BRING ON THE BENTO
Make Lunch Healthy and Fun With These Enviably Hip Bento Box Ideas
By Robin Barr Sussman
It’s that time of year again for back to school shopping and toting lunch to school or work. Beat brown bag boredom with an all-in-one-carrier that’s stylish and versatile. Bento box lunches, which originated in Japan and have recently become popular in the U.S., don’t have to be overly cute or artful. They are designed to make it easy to pack a durable, balanced and eco-friendly meal that appeals to all ages.
FUN LUNCH IDEAS FOR KIDS
Try these tricks for an elevated lunchbox that will always come home empty.
Cut sandwich bread and sliced cheeses into whimsical bites with cookie or aspic cutters shaped like flowers, stars or butterflies. Find it at World Market, worldmarket.com, and Sur La Table, surlatable.com.
Use mini silicone muffin cups and fill them with thick dips like guacamole or hummus. Find it at Bed, Bath & Beyond, bedbathandbeyond.com.
Roll pita bread with mayo, cream cheese and sliced meat into festive roll-ups and secure with fancy toothpicks. Or pick up prepared pinwheel sandwiches at Whole Foods Market, wholefoodsmarket.com.
Use serrated knives to slice carrot sticks or red pepper snacks for lunches. Find them at Sur La Table, surlatable.com, and Walmart, walmart.com.
Plan leftovers for a bento box lunch the next day. Think cold fried chicken drumsticks served with hard-boiled eggs, potato salad and melon balls for a faux picnic. Find the Chef’n Scoop Troop Melon Tool at Sur La Table, www.surlatable.com .
CRAVE-ABLE LUNCHES FOR THE OFFICE, BUDDING EPICURE OR THE GRADE SCHOOL POWER LUNCH
Whether you’re in the mood for Italian, Asian, American or Mediterranean fare, get inspired by these international culinary themes and be the envy of the office fridge.
Mediterranean-Greek bento: Vegans or vegetarians would relish a mezze selection of hummus, pita and feta cheese. Greek fans might like a marinated lamb pita sandwich or beef gyro (or pick it up at Myth Kafe food truck, www.mythkafe.com ). Cedar’s Bakery makes fresh baked za’atar bread, spinach pockets and falafel on pita, to name a few (www.cedarsbakeryhouston.com ).
Asian bento: Steamed rice, stir-fried veggies and chicken make a balanced lunch or, for something extra spicy, let Pepper Twins (txpeppertwins.com) be your go-to source. For fresh, chilled sushi and sashimi plus a variety of exotic small bites, look to Kata Robata’s lunch bento box (www.katarobata.com ).
Italian bento: Build an antipasto salad with Italian cheese, deli meats, cherry tomatoes, crisp greens and a side of vinaigrette. Pair that with delicious chicken parmesan, a specialty to try at the family-friendly Romano’s Pizza (www.romanoshouston.com ) off West Gray.
American bento: Southwestern chicken wraps, hearty entrée salads and healthy mains are staple pick-up orders at HS Green Fresh Food Kitchen (www.hsgreen.menu ). Or pop over to Paulie’s (www.pauliesrestaurant.com ) for substantial sandwiches paired with pasta or fruit salad. Don’t forget one of the award-winning shortbread cookies elaborately piped with colorful icing.
Special diet bento: Snap Kitchen (www.snapkitchen.com ) has meal plans and individual dishes (hot meals or chilled) for every diet and taste preference. Milk-free, gluten-free and pescetarian choices might include crunchy coconut shrimp. If vegan, the mango beet poke bowl will attract, or maybe a low carb barbecue brisket plate fits those high-protein goals.
Bentgo Kids Brights, $27.99-$39.99
Classic 6-piece bento box set, $12.99
Yeti LoadOut Bucket, $39.99
Yeti Rambler drinkware family, $19.99-$39.99 each
Leak proof rounds, 4 ounce, $10.49
Insulated thermos, 8 ounce, $24.99
Bento container, protein packer, $17.99
Insulated hot and cold bento box, $39.50
Rubbermaid Balance 11-piece meal kit (portion control), $19.99
LunchBlox® Kids Lunch Box Container, $9.99
Bento box expanded double with fork, $37.99
Buffalo Check PackIt Personal Cooler, $19.99
lunchskins Red Fruit Zippered Bag Set, $10.99
The Container Store, containerstore.com
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Inspired by the recipe from Paulie’s Restaurant, this zesty pasta salad with pesto vinaigrette is perfect for meatless Mondays or a side salad in a bento box.
1 pound of pasta (bowtie, shell or fusilli)
¼ pound baby spinach
3 tablespoons pitted Kalamata olives
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup celery, sliced
1 4-ounce jar or can of drained artichoke hearts, sliced in half or quarters
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1-1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons pine nuts
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¾ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
To make the pesto vinaigrette, place all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large bowl, toss together spinach, olives, bell pepper, celery and artichoke hearts. Boil pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain well and cool slightly. In a large bowl add the pasta to the other salad ingredients and combine. Add pesto vinaigrette to the pasta salad and toss to coat all ingredients. Sprinkle feta cheese on top. Refrigerate until serving.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings