomato-paste-in-japan

Coconut Chicken Strips and Broccoli Cheese Quinoa Cups

coconut Chicken strips and quinoa cups

This is the best picture I could manage the night I made these. The chicken strips reflect way too much light. I guess I should have been patient enough to brown them under the broiler. After the success of the tofu version of these I made, I couldn’t wait long enough. I came accross both of these recipes via pinterest and they immediately went to the top of my do make list. You can find the chicken strip recipe here on Budget Bytes. And the quinoa cups here on Iowa Girl Eats. Both of these recipes you don’t actually have to follow as they are flexible. Just look for inspiration and go with what you feel like.

Changes to the chicken strips:

  • added coconut milk powder to the coating mix instead of coating them in coconut milk
  • baked them at 170C for 25 minutes instead of frying

Changes to the quinoa cups

  • used steamed broccoli and shredded gouda (cheap supermarket stuff) as the addins
  • used a bit less quinoa so only used two eggs, no egg whites

 Where to find shredded coconut: in the cake baking section of your supermarket (very small bag for about 130 yen).

Where to find coconut milk powder: in the Asian food section of your supermarket near the Thai curry mix or an import shop. The spice maker S&B now makes small (about 30g) bags as addins for curry and they are located in the curry section.

Where to find quinoa: sometimes you can find small bags in import shops, health food stores, online at Rakuten, Amazon, etc. - it is called キヌア kinua in Japanese.

Where to find Thai Sweet Chili Sauce: the below pic is the only brand I’ve ever seen. It used to have English on it as well but the last bottle I bought doesn’t. It is in the Asian food section of supermarkets and should be readily available as it is used for spring roll dipping sauce.