Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bento Eating for Healthy Living - My Adventures in Creating Delicious, Healthy, Beautiful Meals

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Do what you want to do!

One of the great things about getting older is you don’t care as much about what other people think. You discover the things that make you happy and decide that you’re going to follow your own path. This is one of my reasons for going natural. But, besides natural hair, one of my other passions is making “bento” lunches.

What is BENTO???!!!!

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Basically, “bento” is a Japanese or Asian style of packing a nutritionally balanced and visually appealing meal in a compact, box. The word bento, in a nutshell, means “convenient”. I stumbled onto this phenomenon while searching the web for healthy ways that other cultures eat. Initially, I was looking for different foods and how they affect my hair (of course) but when I learned about the art of bento making, I LOVED the concept and decided to give it a try.

Reasons to “bento”:
1). HEALTHY – the concept of bento is to make your lunch nutritionally balanced (according to the Japanese philosophy of nutritionally balanced. It's a slightly different philosophy than the Western view of the Food Pyramid), visually appealing and to help with portion control - cuz’ ya’ll know portion sizes in this country are WAY outta control!

The general rule of thumb for packing a bento lunch is to include 3 parts carbs or grain (rice or pasta, I often use brown rice) 1 part protein (some kind of fish or lean meat or even legumes) and 2 parts fruit and/or vegetables with no candy, junk or fatty foods and no empty space. I know a lot of people out there don't like their foods to touch so, many use the ready-made, compartmentalized boxes or just separate their foods using, foil, wax paper, paper muffin cups, etc. For me, bento is a simple method for weight control and healthy eating without counting calories. Many bento boxes, because they are on the smaller side, only hold about 600 ml of food. In Japan they don't measure these meals in calories, per se, but by the capacity of the bento container so they figure the number of calories correspond to the capacity of the container - thus 600 ml of food is equal to about 600 calories. But, rest assured, if you have a larger appetite, you can buy bento boxes that hold more than 600 ml! I just use that as a guideline for myself. Some of my lunches are larger, some are smaller depending on how I feel - but I try to make sure they are all nutritionally balanced and visually appealing.

Also, the idea is to create a lunch that has a variety of flavors, textures and colors. Most bento “gurus” say that a good bento should include 5 colors, white, brown, green, yellow and red or orange. In order to have all these colors in your meal, you have to have a variety of sources – particularly the green, red, yellow/orange. Those are the colors of many fruits and veggies. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

2). SAVES MONEY– it stopped me from running to McD’s everyday for lunch.

3). IT MAKES ME SMILE – The anticipation of knowing that I have my own, cute little lunch that I took the time to pack myself not only keeps me away from the fast food restaurants during the day, but just plain adds some joy to my life!

Different Types of Bento –
(Photos courtesy of Wikipedia)
Bento lunches range from the very basic and simple to the incredibly elaborate. Many people take a lot of time preparing their bento lunches and some have turned it into a form of food art; using food to create cartoon characters, cute cuddly animals and even landscape scenes! These elaborate bento meals take a lot of time to prepare and are very interesting and fun to look at.

My Bento Lunches:
(These 2 photos are MY own bento creations!)
While I do enjoy perusing the bento websites and marveling at the elaborate works of food art…I ‘aint got time for all that! I keep my bentos simple and try to prepare them either the night before or in the mornings in under 15 minutes. That means I use a lot of easy to pack, already prepared foods, like pre-cut or baby carrots and celery sticks, broccoli spears, cheese cubes, boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, grapes, etc. and my main ingredient - leftovers from dinner the night before! I do try to keep it balanced and interesting, though. Every once in a while I’ll get the notion to “create” something cute. And I have been known to put cute little faces on my boiled eggs or something, but that doesn’t happen very often – LOL!

What do you carry your bento lunches in?
I started out using just some good ‘ol square, oval or compartmentalized Tupperware-type containers, which is perfectly acceptable. But, then I decided that I wanted some “real” bento boxes so I purchased a couple. They just make the whole bento experience more fun for me.

Do what makes you happy

When I first started with my bento obsession, my
co-workers were curious about my little lunches and lunch boxes. My family thought I was silly. They would watch me make my lunches and ask me questions about it. When I explained what bento was all about they would give me the *side-eye* like I was crazy; much like they did when I started going natural with my hair! But, I don’t care. It makes me smile, and that’s all that matters. I don’t need their approval. And, hey, I’ve maintained my target weight, I'm healthy and I've saved a lot of money over the last year, just by changing how I eat my lunches everyday, so now who’s crazy?

(Me giving THEM the *side-eye*...HA!)

If you're interested in learning more about making Bento, check out:

What do you do to eat healthier?

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Ciao for Now!

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