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Bento Basics

What is Bento (or Obento)?

Bento is a traditional Japanese way of packing a meal. Starting as far back as 1185,
traditional bento has meat, fish, or rice, and at least one vegetable. Although generally
known as a beautiful lunch, bento was created specifically as a way to provide a
nutritionally-balanced meal, for both adults and children, in a visually-appealing manner.

Bento boxes have different names depending on where they are sold (trains, planes,
restaurants, etc.), and can be packed with characters (charaben) to make them more
attractive to children – there are even international charaben contest!

It’s a well-known fact that eating foods of different colors (natural colors, like fruits and
vegetables) help provide all the nutrients your body needs, and Japanese bento is often
packed by the color principles. A nutritionally-balanced meal will contain an item from each
of the five color groups: Green, yellow, red/orange, white, and black/brown/dark purple.

Traditionally, bento boxes are packed at a 4:2:1 ratio: 4 parts rice, 2 parts protein, and 1
part vegetables (or other). Nutritionally, many pack at a 3:2:1 ratio, especially if you are
trying to lose weight.

While traditional bento boxes contain a variety of Asian cooking, your box doesn’t need to
– most of mine are regular Western food, primarily containing leftovers from the last night’s
dinner.

You can find hundreds of different bento boxes online – in Israel they are extremely
expensive. What you would purchase here for 180 shekels can be purchased for $10
online (and even much less).

However, you don’t need a designated bento box to make bento – even the cheap
takeout boxes that you bring home from a restaurant can be used. You just need a bit of
imagination. 🙂

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