The Japanese packed meal called 'O-bento' has become known in the west as the bento box. The bento box usually comes as either a lacquered wooden, metal or plastic container with walled off spaces for each item; a lunchbox offering similar compartments but with animation (known in Japan as anime) adorned on the outside to appeal to children; or a simple paper box container. It has been used in Japan as an expression of love when a Japanese girl prepares one and offers it to a love interest. This orderly, compartmentalized box, usually consisting of cooked rice, noodles, sushi, seaweed, pickles, curry, vegetables, fruit and pretty much anything else from the Japanese culinary menu, can be a very nutritious choice.
Cooked white rice is a staple in most bento boxes. There are trace amounts of vitamins and minerals in white rice. This includes iron, potassium and selenium. However, it is mainly a strong carbohydrate that can be an excellent source of energy.
Bento boxes will often include cooked or dried seaweed. This highly nutritious sea vegetable, which comes in several forms including nori, arame, kelp or wakame, is rich in iron, amino acids, iodine, vitamins C, D and E and more. Seaweed is attributed to aiding many bodily functions including:
- skin and hair
- gums and teeth
- immune system strength
- liver health
- prostate health
Sushi or Sashimi
Including sushi or sashimi in a bento box is often an excellent source of protein. Aside from the rice and seaweed accompanying the sushi or sashimi, it is the raw fish that offers high amounts of protein. High protein means energy and important bodily functions including muscle and tissue repair, bone health and brain strength.
Now and again a hard boiled egg will be added to a bento box. The egg is a great source of protein and fat, plus thirteen essential nutrients including choline, folate, iron and zinc.
Bite size pieces of broccoli, cauliflower, radish, carrots, tomatoes or corn can be found in a bento box. Vegetables overall are an important life source as they help the body in many ways including the increase of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are considered so important that the daily recommended allowance was recently increased from three servings a day to five.
Fruit is best if eaten first so as not to impede the digestive system. Often found in the box are mandarin orange slices, berries, grapes and apples. Other more exotic choices may include papaya, mango or dragon fruit.
It is important to understand that although a bento box may be chock full of vitamin-rich foods, they can also be full of sodium. The sodium content of raw fish as well as seaweed can be high. Be sure that if you are ordering your bento box you substitute as much as you can with fruits and vegetables. Choose sodium-rich foods sparingly. In addition, when eating sushi or sashimi be sure that what you about to consume is fresh and safe, especially if you are pregnant.