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The bento boxes trend has its roots in Japanese culture and most simply translates to ‘boxed lunch.’ Bento boxes are typically compartmentalized to hold a variety of foods. Traditional bentos usually have two larger compartments for a starchy rice or noodle dish and a protein, like eggs, fish, or meat. Smaller compartments are for accoutrements, such as pickled or cooked vegetables or diced fruit.
Modern bento boxes may take menu inspiration from the western world, but building a balanced box is still key! Just like any other meal, you’ll feel most satisfied if you include complex carbohydrates, lean protein, veggies and fruits, and healthy fats.
Components of a Balanced Bento
Google "bento box ratio" and you'll find plenty of variations. However, there's general consensus that the star of the show is a starchy dish, followed by lean protein, and veggies or fruit.
While the Japanese typically feature rice or noodles, our bentos center on complex carbohydrates. On the simple end, best bets are oats (think overnight oats or oat-based bars), whole-grain bread or crackers, and popcorn. For something fancier, you might try a whole grain salad or bean-based salad, or roasted root veggies.
You'll find a wide variety of proteins in traditional bentos like grilled fish, fried chicken or shrimp, Japanese omelet, or tofu. Following suit, we recommend a wide variety of lean proteins: slider patties, meatballs, grilled tofu, chicken or tuna salad, hard-boiled eggs, falafel, you name it!
Veggies and Fruit
The last main component is vegetables or fruit... or both! Vegetable crudites and fruit salad are go-to's for ease and simplicity.
BONUS: Healthy Fat
Some resources mention a fourth, and smallest, element in bento boxes: pickled veggies. In our modern, western-style bento recipes, our fourth and smallest element typically incorporates a small serving of healthy fats. Think a quartered avocado, dip (like this Greek Yogurt Ranch), or an ounce of mixed nuts.