Food

Beat Back to School Brown Bag Blues with Bento

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Getting started with bento
Getting started with bento

Bento box lunches, based on a Japanese tradition of packed meals, are a convenient and fun way to eat home-cooked food away from home. Whether you”re looking for a new twist on packed lunches, portion control in your diet, better nutrition for your children, or simply want to save money on meals, bento lunches have something to offer to nearly everyone. With bento blogs like aibento.net and veganlunchbox.blogspot.com, and bento tags on Pinterest, inspiration is never much further than a click away.

Getting started with bento is simple – you can use the Tupperware you already have.# Models that snap together or have partitions add convenience to packing different types of foods.# Rubbermaid”s LunchBlox containers, available at most grocery stores, snap together around an icepack that keeps food cool.# Laptop Lunchboxes (at laptoplunches.com) offers more customization on container sizes and many models come enclosed in a thermal bag.# Popular bento accessories include silicone baking cups, wooden and plastic picks, cookie cutters, and edible color markers – all available at craft stores, cooking stores, and specialty groceries.# Authentic Asian bento often includes edible decorative shapes made from dried seaweed.# Many of the elaborate bento featured on Flickr and Pinterest use sushi rice and nori to create unique and artistic shapes, but similar effects can be created using dried or fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Bento
Dill chicken salad, green vegetable pate, cucumber salad, cheese spread

The smaller portions of bento can utilize leftovers in creative ways.# Leftover pastas, such as tortellini and ravioli get a fresh take when skewered with assorted vegetables and marinated in dressing.# Leftover grilled chicken can get a makeover in any variety of chicken salad recipes.# Only have time and ingredients to make a sandwich with deli meats – or just peanut butter?# Cut the sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters, or toast the bread using a waffle iron for a unique and fun effect.

Since one of the goals of packing lunches is saving money, obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices can often be a concern.# To this end, farmers markets can be an invaluable resource.# The website www.pickyourown.org/GAfarmersmarkets.htm can help you find one near you.# Fresh herb gardens, even windowsill ones, are a great way to save money on the spices you use most often.

Bento Snack & Salad
Top: Caterpillar made from cheese spread, almond mouth, chow mein noodle antennae, pine nut eyes - ants on a log, zucchini muffins, Bottom: Heart shaped sweet potato fries, ginger carrots, cucumber salad

As someone who works full-time, attends college part-time, and works out at the gym often, I found frequent restaurant dining to be too expensive.# Even by avoiding fast food, I was sure I wasn”t getting the right nutrition. A few Internet searches for lunch recipe inspiration led me to bento, and soon I was packing lunches that I actually looked forward to.# Rather than battle traffic during lunch hour or wait on delivery, I”m able to use my entire lunch break to eat leisurely and refresh mentally.

Bento isn”t just for lunch, though.# A single-layer box is perfect for a snack.# For kids with extracurriculars after school and before dinner and for working adults who like to hit the gym after work, a bento snack can offer the right amount of nutrition at just the right time.# And for night owls who never have enough time for breakfast before work and busy parents looking to decrease stress, making breakfast bentos can really help with morning routines.

Bento lunches, or any packed lunches, don”t necessarily have to be pretty or complicated.# Treating yourself and your loved ones to homemade nutritious foods is an act of love.# Eating well is a good routine, but like all routines, it can become dull.# For more inspiration, to access more recipes, and to submit your own lunch recipes and ideas, head on over to the Blogs section at GwinnettMagazine.com or like us on Facebook.# Bon app##tit!

Sample Recipe
Curried chicken salad
In a small bowl, mix together:
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (try Nayonnaise or Vegenaise for a dairy-free, lower fat alternative!)
1 tablespoon mango chutney or apricot preserves
1 teaspoon curry powder
dash of salt and pepper
dash of lemon juice
dash of lime juice
Add one 6oz cutlet of cooked chicken, sliced into strips, and toss several times to coat.

View Kells Hildebrandt”s blog#”