The word Bento relates to a Japanese packed lunch, thought to originate back in 1185. Traditionally consisting of vegetables, rice and sashimi, Bento meals are offered by restaurants as a good catering option for business meetings or as a delicious takeaway meal on the go. In Japan, it’s also common for Bento to be prepared at home and taken to school or work.
More recently, the Bento concept has crossed countries and continents, suddenly making lunches more interesting, healthy and fun – especially on those days when a dry cheese sandwich or a packet of reconstituted soup just won’t cut it.
The Stuck on You Crew has come up with some cute ideas for Bento Boxes this winter, making use of season-appropriate foods where possible and providing picture-perfect fillers for a personalised Stuck on You Bento Box.
Checked pattern apple
A two-colour checked pattern apple (ichimatsu moyou ringo in Japanese) is an elegant addition to any Bento. Take a wedge of apple and groove the surface with your knife in a checkerboard pattern. You can make the pattern as large or small as you want, as long as you space it as evenly as possible.
Then, peel off the alternate squares, using a knife (or toothpick for smaller squares).
Images and recipe: JustBento/Makiko Itoh
How cute are these? And healthy too! Roping in four of the essential food groups, the hardest thing you’ll need to do is decide which section of the Bento Box to put them in!
Ingredients (makes 20)
- 2 cups of raw or frozen broccoli
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup diced brown onion
- ⅓ cup cheddar cheese
- ⅓ cup panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup italian breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons parsley (or rosemary)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (or 180°C for fan-forced ovens).
- Blanch the broccoli in boiling water for 1 minute then remove and shock with cold water to halt the cooking process. Drain well.
- Finely chop the broccoli and mix thoroughly with the egg, breadcrumbs, onions, cheese, and seasonings.
- Shape about 1.5 tablespoons’ worth of mix into cylinders and place onto an oiled baking sheet.
- Bake for about 18-24 minutes or until golden brown and crispy, turning half way.
- Remove from the oven and enjoy with your favourite dipping sauce (for your convenience, there happens to be a place for dipping sauce in Stuck on You’s Bento Boxes!)
Image and recipe: Gimmedelicious
Carrot and cheese shapes
A fun, easy and healthy way to put a smile on your child’s face. All you need to do is take a slice of boiled carrot, stack it on top of a slice of cheese of the same thickness, and cut through with a cutter shape of your choice.
Then simply pop out the shaped pieces and insert the cheese into the carrot. Of course you can use the carrot cut outs too!
Images and recipe: JustBento/Makiko Itoh
Onigiri (rice ball)
An onigiri is a savoury ball of rice which can be enjoyed plain, salted or with other additions such as meat fillings and seaweed coatings. It is considered Japanese comfort food and make terrific healthy snacks on the go.
At a basic level, what you need is Japanese/sushi rice (which you should be able to find in an Asian grocery store, otherwise Arborio rice is a decent substitute). Rolled the cooked rice into a whatever shape you desire. You can do this with your hands, cling wrap or a cut out shape.
If you want to take your onigiri to another level, you can roll just about any filling inside – ideally something a bit salty and not too wet. Suggestions include smoked salmon, pickled vegetables, and corned beef. (For food safety considerations, see Makiko’s suggestions here.)
For more visible pizazz, you can add nori seaweed eyes, chopped carrot nose and rosy smoked salmon cheeks… whatever takes your creative fancy!
Bento purists prefer a triangular shape, but your imagination’s the limit!
As may have guessed, the Frolly is frolicsome combination of fruit/lolly.
This one is simple. First, you need to cut puff pastry dough into squares and place in the middle some small or cut up fruit of your choice.
Then roll into lolly shapes. George uses a ravioli cutter at the ends for that extra ‘lolly’ effect.
Pop into the oven at 200°C for 15 mins, or until golden brown, and voilà! Or should that be froilà?!
If you’re time poor or would prefer some more basic ideas, here are some of our suggestions for instant Bento Box fillers.
Want to make your Bentos pop? Click on the picture below and listen to George Georgievski from School Lunch Box as he provides some awesome tips and tricks for Bento preparation.