I can haz bentoz?
May 14, 2009 4:14 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite containers, recipes and techniques for cooking food ahead of time and eating it at work?

I'm particularly interested in the best containers and bags. I got nothing good. But recipes and cooking techniques would be great too. I've heard the crockpot gospel but I've never dipped my feet into its waters. Bento box or something?

Oh yeah, would be awesome to find cool glass things I could microwave that wouldn't break and that weren't heavy. Possible?
posted by sully75 to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:28 AM on May 14, 2009

This comment from that thread looks particularly useful.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:41 AM on May 14, 2009

Cheese, apple, and the second half of a loaf of bread, all wrapped up in the bread bag. Toss in some arugula, mustard, or hummus if you're feeling creative (bring the whole jar). Lunch for a week.
posted by puckish at 5:15 AM on May 14, 2009

If you're looking for glass, maybe try Pyrex? I haven't bought any for myself yet, but a friend swears by them.
posted by dormouse at 5:38 AM on May 14, 2009

I've got one of these and it's served me quite well. They have a couple of smaller options, and one bigger one.

The good thing about Japanese-produced bento boxes is that they are pretty careful to keep the container sizes to reflect proper portion size for an average meal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on May 14, 2009

I can't recommend the Mr. Bento Lunch Jar highly enough. The containers are perfectly sized, they're easy to clean, one is airtight, one is insulated, and they stack in a handy carrying bag and come with a metal spork. It's really stood the test of time and it makes me more excited to eat lunch than I'd necessarily want to admit :)

As for menu ideas, here's a list of things I pack for lunch that are easy and fast (each of these lunches takes less than 20 minutes to prepare and pack for 2 people). The list is organized by "container", since it's intended for the Mr. Bento lunch jar. They're all vegetarian.

raspberries or blueberries
orange segments
apple slices with sweet peanut butter and/or cinnamon
chocolate chips
banana slices

carrots sticks
celery sticks
salty peanut butter
cherry tomatoes
pepper slices
hard-boiled egg
Japanese pickles

whole wheat or soba pasta with mixed vegetables, vinegar, salt, pepper, cheese - the perfect easy pasta salad
black beans or black eyed peas with peppers, garlic, and ginger - can prepare in 10 minutes in a frying pan
mini sandwiches:
-hummus, lettuce, cucumber, shredded carrot, eggplant
-avocado, tomato
-vegetarian bacon, lettuce, tomato, vegan mayo
-tofutti, cucumber, dill, black pepper
brown rice with vegetables mixed in (make brown rice ahead of time)
sauteed or steamed vegetables (can make in microwave steamer)
boiled potato (if you use tiny potatoes you can make this in 5-10 minutes, add balsamic vinegar and olive oil and it's quite a tasty dish)
whole wheat pasta with pesto or tomato sauce (make a freezer stock of pesto, or buy some)

-stock with onions and spinach (I make large batches of stock and freeze portions in plastic cups so I can make instant soups in the mornings)
-with squashes of any sort
-carrot soup
-with potato and/or corn (chowder - very easy)
onigiri (Japanese rice balls with seaweed, you can make them in large batches and freeze them in individual tiny squares of plastic wrap and then microwave them for 20 seconds when you want to eat them - the taste won't be changed as long as you don't let them dry out)
posted by Cygnet at 5:53 AM on May 14, 2009 [38 favorites]

My problem with taking my lunch to work was having to haul the containers home every night - It's bloody annoying and I would always forget them, either at work or wherever I went after work before coming home.

I solved the problem this way - every Monday, I stop in at a grocery on my way in to work to buy a big bag of pre-washed spinach and rocket (AKA arugula, for non-brits) which gets stowed in my work fridge. On Monday I also bring in a jar of homemade salad dressing (usually something involving yogurt and chopped herbs, sometimes a vinaigrette). I used old jars formerly containing pasta sauce or whatever, which can just be rinsed and added to the recycling bin at work so I don't have to worry about bringing them home.

Then, every night before bed, I assemble a small tupperware container full of salad toppings usually at least partly left over from dinner - chopped meats, roasted or raw vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, bits of cheese, what have you. The tupperware (which is only about three inches across and two inches deep) goes inside a small ziplock bag in case of leakage and then goes in my (small) handbag. I keep a big salad bowl in my desk drawer, after lunch I rinse the bowl and the tupperware container, which go back in my desk and handbag respectively, and I am no longer annoyed! I can go out after work without worrying about leaving £5 worth of tupperware containers under my chair at the pub. No, I am not an alcoholic. I am just easily distracted. If plastic tupperware containers aren't your thing, any kind of smallish, pretty jar with a tight-fitting lid would serve the same purpose... I think I might keep my eye out for one, actually.

You have no idea how clever I felt when I figured this out. Also, I think the limits imposed by the little tupperware container have directly contributed to me losing a fair amount of weight over the last two months.

If you're specifically thinking about bentos, which I love in theory but just don't fit into my little handbag, check out Jbox for the actual hardware and JustBento for great recipes.
posted by Wroksie at 5:57 AM on May 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

I came here to recommend the pyrex bowls with lids. They're not cheap (I found mine for between $4.50 and $6, but I built up a nice little collection of them over time. I think that they're about one million times better than the softsided BHA never-microwaveable disposables. Mostly since I think I'll have them for 15 or 20 years.

They are a bit heavy. And they're not very flat, though we have a couple of the more casserole-shaped ones and those are good for a briefcase. But once the bowls are full of soup, lasagna, or a salad, the difference between the glass and the plastic is reduced.

Regarding the crock pot, we use ours seasonally. It's key in the winter months to be able to whip up a pot roast, or lentil + rice soup, or a stew with 10-15 minutes of work in the morning. In the summers, we eat a lot more salads and cold stuff (sandwiches), so the crockpot isn't as useful.
posted by zpousman at 6:10 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does it have to be cooked? Sometimes I compose a big fruit salad, at least a few days' worth, in a big Tupperware, then pack a box of Grape-Nuts and a big thing of yogurt. Bring a bowl & spoon along, mix up, and there you go. (Put lemon juice in the salad so it doesn't go all brown and gross by day 3.)
posted by scratch at 7:16 AM on May 14, 2009

Pyrex storage containers - won't retain odors or turn pink when you microwave tomato sauce

Built NY lunch bag
- insulated, washable and will protect your glass containers
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 9:23 AM on May 14, 2009

My favorite brown-bagging trick is to pack a small tupperware container with frozen, precooked edamame which helps to keep the other contents cold until lunchtime, by which it has just barely thawed. My bag is just a $7 drugstore padded thing, not as stylish as the other options linked but gets the job done just fine.
posted by contraption at 10:36 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mason Jars for leftovers. This is practically all my frige is stocked with an all I take my food out in.
posted by saxamo at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2009

I use this Pyrex set and take leftovers for lunch. I got these from etsy to save on plastic bags.

The key for me is prepping lunch right after dinner the night before. If I can get that work done before I get dinner cleaned up, then in the morning the kitchen is clean and the day's stuff is ready, too. If I have to deal with leftover containers before I've had coffee in the morning it doesn't make for a happy day.

I buy rotisserie chicken (and turkey if they have it) at the grocery store on the weekend and make salad, wraps, chicken salad, soup, and casseroles. The more vegetables and whole grains you add, the healthier the meal. We eat vegetarian at least one dinner (and then lunch) a week. And I buy one day a week.
posted by toastedbeagle at 11:08 AM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you have a microwave available at work, some work meals can be frozen in cooking bags that take no room in your freezer, & then require no clean up or carrying of dishes back home. This stand up kind is easier to fill, but both work well, & are available in any grocery store.
They are not a as eco-friendly as other options, but so convenient; not breakable & not heavy.
posted by easilyamused at 3:35 PM on May 14, 2009

I like the idea of the reusable sandwich wrapper, but any sandwich that can be safely wrapped in a piece of cotton cloth is not a sandwich I'm interested in eating.
posted by contraption at 3:49 PM on May 14, 2009

I loved my Mr. Bento but have moved on to a Tiffin . I keep a glass pyrex bowl in my desk drawer if I need to microwave anything. I try to eat the rainbow. Pretty boring stuff but I usually pack the top tin with various vegetables ( red cabbage/radishes/walnuts/broccoli/cauliflower/carrots) and the bottom tin has a can of low sodium black beans with some combination of cilantro, tomatoes, bell peppers thrown on top. I constantly get positive comments on my lunch box (except for that dude at work who calls me Laura Ingalls) and then on my diet once they see what's inside. The 3 tier tiffin just seems to big for me so I use the two tier version. My eating utensil of choice is this. If I could figure out that whole furoshiki wrap thing I'd be golden, but I'm sure it's beyond me at this point.
posted by philad at 10:10 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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