Mr. Bento you're a bloodthirsty foe, but your chicken is delicious!
October 15, 2007 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I bit the bullet and bought a Mr. Bento lunch box and it is awesome. Now what?

I purchased Mr. Bento for a few reasons:

a) to save some money instead of buying lunches and Lean Cuisines (which is what I currently do) which has recently become more important

b) to eat healthier foods because I'm trying to shed a bunch of lbs, and what I'm doing now is OK but I think I could do better (plus, frozen foods have a TON of sodium), and

c) to help regulate portion size, because even when I eat healthy I do tend to have a lot of it, which is (let's face it) counterproductive, and I feel like only so much can fit into the bento compartments which means what doesn't fit doesn't come for lunch.

So now I'm looking to stock the kitchen with the things I'll need to make delicious and nutritious bento lunches. I have brown rice, natch, and Mirin but what else do I need to pick up? I got a jar of Giardiniara yesterday, which are italian pickled veggies (I understand pickled veggies are a common bento course) so I'm not necessarily looking to make traditional Japanese bento food every day, but I do love it so I certainly will be making some, learning how to along the way. The only requirements will be that it is, more or less, "healthy" and that it isn't overly complex to make. (I understand that's one of the Raisons d'ĂȘtre of the bento). I'm less interested in making everything 'cute', which seems to be the focus of a lot of the bento websites I've seen. I'm more concerned with the food itself than the aesthetics.

So, hive mind: you've never failed me before. Can you help me make a startup shopping list for my Mr. Bento lunch adventure?
posted by indiebass to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
The Vegan Lunch Box blog started out as a way for a mom to share her lunch ideas for her son (the Shmoo) but has evolved into something of a cottage industry for her.
I think looking at the pictures might a) kindle your imagination and b) turn you VEGAN!
Okay just kidding about b, but at least it will help you eat healthier.

Here's her blog:

She doesn't use a stainless steel Bento, but instead uses a Laptop Lunch box:


- Bill
posted by willmize at 11:42 AM on October 15, 2007

Not a shopping list per se, since my bentos tends to be packed with whatever I've eaten the night before, but in smaller doses. But there are some great bento box photo pools on Flickr that you might enjoy looking through. They're great for inspiration when I get tired of packing the same boring lunches.

A couple of my favorites: Bento Boxes and Laptop Lunches.
posted by Stacey at 11:50 AM on October 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Items that travel well in a bento, but aren't Japanese, per se:

low-fat cottage cheese

handfuls of nuts

cherry tomatoes

triscuits (or water crackers)

fresh seasonal berries

the ubiquitous baby carrots and/or celery, peanut butter filling optional (low fat of course!)

One thing that goes great with plain brown rice is garbanzo beans. So, garbanzo beans with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of sriracha.

cubed skinless boneless chicken breast with Amie's gingerly dressing is awesome, too.

Baked cubed tofu, easily purchased at your local central market/whole foods.

Black beans with salsa mixed in, another good topping for the rice.

Hummus, but make your own lowfat version at home to enjoy the flavor, not gobs of oil.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some ideas.
posted by birdie birdington at 12:57 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be careful, that rice compartment can pack a LOT of rice -- esp. if you squeeze the rice in there. Rice does freeze well, so if you can microwave your food at work, you can freeze packets of small~medium portions of rice for lunchtime.
posted by Muu at 1:03 PM on October 15, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, to everyone so far.

Willmize: as a former vegetarian, I'm up to eating meat-free meals more readily than the average joe, so I thank you for the veganlunchbox. Probably won't turn all the way but I am encouraged to make some meat-free main dishes. =)

Stacey: I'm definitely going to start cooking dinner with what-can-I-use-tomorrow in the back of my head. I am generally cooking for one, so I can always cook for two and turn the leftovers into something else for the next day.

Unicorn: those are some pretty great ideas. I'm generally quite fond of the garbanzos, so I'll have to try them that way, and I wouldn't have thought of black beans and salsa on rice, but I'm def going to give it a go.

Birdie: is that first link your photos? They do look totally awesome, and more arty than I think I have the patience for.

Muu: I think the rice compartment is the largest of the bowls, so I'll def be conscious of that. It'll take some self-control, as I LOVE rice. I do have access to a microwave, so the freezing in portions is definitely a viable option.

Thanks for all the help and keep the advice coming! I am very excited to start this life project.
posted by indiebass at 1:28 PM on October 15, 2007

Hate to hijack your thread but... doesn't that thing leak? There are numerous reviews on Amazon saying all bowls leak. Is that the case?
posted by dobbs at 1:38 PM on October 15, 2007

Best answer: Looks like you're in D.C. There are some good asian markets in Falls Church, VA and Silver Spring, MD.

Some suggestions:

Japanese style pickled vegetables called oshinko. Favorites of mine include pickled garlic, burdock root, cucumber, eggplant and daikon radish.

Meatballs, fish or shrimp balls or fishcake with rice, or in dashi with tofu cubes and wakame. You can buy bonito granules in small jars and easily create your dashi, or japanese broth.

Simplified (or complex, if you like) oden, or japanese hot pot. I like dashi with fishcake and stewed daikon radish, personally.

Miso soup.

Cold soba noodles soup base . I love the linked brand.

Steamed edamame.

Gomae, or sesame spinach salad. The linked recipe is typical; adjust to your own taste.

Steamed shu mai or gyoza.

Yakitori of all kinds.

Thinly sliced sushi grade tuna or salmon over sushi rice. Top with sliced avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds.

Soba noodles with sauteed carrots, asparagus, red peppers and scallions with soy sauce and sesame seeds. Add sauteed chicken breast or sliced baked tofu.

Sauteed baby bok choy. The recipe is about halfway down the page. Add shitake mushrooms for additional flavor and texture, if you like.

Steamed broccoli with soy, brown rice vinegar, and sesame seeds.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:51 PM on October 15, 2007

Best answer: I've had mine for months. The soup container occasionally leaks, but only if you tip the whole Bento jar. But it only loses a few teaspoons of liquid, so it's just a matter of rinsing out your Bento jar and wiping the soup container before you open it.

The other containers aren't designed for liquids, so yeah, they'll leak.

I'm a boring eater, I don't pack bentos, I just use it like a lunch box. Here's stuff I put in each container:

Small side container: yogurt, cottage cheese, grapes, goldfish crackers, baby carrots w/hummus, apples w/peanut butter.

Large side: orange segments, graham crackers, fruit salad, melon chunks, a small salad, green beans, mixed veggies, raw cauliflower. Every now and then I prebake a small potato, cut it in half, and squeeze it into this container. Then I use the soup container for toppings: salsa, a little sour cream, a pinch of shredded cheese. Mix at work.

Rice container: salad, nearly always. Careful with this one, as others have mentioned, it's large and filling it with leftovers can lead to overeating.

Soup container: Soup! Trader Joes carton soup, homemade, sometimes low-sodium canned in a pinch. Also, leftovers. The container seems too small, but it's perfect! Today I had leftover scalloped potatoes and a serving of green beans, all crammed into the soup container.

Not to pimp, but Trader Joes is a treasure trove of stuff to put in a Bento container.
posted by peep at 1:52 PM on October 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Whoops. Oden.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:55 PM on October 15, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, these are some great ideas! Thank you so much! I am a huge fan of Miso soup, but I don't know how well it "keeps" if I make a big batch on sunday and dole it out through the week. I'll have to investigate. I hadn't even thought of parceling out the carton soups.

And yes, I am in DC. The Da Hua market in Chinatown closed down a couple of years ago (sadness!) but I've been to some of the Falls Church ones, and they're decent and I'd love to discover the ones in Silver Spring. And thanks for the great links! Recipes are just as important as ideas, and I am beginning to see what it's like outside the box (Pun somewhat intended).

I'm definitely going to need Miso Paste and sesame seeds.
posted by indiebass at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2007

Also, head over to and search the bento groups, there are several. You get to see hundreds of (amazing) examples and talk to the creators of same and exchange ideas and gather their practical experience. Mrs Ken is a big time bento lover and met a bunch of bento friends on flickr.
posted by Kensational at 5:39 PM on October 15, 2007

3 mochi ice cream balls will fit perfectly in the smallest container.

I think my Mr. Bento is worth it for this feature alone.
posted by picopebbles at 6:35 PM on October 15, 2007

One thing the Japanese seem to put in theirs a lot is "omelette", kind of like a thick crepe which is rolled up and sliced into pieces.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:06 PM on October 15, 2007

Response by poster: pico: I do love the mochi! But I'm not sure that it is part of the "fit n' trim" lifestyle. Maybe once in a while... good to know in any event.

Steven C: ah! I am a huge fan of the tamago. It's really not easy to make, but I want to learn. I'm going to need one of those square pans...
posted by indiebass at 7:16 PM on October 15, 2007

Best answer: Try the book Japanese Homestyle Cooking for recipes.

You can a perfectly fine tamago without a square pan. Just cut off the messy ends and eat them before you slice the rest up all pretty.

Simple veggie dishes for your bento:
- Boil/blanch some spinach, run under cold water, squeeze, toss with sesame oil and soy sauce.
- Stir-fry some bean sprouts, season with black pepper and salt
- Slice up some cucumbers, season with rice vinegar, sugar, and a tiny bit of salt. Let it sit a while and add red pepper flakes if you like heat.
posted by bumpybear at 8:26 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Miso soup made the "traditional" way (by using dashi taken from dried bonito and miso paste) won't last a week. If I were you, I wouldn't even use leftover miso soup from the night before, though I guess you could always try and see how it works out. Part of the reason for this is that ideally the soup shouldn't be boiled once you put the miso in because the miso will lose its flavor. Miso soup made fresh in the morning and eaten at lunch shouldn't be a problem, though, depending on what you choose to put in it.
posted by misozaki at 12:27 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you, misozaki. This information has been hard to track down. I do have the dashi and miso paste and I prefer the taste of miso that way, but my experience is that it has always been made fresh and I assumed there was a reason. I have the instant miso packets too, where you just add the boiling water but those just don't taste the same. Not like miso anyways. Or maybe my packets are too old because I don't hardly ever use them?

My problem will be making a tiny (8oz?) batch of miso in the morning and keeping the tofu fresh in my fridge while i gradually add it over the course of... well, however long it takes to use up a lb or 1/2 lb of tofu. Cooking small always seems like a bigger problem than cooking big.

And thanks again!
posted by indiebass at 4:17 AM on October 16, 2007

does anyone have a good resource for buying a bento/laptop lunch box? i feel like amazon is probably ripping me off...
posted by kidsleepy at 7:19 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: kidsleepy: I got mine via Amazon, but I wanted the insulation awesomeness. You can always check out JBox they even have a bento section. Bento Yum sells some complete sets too. It really depends on what you're looking for. Classic, functional, cute, modern
... it depends on what you're looking for, as far as what you'll spend. But I am pleased with my Amazon purchase so far, and they were very speedy I must say.
posted by indiebass at 7:52 AM on October 16, 2007

however long it takes to use up a lb or 1/2 lb of tofu.

Just in case you don't know already, uncooked tofu, as in bought fresh from an Asian food store or in the packaged state, can last a week. The key is to let it "sit" (swim?) in enough cold water to cover it up, like in a plastic container with a lid, and change the water every day. (Refrigerate, of course!) Have fun with your new Mr. Bento!
posted by misozaki at 3:59 AM on October 17, 2007

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