Sunday, September 13, 2009

What’s for Lunch? Enter the Bento Box, a Touch of Japan

(Page 2 of 2)

Sheri Lindquist saw bentos as a healthy choice for her five sons and her husband after he had triple-bypass surgery. “I don’t make them bento lunches all the time,” said Ms. Lindquist, 48, who lives in Denair, Calif. “But if there is something especially yucky or healthy or new I do try to present it in a more fun format.” Like breaded spinach balls with carrot ears and faces.

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George Ruhe for The New York Times

THRIFTY Jordan Smith, a student at Yale, makes his own bento boxes. More Photos >



Diner's Journal: Putting Away the Brown Bag (September 8, 2009)

Jason Miller

LOOKS MATTER Bento boxes can be cute, but they don’t have to be. More Photos >

Acquiring accessories like plastic giraffe picks or star-shaped nori punches, however, proved challenging for Ms. Lindquist, as most of the boxes and tools were sold only in Japan. So in March 2008 she began, an online bento box store.

Another bento blogger, Jennifer McCann, began on her son’s first day of school in 2005.

She made him sushi for lunch in a bento box from, which sells Americanized bento boxes with lidded compartments for items like yogurt or dips like ketchup. She took a picture of it and posted it.

“I thought it might give a lot of vegan moms inspiration for other lunches besides PB and J, “ said Ms. McCann, 38, who lives in Kennewick, Wash.

Within months she was getting thousands of page views a day of the boxes she was making, she said. She’s since published “Vegan Lunch Box” (Da Capo Press, 2008) and “Vegan Lunch Box Around the World” (Da Capo, 2009), which includes recipes for a Japanese tiger bento, Caribbean plantain wraps and Indonesian tempeh.

Her son, James, now 11, has outgrown the boxes and no longer takes the bentos to school. “He wants his lunch to be totally normal now, like everyone else,” she said.

Making lunches look cute for children is an art called kyaraben in Japan.

But some bento-ists think cute takes too much time.

Deborah Hamilton, 40, who writes the blog, makes boxes for her husband and 4-year-old son of, for instance, tamales, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes and a strawberry. “You can make these as intricate or fancy as you like,” she said, “or you can make them plain and simple. You don’t have to get all kinds of Martha with it. My regular bento takes 10 to 15 minutes, maximum.”

Ms. Itoh, the author of, said the boxes, about the size of a fat turkey sandwich, let her control her portions and helped her lose 30 pounds.

“Generally speaking, for a tightly packed Japanese-style bento, the number of milliliters that a box can hold corresponds roughly to the number of calories it holds,” she wrote on her blog.

Crystal Watanabe, 30, an administrative assistant in Honolulu, used bento portion control when she began a Weight Watchers program in 2007. She lost 22 pounds and wrote about her experience on her blog, (Adventures in Bentomaking).

The blog got her involved in the bento community on the photo-sharing site

“We post pictures and people take ideas from each other,” Ms. Watanabe said. “It’s really a very creative community and fun. Everyone is so supportive.”

Ms. Chen, in San Leandro, one of the more prolific contributors to the photo pools, can be a little wilder when making bentos for Lucy’s brother, Koa, 6, who, unlike his sister, is not finicky.

“He even eats the lettuce I put in his boxes as garnish,” she said.

A recent lunch box for him included teriyaki salmon with peapods, two kinds of sweet potato and golden beet “maple leaves.” On the side: skewered purple carrot discs and a tomato made to look like a frog man. For dessert: a strawberry, champagne grapes, blackberries and a litchi.

“I am not a gourmet cook,” Ms. Chen said, “but when you put anything in a bento box it looks nice.”

Where to Get Boxes and Supplies

BENTO & CO (French language site, ships from Japan).


FROM JAPAN WITH LOVE (ships from Japan).


JAPAN CENTRE (ships from England).

J BOX (ships from Japan).

KINOKUNIYA 1073 Sixth Avenue (41st Street), (212) 869-1700.


BOOKS: “501 Bento Box Lunches: 501 Unique Recipes for Brilliant Bento” (Graffito Books, 2009) and “Vegan Lunch Box Around the World” by Jennifer McCann (Da Capo, 2009).

Sign in to Recommend Next Article in Dining & Wine (5 of 21) » A version of this article appeared in print on September 9, 2009, on page D1 of the New York edition.
My online bento box and kitchen item shop "From Japan With Love" is mentioned in The New York Times!! I am really happy about it!!

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