I'm in this, folks. This bento thing, I mean. I continue to be very excited about the opportunities that bentos provide for for: a) improved health and nutrition, b) time-thrifty lunches, and c) super cuteness (also known as "kawaii" in Japan). Unfortunately, bento box packing is apparently not as easy as it first appears. After ogling the delicious and adorable bento creations at sites like Just Bento, Lunch Bucket Bento, and Lunch in a Box, I figured that I would be whipping up freezer-fulls of onigiri (rice balls, often filled with a fish and wrapped in seaweed) and other portable goodies in no time.
But my first attempts at bento building have not yielded as much success as I would like. My first bento was a decently filling meal of leftover chicken tortilla soup, Guiltless Gourmet chips, and a tiny salad. However, I felt hungry within an hour or so, and I ran into trouble with the soup spilling out of the box's bottom tier.
This time around I was determined to pack more economically. The bottom tier of the bento housed a spinach salad with tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, and balsamic vinegar -- okay, so that's not so economical in terms of both space and nutrition. But I did pack the top tier much more efficiently. I filled one side of the top tier with a half cup of fat-free cottage cheese. The other half I crammed with two slices of baked tofu, dried fruit, and more mushrooms, all separated by pieces of nori seaweed. I think this box ended up being quite good in terms of space usage, although I probably should cut down a little on the veggies and incorporate some kind of a grain, such as crackers or rice. The issue with this bento, however, was that of mess. The pink divider in the top tier is removeable, so juice from the cottage cheese seeped underneath it and made the fruit and tofu rather icky. Also, the seaweed was damp and soggy by the time I ate it from both the cottage cheese leakage as well as its close proximity to the sticky tofu. The resulting meal disappointed me, and it was also tricky to eat without making a mess of myself.
Part of my lackluster bentos is, I know, due to my current status as a bento newbie. But I do lay some of the blame with the box. Purchased from Sugar Charms, this 620 ml box is just about the cutest thing I've ever seen. According to the nutritional requirements that govern bento box sizing, a female of my age needs a box that holds 600 ml. However, that is without adding 200 ml for greater height and activity levels. In short, I think I picked a box that is just a bit too small. A poor choice on this unititiated gal's part.
I do have some gripes about the box itself, though. One is the sealing of the box's tiers, or rather the lack of sealing. I thought that, when assembled, the tiers would vacuum seal just like Tupperware containers. They don't. As a result, the chicken tortilla soup of my first bento spilled out unless I was very careful. Because I often bike around town and so will carry my bento in my backpack where I can't guarantee that it will remain perfectly upright at all times, this is a problem. Also, the white parts of the box seem to pick up stains like crazy. The tortilla soup left a little residue inside one lid, and I've also had fresh carrots turn the underside of the lid orange. Finally, the shape isn't really ideal for the types of foods I feel drawn to prepare. A larger, flat box seems like a better choice, or something that is rounder in shape. Time will tell on that count, I suppose!
All troubles aside, however, I remain excited about my bentofication! I may have to upgrade to a larger box, but I'm going to stick with this one for at least a little while longer and see how it goes. Besides, how could I abandon a bento that's this adorable?