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Bento Box: The Basics

Jul 29, 2010

A bento box is a traditional Japanese lunch, which includes a variety of different courses and snacks prepared for one person. These different courses may be contained in separate compartments within the box, which is traditionally made of wood or metal, but in modern times is usually made of plastic. Bento boxes can be very elaborate, and are usually quite healthy as they incorporate many different types of vegetables and lean protein. They are often used as school or work lunches.

Bento boxes are widely available in Japanese restaurants, or they can be made at home. Traditional bento boxes follow the guideline that they should be 4 parts rice, 3 parts protein, 2 parts vegetable and one part sweet. However, this is not always followed.

Types of Bento Boxes

Bento boxes come in a wide variety, as today they can include almost any type of meal. Often bento boxes are used as an artistic expression, and might include elaborate snacks that have been shaped like cartoon characters or animals, usually according to a central theme. These are usually prepared for children, so the emphasis is on healthy foods and there are many websites with hints and tips available to bento box enthusiasts on subjects such as natural food dyes and fruit and vegetable carving techniques.

However, not all bento boxes are so elaborate or so healthy. Many of the fast food versions of bento contain foods like tempura, which is battered, and fried vegetables or fish. They also might contain crumbed chicken or pork as well as white rice, which is very starchy and can raise insulin levels.

Choosing Healthy Bento Foods

Many of the traditional bento foods are very healthy, so picking and choosing which foods to put into a bento box is easy, whether you are preparing it at home or eating it at a restaurant. Miso soup is often included with bento boxes, and it has many health benefits, including good levels of vitamin K and omega 3. Miso soup has also been shown to cut the risk of contracting breast cancer.

Sushi is also a very healthy food, particularly if it is made with traditional sushi rice, which has a much lower glycemic index than normal white rice. Sushi often includes salmon, which also contains omega 3. Some bento boxes include grilled chicken, which is a lean source of protein (ask for the teriyaki sauce on the side). Bento usually include a small salad, sometimes of different kinds of shredded lettuce or cabbage, and sometimes of seaweed, which is an excellent source of iodine. Some bento boxes provide fruit.

Bento boxes, like many meals in the modern age, can be as healthy or as unhealthy as we let them. Bento boxes might be elaborate works of art, or simply a good meal, but either way they are an excellent way of including a diverse range of healthy food in your diet.

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