noun, plural ben-tos;
a meal, usually served in a lacquered or elaborately decorated box that is divided into sections for holding individual portions of food
Bento boxes, which have traditionally been used in Japanese cookery, have become more common in the rest of the world recently. Today’s bento boxes can be any type of container, from the authentic lacquer to EZ lunch containers. There are many plastic containers available that are kid friendly, microwavable containers, BPA free containers, and even stainless steel thermal bentos. Whatever your meal needs are, be assured there is probably a bento box out there suited to those needs.
Bento boxes don’t have to stick to the Japanese cuisine to be considered bento boxes either. If you prefer your favorite sandwich and cookies for lunch, that works too.
Packing your lunches or snacks into bentos boxes can help steer you away from all the prepackaged foods out there. It becomes easier to make healthier food choices when you have the means to pack fresh and appetizing foods.
The other benefit to using bento boxes, is a huge one to our environment; reduced packaging and waste. Just think about the impact of not using ziplock baggies again. I’ve seen the garbage cans at a typical elementary school and by lunchtime they are overflowing with plastic baggies, juice boxes, and unwanted food items. It is possible, and not even that difficult, to create waste free lunches.
Cost. Plain and simple, it costs less to buy in bulk or in larger packages and split up your food verses buying the convenient snack-packs which give you less food for more money.
Yes, it can be a challenge coming up with ideas for bento meals when you have allergy restrictions. It does take some extra creativity and inspiration. But, in other ways it can be easier to avoid allergens when using natural foods instead of pre-packaged meals with more added ingredients.
In my household we are dairy-free, egg-free, and peanut-free due to severe allergies. With those allergy restrictions making sure there is sufficient protein in every meal is something I watch for. Here are some ideas that we use regularly:
Rice, use sticky rice and rice molds.
Fresh vegetables. Can be cut up in fun or interesting ways. Our favorites are cherry tomatoes, red peppers, and cucumbers.
Fresh fruits (grapes, apples, berries of all kinds are favorites).
Dried fruit, cranberries, raisins, dried apple chips.
Dry cereal mixed with marshmallows & dairy-free chocolate chips.
Hummus as a dip for veggies or pita bread.
Allergy safe wontons.
Crackers, pickles, & sausages.
Trail mix, seeds, fruits, & oatmeal.
Tortilla roll-ups with ham or other safe deli meat.
Hot dogs cut up in interesting ways.
Cut up sandwiches, with meat or using sunbutter or other peanut butter substitute.