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Posted on Jun 11, 2008 in admin | 69 comments

Newsweek: Are bento lunches a trend?

Newsweek: Are bento lunches a trend?

Are bento lunches becoming a trend in the U.S.? I think we’re starting to see indications of that, as shown by this article in Newsweek magazine about bento boxes for the preschool set.

Egg-wrapped onigiri lunch for preschooler Newsweek contacted me a few weeks ago to discuss the growing popularity of bento box lunches in the United States. They wound up running a photo of this bento lunch for my three-year-old, who attends a Japanese immersion preschool in San Francisco where bentos are the norm (click for the lunch’s full contents, packing details, and speed tips). On the spectrum of kyaraben food art to Lunchables or PB&J sandwiches in plastic baggies, hopefully my everyday speed bentos fall right in the middle (ideally made in under 10-15 minutes, but still appealing).

The article gave some online stores for bento gear, and summarized the Japanese nutritional “Spinning Top” and bento packing guidelines described in my guide to choosing the right size bento box. (One minor nit: traditionally a bento has one part protein, not one part “meat” as written in the article. You know, Japan being an island nation with lots of fish and tofu and all.)

Anyway, while I definitely see elements of the overall picture, I’m not sure if they’re sufficient to anoint bentos as a new trend. Maybe it just feels like the start of a bento boom because I’m in the middle of it. Am I delusional? Here’s my split-personality argument weighing if bento lunches are becoming significantly more popular in the U.S…

The case for:

  • Google Trends shows steady growth in the popularity of “bento box” as a search term over the past three years, with U.S. searches approximately doubling since the start of their data in 2006.
  • Lunch in a Box’s web traffic has tripled over the past year, with over 370,000 page views and 70,000 absolute unique visitors a month. 75% of my readers are in the U.S., with the top three states being California, New York, and… Texas! (source: Google Analytics)
  • A Lexis-Nexis search for news stories with the word “bento” within 15 words of the word “lunch” in “All U.S. News (Papers and Wires)” turns up 214 results over the last 12 months (June 1 to May 31), as opposed to 178 in the previous 12, and 133 in the 12 months prior to that. (Thanks to my journalist husband’s Nexis account for this search!) (UPDATE: See the Press and Awards page for articles mentioning Lunch in a Box.)
  • Yesterday I called the store manager at Ichiban Kan discount store (Rumi), to let her know the store was included in the Newsweek article. She told me that bento boxes and accessories were far and away the most popular items in their online store (ships only within the continental U.S.), so much so that they’re having trouble keeping enough in stock for their retail stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Knowing that the store regularly gets in big shipping containers of inventory direct from Japan makes their problem keeping up with bento demand particularly striking to me.
  • Lots of new bento-focused blogs have started up over the past year, listed pretty comprehensively on my Lunch Links page. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in specialty bento blogs, especially those for weight loss, food allergies, vegetarianism, veganism, and children’s school lunches.

The cynic’s view:

  • Are there more hard numbers? Does J-List or Daiso (Japanese discount store with branches worldwide) have a breakdown of bento gear sales in the U.S.? (No idea.)
  • Isn’t the increase in bento blogging just reflective of the increased popularity of blogging overall?
  • Yeah, so there’s an increase in bento-making, but it’s still a minority of lunch-packers, isn’t it? Don’t bento lunches have to be filled with Japanese food and rice? (Not if you approach them like I do. See most of my lunches for world food bentos.)
  • How to make apple rabbits
  • I’m sorry lady, you’re out of your mind if you think my friends and I are going to spend a lot of time making Decorative Food like apple rabbits every day. We’re too busy to be Martha. (Join the club. Make an everyday speed bento in 5 minutes, using leftovers, Leftover Remakes, freezing tricks, and smart pantry choices. Save the fancy stuff for a birthday lunch or special event.)

I know that it feels like a trend to me, but the jury’s still out. What about you? Have you seen any evidence that bentos are becoming more popular at your school, at work, or with your friends? Do you have a business that’s experienced a boom in bento sales over the past year? Or are we bento-packers just starting to attract attention disproportionate to our numbers? Tell us what you think in comments, or e-mail me privately at lunchinabox AT gmail DOT com if you don’t want to post publicly (I keep confidences). I confess, I’m really curious about your experiences!

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  1. I was flipping through Newsweek last night when I saw the article and thought to myself, “That looks like one of Biggie’s lunches.” I’ve always held your lunches as the strongest inspiration for my own: the perfect balance (I think) of simplicity and attractiveness. Congratulations on the exposure! We’ll see what it results in…

    Regarding trendiness, over the last year my roommate and I have both been taking bento lunch to round out our long grad student days, and one of my colleagues got her own Laptop Lunch set after seeing mine. Those are the only people I know, though, who pack bento. More often people are interested in and (sometimes) impressed by my bento but immediately add that they can’t imagine packing a lunch every day.

    Also from my own experience, I know I was interested in bento (that is, looking at other people’s lunches) for quite a while before I jumped into packing my own. It’s easy to be interested in – who doesn’t like food that looks amazing?! – but there’s a definite bar to scale when deciding to do it.

  2. I think it’s a trend. Slowly spreading, but a trend. Then again, one of my husband’s coworker’s said if I wasn’t already married, that he’d propose to me sight unseen based on my bento! Hee!

  3. Thanks for the article. I used to be an au pair in the US in 2004. And I have to tell you that I already did bento boxes back in those days. Sure I didn’t know they are called bento boxes, but I was really fascinated by the variety those boxes for the kids had.My hostmom showed me how to make the lunch for the kids, but I don’t think she knew that these are bentos. I think it is great that bentos get more and more popular.

  4. Hmmm….I’ve had bento on my trend tracking radar screen for sometime. Truthfully, I haven’t seen a lot of recent movement but I will check out your links.

    In the meantime, feel free to sign up for my Topline Trends newsletter if food trends interest you: http://www.danamccauley.com/Newsletter.html . It’s a free subscription.

  5. My only evidence of a trend is that I have to define the word “bento” less and less to those around me.

    But I do take issue with Newsweek calling me “overachieving”…which I am certainly not! I’m just a mom who desires great nutrition for her children. What’s so overachieving about that?

  6. In my mother’s group, thanks to 2 of us packing bento snacks for our kids, bento boxes have definitely become popular. I’d say a 1/3-1/2 of the group went in on purchasing a mountain of bento gear thanks to a generous shopping trip at Daiso by an acquaintance in Seattle (no Daiso or similar stores on the East Coast…yet!).

    In general, I’m not so sure. But it’s gotta start somewhere I suppose.

  7. I don’t remember how I found your blog but it’s fascinating to read. I’m a very picky eater and my tastes don’t include Japanese food, alas, so I thought that bento was just something I could admire. Then I realized that when I do pack a lunch it already has bento trends, if not the same level of artwork.

    I want to try some of your ideas the next time I have to take a plane!

  8. I agree that it’s definitely a trend. Here in Ontario, Canada, the schools are REALLY pushing the litter-less lunches. I know one school that won’t even permit juice boxes. Also, our school will only permit healthy lunches, no cookies, no pudding, no sweets.

    I’m getting into bento boxes because I have a fussy eater who’s going to junior kindergarten in the fall, and I want her to have good, FUN, lunches that she’ll actually EAT.

  9. When I eat my lunch at work, I have had to explain what it is, it usually attracts notice. Sometimes I just eat in my office if I don’t want to answer questions about why my rice is shaped like a bear. I know 3 people who have started doing bento’s after seeing my daughters and mine.

    I don’t think it’s a trend, its slowly becoming popular, I’d like it to be a trend. It may make it easier to find supplies. Parent magazine or Family Circle would need to start running how-to’s maybe. Maybe placement in a movie would help (Kung Fu panda eating a bento… but they were in China) I hope when bento gets more popular, as I think it will, it doesn’t make it sound hard or like you are an overachieving parent. Its quite easy as Biggie has shown and parents should perceive that.

  10. I can’t say definitively whether bento lunches are a trend, or just the evolution of home packed meals. What I do believe is that the bento supply makers are taping into the Great American Buyer. Is it cute? We’ll buy it. Is it from somewhere foreign and perceived exotic? We’ll buy it. Is it relatively inexpensive, and we can fulfill our need to covet and hoard? Yup, got us there, too.
    If it doesn’t hurt anyone, step on anyone’s rights or cause harm, then it’s probably ok for us, and not bad for the environment either. Viva la Bento!

  11. I started doing a bento-style meals a few years ago when I started having problems keeping my blood-sugar levels up. Now that I am pregnant I make them for not just me but for the hubby too, so then we can still have lunches together. This way I will be able 2nd nature too when the baby starts on solids.

    That’s cool that they did an article, but I agree with Amber regarding the comment about “overachieving”. I read that and immediately thought, “Wow that was rather rude.” I guess when you actually take the time to take care of your family you are going beyond the norm?

    But I am glad that they contacted when of the coolest sites doing bento!

  12. Clearly, I am doing it all wrong (at least according to Newsweek) – I often include potato chips and/or a piece of candy (or two) in my DD’s bento box. I rarely pack rice in her lunch, unless it’s part of the entree already.

    “It’s just a compact, balanced, visually appealing lunch” — most days, anyway!

  13. I know I started occasionally doing it after running across your site on a completely different search. I was amazed at the intricacy of your bentos and how visually appealing they were so I began searching for more info. Then got basics like egg and rice molds, 2 boxes and other basic bento supplies. I found a select few sites that I think make it a very niche thing right now but I think its too early to call it an official “trend”. Who knows, maybe this article will be just the nudge to make bento tres chic and the rest of us will have been ahead of the trend! :)

  14. I’m very new to bento, myself. I think I would agree that it seems to fit neatly into the way that many things Japanese are trendy at the moment. I guess I don’t really follow actual sales and news statistics, but, at least for the groups I frequent, many elements of Japanese culture have seen a steady rise in popularity.

    I, myself, have been interested in and influenced by Japanese art for years and years. I think my list of interests as far as Japanese culture is concerned is directly proportionate to the level of my exposure via the internet, and that’s probably directly proportionate to the level of availability of that sort of information. If that makes sense.

    Bento is just the next link in a long chain of new discoveries dating back over 20 years to 5th grade, when I read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and growing each year since then. I’ve been admiring bento for over a year, and only now started to actually do it, and not because of any increase in popularity. My daughter starts kindergarten in the fall, and (like many aspects of her life) I wanted to give her something fun and different, while giving her an opportunity to share a new experience with her classmates. (No one I’ve spoken to in my town has ever heard of bento. Is it possible she won’t be the only kid with a bento lunch? Sure. But it seems unlikely.) So I started packing my own bento lunches now to get into the swing of having prepped/frozen food on hand, and learn how I like best to put the boxes together.

  15. Hi Biggie. Congratulations on making it into an MSM publication! I think it is a trend of sorts, but perhaps not a big, sweeping trend as of yet. (To give another perspective, Elle France also recently has a small feature on bentos.) From my perspective, I’ve seen big leaps and bounds in traffic to Just Bento in just the 6-7 months it’s been in operation, but I’ve also seen big leaps and bounds in traffic to Just Hungry (=general Japanese cooking) in recent months too. So, I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from that actually. :)

    I also agree with other commenters that the article is overly simplistic and skewed in some ways..but unfortunately that’s the way it is with MSM articles these days. At least they didn’t get it totally wrong!

  16. I predict bento to be a growing trend. It’s consistent with several trends embraced by large elements of the GenX/GenY demographics such as Environmentalism (reduce, reuse) and less Consumerism (less mass-produced, less pre-packages, more DIY) as well as trends with broader demographic appeal such as “Foodie-ism” (witness the explosion of all things/media food-related in the perpetual quest for better meals at home and in restaurants) and Cost-Savings (particularly in a nervous economy).

  17. I’ve been making bento for myself for almost a year now, though I bought my first bento box about 5 years ago. I make them for my boyfriend now, too, and include mostly leftovers and frozen meats (like pre-cooked patties, etc). Both he and I enjoy the lunches and so far, neither one of us has had many comments about the boxes, though I have had Japanese people comment on mine when I’m eating outside at Pioneer Courthouse Square – usually along the lines of, “Oh! Kawaii Bento!!” ^_^

  18. I became interested in the bento box hardware because I had heard that it was the most leak-proof container for packing lunches. That’s why I’ve owned bento boxes for the past few years. Its only recently (and thanks to this blog) that I’ve become interested in how and what is packed inside the container – other than one big pile of last night’s leftovers.

  19. I hope it is a trend, then maybe American and European manufactuers will start making cute bento boxes and accessories that we can afford! More variety in domestic bento accessories would be fab.

  20. Congrats on the interview. :) I don’t know if bento are becoming more trendy, but I do know that my bento photographs are far and away the most popular thing that I post on flickr.

    I did recently have a guy at my office look at my lunch and say, “Oh, that looks almost Japanese! Like a bento with rice balls!”

  21. Congrats on the article – I just adore your blog SOOO much – I have 1 year old twins, and a lot of your tips on freezing foods etc are SOOO relevant to me…I waste less, and am more likely to find food for their lunches now – just blending up leftovers that I’d frozen according to your tips.

    Even though I don’t pack bento yet – I fully intend to – and I STILL enjoy your site, as there is enough to interest even non-bento packers!

    Please keep it up!

  22. Congrats on the article!

    you know, I do think interest in bento is growing, but I think its related to a growing interest in Japanese food and culture. In the past few years there has been more imported tv shows, more movies with an eye on Japan, and more restaurants sprouting up. Bento seems to be just another part of that. I don’t think the new focus on eco-consciousness and health eating is hurting, either.

  23. Congrats! I adore your site and check it every day at work, but at this point in my life I go home for lunch and have no need pack one. In the future, though, when I work farther away and have children, I will definitely be “bento-ing”!

  24. I think the way in which bento boxes fit into a more green way of living will help it emerge as a definite trend if it has not already. I found your site maybe 10 months ago looking for a better way to transport salad dressing. Been coming back every day since and although I don’t have a bento box yet, my lunches have taken on a bento style and rare is the day I use a ziplock any more. Coupled by the fact that cost of everything is rising, I think you will see more people “brown bagging in” and in turn a greater number of bento makers. A perfect storm is brewing for the Bento Box trend.

    - KCatGU

  25. I think there is a trend, but it is slow to spread. I started this year b/c I have a daughter who is a picky eater & I found that ‘packaging’ her school lunch more appealingly, made a big difference. We are caucasian & some of her asian friends at school have started noticing that my dd is packing bento too – it has been an interesting connection for them – even though I definitely pack what I call “American Reform Bento” style lunches. Many of my sons’ classmates mom’s have started asking me about the containers I pack my kids lunches in & I don’t do the cute stuff really, just use the good old lock & lock lunch sets.

    I never know if a trend existed before I got interested or not, but even here, north of seattle with a large asian population, it is not commonplace to see a bento packed lunch.

    congrats on making it into Newsweek, I just found it in our copy, would have recognized your handiwork immediately.

    best, Mika

  26. I work at home, so I can’t tell you about my co-workers, but I know a lot of my friends who have seen my bento boxes have started making bento,and one of my mom’s co-workers has, too.

  27. I’m with Vampyra1… It may be a trend elsewhere on North America but in Hawai’i it’s been part of the islands for years. Even then Filipinos have their lunch boxes, Chinese have theirs… and so on. I just think things become a fad in the states and somehow it’s “new” but to some of us it’s not new nor is it a trend. It just is.

  28. Also I should have added that some people do not eat their lunch boxes in the open. There is a cultural difference. I could on go about that but I won’t but in the states it’s “new” thus a “trend” but not elsewhere.

  29. It is definitely becoming a trend. People come up to me at work and comment but they don’t just say WHAT IS THAT… they actually already know somehow… and most people are interested in it! And since I’ve begun bento’ing I’ve managed to encourage tons of people to join in the fun :)

  30. Congrats on the Newsweek article. That’s always exciting to see your work in print!

    We live in Chicago so I don’t suspect that bento’s will become a trend anytime soon. In part because of demographics and the fact that bento supplies are hard to come by here. We’ve gotten a lot of items online and for us, it’s a way to infuse a little Asian culture into our everyday lives (I’m part Chinese).

    My older son loves his bento boxes and I really enjoy the asthetics and just the process of packing a healthy, attractive lunch. I’ve started doing it for my husband as well and so far, no comments on the strawberry shaped condiment case in his lunch. Outside trend or not, I think we’ll be packing bentos for a long time to come.

  31. Oh, duh, and congrats on being featured in Newsweek, that is sooo awesome. I have to go run out and buy that issue now. I’ve been trying to convince my sister to start bento for her 2 year old son… but ah well.

  32. I sent my daughter to school today with her first bento lunch. I don’t know if it’ll turn into a trend here, but it’s one I will continue. I get so many ideas here and I think it’s the perfect way to encourage healthier eating and appropriate portion size. That there is much less waste is just a bonus.

  33. I don’t know whether or not it can be considered a trend yet. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another bento outside of the internet and books. At my son’s school they took a picture of his lunch on the first day of school because no one had seen anything like it before.

    I do take slight offense to the notion that this is any kind of extravagant parenting. I make bento for my son because it tastes good and he loves it! I do make a lot of kyaraben but nothing that takes me any more than 20 minutes because I’ve gotten faster at it. I’m a single working mother, I get the time crunch issue :D When did it become wrong to do something nice for your child because you both enjoy it?

  34. Congrats on the article!

    I think it’s a trend. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year, making (mostly very Americanized) bentos for my girls (ages 10 & 14) since September (which we have loved). More and more people know what I’m talking about when I mention the bentos, just during the last year.

    Yesterday I happened to read a bunch of grocery store newspaper ads, and at least 2 of them advertised ready-made bento lunches (in San Jose). I was surprised.

    Our school district just informed us that they want us to plan for waste-less lunches next year. They showed a picture of a laptop lunchbox set in the flyer. I was thinking of sending a link to your blog to the parent mailing list at our elementary school, with some info about the 2 fairly local Daiso’s and the Ichiban Kan website, and the much cheaper options available at those stores.

  35. I just started within the last 3 weeks of school. I’ve been interested in a while but hadn’t done any research. I found your site and have enjoyed your blog and articles. I recently went to a local whole foods market and found they sell the laptop lunch set as well as another lunch box with food safe plastic containers. I bought the other lunch box because it has the thermal box and I figure that I can pack other bento sets in it–not just the boxes that came in it.
    I think that it is going to become a trend. I’ve shared with other parents in my kids’ school and they want me to show them how I am learning to pack “garbage-less” lunch boxes. Our charter school doesn’t have a hot lunch program so all students bring their own lunches.
    I am glad that Newsweek has highlighted this so more people will realize that they can use the same ideas to pack the foods that their kids love to eat. I love figuring out ways to pack healthy food that looks visually appealing. I’m also challenging myself to use containers I already have around the house so that I can encourage the other parents to do the same.
    My hope is that our school can join others and have a “garbage-less” lunch day to celebrate earth day next year as part of our agriculture unit.

  36. A trend? Maybe. I tend towards not. I think most people that know the word “bento” still think of it as a plate lunch at the sushi place. Heck that’s what I thought until I got interested in taking my lunch to work to avoid losing my parking spot during some construction and came across the whole bento thing online. (admittedly I was intrigued – I saw it as a way to get more Asian food) And I blog about my lunch because … well, I don’t know why! I do expect to see more people packing their lunches though as gas prices continue to rise.

  37. Congratulations, Biggie! You’ve certainly inspired me to pack healthier, more appealing lunches for my kids, so thank you!

    BTW, I ordered a couple of small tiered bento boxes for my kids and some extra belts from Ichiban Kan’s online store last week and was perfectly happy with my order.

  38. Well, if bento is a trend then I am totally on the bandwagon! I stumbled on this site, and it inspired me to put more effort into packing my lunches (I’m a grad student and so generally brought my lunch, but I rarely thought far beyond a sandwich and an apple or leftovers). I started with cheap snapware containers from Target, but as I’ve been getting more creative and committed to bento-ing I’ve realized that the specialty bento stuff (especially sauce containers) would be really useful. I bought my first real bento stuff on J-List, and once I saw my stuff I had to get more so I just put in a big order on Ichiban Kan.

    So, thanks for all the effort you put into this site! It gives me lots of great ideas. I haven’t made any other converts to the trend yet, but people have been admiring my lunches!

    Cheers,
    Rose

  39. Congrats, Biggie!

    I personally feel that an upward surge of popularity is slowly emerging. It is a trend, but not necessary one that will reach or appeal to the “masses” (excuse the bourgeois term). It is definitely more attractive to certain subsets of the population than others (those who are health-conscious, who are interested in “foreign” diets etc).

  40. Meh. I showed my older son some of the bento pictures, he went: I WANT! So I packed one or two for him, and then couldn’t find my packing supplies – he’d made up his own “snack bentos”, and even one for me!

    We’ve since invested in some divided Take-Along containers purchased at Dollar General for packing lunches in. It’s likely, considering school lunches are supposed to go up, that I’ll be packing bentos for both boys come the start of school.

    So, I think it is, for the net-savvy, world-connected (Japanime/manga addicted), most likely going to be a trend. For everyone else? They’ll be mostly clueless.

    (Kansas resident)

  41. i don’t think it’s so much a “bento” thing as it is a “green” thing. i think the bento aspect of packing a waste-free lunch makes it more fun and interesting for consumers. i’ve only been doing it for a few months and i use the laptop lunch boxes and i get questions compliments, and kudos left and right for how appealing, waste-free, and nutritious my kids’ lunches are.

    i really think that this is going to revolutionize the way we eat away from home. i really and honestly think that the thought of changing how they pack lunches has never occurred to some people. until i stumbled across your blog i did the same-old same-old and my kids were actually ASKING for the nasty school lunches. but since i started a more bento-like lunch, they are beyond thrilled every day.

    i think a lot of people cut corners and do what’s easiest for themselves, but it’s no way to teach your children to fuel their bodies properly. i, for one, am hoping that bento catches on big-time. we desperately need it.

    thanks so much for your inspiring and educational blog. i am so thankful i stumbled across it. and my kids thank you too. :),

  42. I am a yonsei (fourth generation japanese american) so my mother cooking had more to do with burgers than bentos. When we had a school field trip we would get a special bento called a Zip Pac from our local hawaiian diner plate lunch specialist Zippys.

    A Zip pac is a bento that includes: rice with furekake and takuan, teriyaki beef, Spam®, deep fried mahi mahi (tartar sauce on the side) and fried chicken thigh. Protein heavy, but still fun for a kid.

    Now I make bento for my pre-schooler, but needed your site to help me get started with portions and what to include in the bento. He usually eats everything everyday, so I’m thinking of doing a bento demonstration at his school next year.

    I’d love to see more moms pack healthy lunches for their kids. Get grown-ups in on this great idea too, I’m glad bento-ing has come to America.

  43. I’ll confess that I had never heard of bento before finding your blog through the blog of a foodie friend. I’ve always packed my daughter’s lunches, but hated the waste — so much that I washed out Ziploc baggies and reused them. After reading up on bento, I ordered a couple of boxes to the delight of my daughter, who had been an anime fan for years. The only Japanese food we really pack is occasional onigiri and sushi. She’s a pescetarian high schooler, so we rely on fish and other protein sources like bean salads and edamame, but we have instinctively followed the protein-fruit-veggie-starch ratio long before we found bento gear.

    Anyway, thank you for the inspiration! We fix bentos that are similar to yours, rather than time-consuming decorative bento. I haven’t touched a plastic baggie now in over a year. ;)

  44. I get confused about what “bento” means.

    If it means japanese style packed lunch, I don’t make those. If it means lunch in a box, well, I had those when I was a kid (I had an awesome cabbage patch kid lunch box with a matching thermos that fit on the inside).

    Packed lunches are not a new thing and I’ve been doing them for years for myself.

    Is the trend the lunches themselves, or the packaging (ie in a small colourful box)?

    If it is the lunches, is it the portions (grain/complex carb, protein, veg) and the colour wheel? If it is portions and colours, then I am making bento as I am attempting to follow those guidelines and find them very useful and straightforward (morning brain does not want to think about calories, gap filling is ok though).

    If it requires special bento boxes, then I’m not making bento as I just use takeaway or regular plastic containers from the supermarket.

  45. Hi Biggie,

    Congrats on your interview with Newsweek! It could be a trend, who knows. The article in Newsweek could spark something more! Then maybe mainstream stores like Wal-mart and Target would carry actual bento gear. That would be nice. I started doing bentos last fall after reading an article in our local newspaper about a mom who packed bentos for her daughter. I thought the concept was a great idea, especially since my lunches at the time consisted of mozzarella sticks and Red Bull.

  46. @5 from Dana McCauley: Thanks for the link to your food trends newsletter, Dana. I went ahead and subscribed yesterday. I’d be curious to hear what you think about the whole bento thing going forward.

  47. @18 from maki: Oh, is that article what was behind your Twitter a while back of saying “FU” to people who want to pigeonhole you? I was curious but didn’t figure it out. Anyway, I figure mainstream media writers (“MSM”) have a job to do in figuring out interesting story angles to get them through their editors — sometimes the angle works, sometimes it’s off. It’s a bit of a crapshoot.

    Thanks for mentioning the Elle France magazine article — I had no idea they had written about Lunch in a Box in April and used one of my photos! Happily the photo is credited to me, so that’s cool. They probably should have asked for my permission to reprint it, though, as it’s a copyrighted image with all rights reserved.

  48. It’s hard to say if bento’s becoming a trend on the national level. I definitely think it is in the Bay Area, but maybe that’s because we have such easy access to the supplies.

    I bought my first bento box in the late 90s, because I was fortunate enough to live near Japan Town and could find them. I wasn’t always great about using them all the time, but over the last ten years, all my friends have seen me pull out a bento/had to listen to me babble about bento at one time or another.

    The reason I think it’s now becoming a trend is because in the last year, I’ve had friends ask me where to get supplies and recipes. These people have known I’ve had these things for years, but they’re just now starting to care. What’s really interesting is that several of them don’t know each other, yet they’ve independently brought up the topic.

    Ironically, I’ve switched to tiffins. Shiny metal is pretty and distracting… =)

  49. @41 from ChrisA: Yes, definitely send info to the San Jose school that’s interested in waste-free lunches! With Daiso and Ichiban Kan nearby, it’d be a shame for them not to know all their options. According to the Bento Store Locator, there are a number of stores in San Jose that stock bento gear, not just those two.

  50. Congrats on getting in Newsweek Biggie, that’s so awesome!! I will always look to you as being my “bento mommy” as your lunches were always the ones that stood out the most whenever I browsed on Bento Lunches. Your photos are still among my favorite styles. I find it rather amusing that I can recognize someone’s lunches based on their food and photography style. Maybe I do this too much, lol.

  51. Of course, Daiso has a store in New Zealand but none in Australia. Figures.

    And congrats on getting into Newsweek!

  52. Nobody at my work packs bentos nor do they even own a bento box other than me. I seem to be the novelty at work. The norm is a square upright lunch box with packed leftover in various containers or some kind of tupperware with leftovers or sandwiches and that’s it.

    A few people have ‘picked on me’ about my strange lunch boxes and japanese lunches as I have an affinity for dim sims, dumplings and the unusual veggies and fruits. People often tell me my lunch ‘smells bad’ or smells ‘awful’ as they don’t or have never tried kimchi or other asian foods.

    I don’t mind. I like being an individual!

  53. So many good comments before me.
    I agree with those who have said that it is more of a green movement and that it is helping with adults portion sizes.

    I lived in asian for awhile and was somewhat aware of bentos but didn’t know enough about them to buying any while I was in Japan (><)
    I feel like my time in asian has contributed to why I do bentos but then it spreads as I bring my lunch. People become more aware of it and I know two people who have started using bento boxes for portion control while they are trying to lose weight.

    I think it IS a trend. As the pendulum swings back to a ‘healthy’ and ‘green’ America, I think things like this will catch on. Also, I don’t think we can deny the success of Ichiban Kan’s website. They only ship in the US and they are having trouble keeping things stocked so someone must be buying them!

  54. I am happy that this blog has received attention that it deserves as a very and informative source of information. However, the description of overachieving parents was just wrong, offensive and unnecessary. I don’t have kids and make lunch for myself. Does that make me an overachieving lunch eater? Am I to be labeled because my attempts at bento are healthier and cheaper than the combo meal at the closest fast food burger place and more interesting than another P,B & J sandwich?

  55. I don’t know that folks at my work pack bentos, exactly, but many of us pack our lunches because we are thrifty. With the economy tanking, “thrify” may be the real trend.

    Anyway, because about half the people I work with are environmental lawyers, using disposable containers and wrappers is socially frowned upon. (There is even one woman who regularly packs her lunch in glass Mason jars.) Usually I use Lock & Lock containers for my lunch and it passes without comment.

  56. I hadn’t heard of Bento boxes until a couple of weeks ago, but already I am finding that there just isn’t enough information out there about them. I have had to order them from Japan and California retailers because there isn’t a single box within a thousand miles of here. Then I wanted a book full of pictures of Bento meals for kids. Zip. Apparently it doesn’t exist. I’m going to try the Bento route, but I cant get many of the ingredients here and everything has to be ordered. It makes it tough for Americans trying to do this!

  57. To be honest, I feel like the trend is away from home-packed bento boxes for lunches in Japan. There seem to be more and more alternatives (more delivery places, even here in the countryside, for instance), more canteens at workplaces, and of course conbinis multiply like rabbits. Also, more and more kids attend daycares with food provided instead of kindergarten.
    I don’t eat a bento usually because I prefer sandwiches. My son’s lunch is provided my his daycare (at my company). I do however make a bento for my husband, but he is the only one of 9 married men at his company who gets a daily bento (also the only one with an employed wife- go figure!)
    No proof of this- just speculation!

  58. LS–I just use containers I have on hand–like tupperware or gladware. It’s the “how” of packing that is important, I think. I pack the types of food my kids are used to–not really Japanese types since they probably wouldn’t eat them.
    I also purchased some silicone baking cups for divider things and some shrimp forks from our local grocery store. I’m trying to make do with the things around me.

  59. Here, Sweden, bringing lunch to work in the for of left overs but cold is possible because most employers provide nuking possibilities to all. Luncheon traditions are traditions are changing or should I say AS interchangeable as anything we eat. Some 15 yrs ago you brought your own lunch. Sandwich was NOT lunch. Salad as a lunch salad is constructed now might have passed the criteria then. Now people nibble on sandwiches as they work, do salads. The byo-lunch tradition has subsided.

    I came from BYO-lunch and being used to having to bring food all the time (due to food allergy), then I went to Japan and came used to bento-culture where making up of a meal with a dessert and not make it boring.

    Whether it is a passing thing? I think BYO-lunch in terms of FOOD lunch is returning due to heightened inflation. Eating out is turning pricy. I eat bento-style for it being an interesting way to create a versatile bento, plus I don’t have to explain to a waiter than NO TOMATO WHATSOEVER. Plus it’s cheaper.

  60. I think the reason for the gain in popularity for bento lunches is the online bento blogs, such as lunchinabox (which is totally amazing). It’s just really inspiring to browse through and read about bentos that other people make, and people just can’t take it anymore so they wanna start their own, at least for the health benefits. And once you start, it’s really hard to stop. That’s how it was for me!

  61. I think it might be a trend brought on by more people trying to eat and feed their children more healthfully. I came across your site a few months ago when I was researching different kinds of food I could include in my kids’ lunches. Somewhere along the line Bento came up. It might not become a nationwide trend, but it is or likely will become one for some demographics.

  62. I found it interesting Texas was named as one of the states getting into this. Yes, I pack BBQ bentos etc., but I don’t see many others following the bento trend. I do have coworkers that occasionally bring their lunches, and that’s for the latest diet they may be on! LOL! Congrats though like everyone has said on the Newsweek article! It’s very exciting!

  63. I’m still the only person I know who packs a bento. I’ve had lots of curious questions about it and I’ve even talked my buddy into possibly getting into it, but it seems like the “bento boom” is still majorly an online trend?… if that makes sense. Although with the economy the way it is now, I can almost see people start getting into it. As for me, I’ve found it’s cheaper to make bentos than it is to make traditional “ham & cheese sandwich” lunches, mostly because I can use the leftovers in my bento.

  64. Trend or not all I know is that I love my bento. I don’t have time to take pics of it but I almost always use it when I’m packing my lunch. I find that it helps me eat a lot healthier.

  65. Congrats on the awesome mention in Newsweek. It’s well deserved. I tell ya, I don’t have kids, but when I look at your adorable bento lunches, I sure wish I did. Hmmm, maybe I can pack them instead for a big “kid” _ me. ;)

  66. LS @ 65: I found a whole bunch of books on bento, right on amazon.com. Amazon also has the wonderful fit and Fresh boxes, and my fave, the Zojirushi Mr. Bento container (great for hot lunches). (“bento” on Amazon)

  67. I had a bento box for years and had no idea what it was until I came across a bento site by mistake a few years ago. I find that when I stop using my bento for a few days, I tend to gain weight. I live in NYC, so
    I’m able to buy some Japanese supplies here and in NJ. However, I usually pack leftovers. Especially now that I work nights, being able to have a healthy, tasty lunch that doesn’t taste like cardboard is a joy.
    Some of you asked if adults can do this too. Heck, yes. One also doesn’t need special equipment- an old Tupperware container will do. I do like the boxes and my Mr. Bento, though. The trick is to pack not just a plain sanwich, but to add other things that will make lunch interesting. when I make a sandwich, for instance, I’ll cut it into fingers and sqkewer it, and add things like cut hard boiled eggs and fruit.
    Tonight’s bento was leftover taco lasagna made from a kit, two small Banon cheese wedges, a handful of sweet cherries from the local market, some olives, anda handful of golden raisins mixed with raw almonds. My sweetie, who lives in western PA, also enjoys bento- he takes his Mr Bento (a Christmas present from me, bought through Amazon)to band practice every week. He says that it makes the other guys jealous. Now that he is actively seeking to lose weight, I’m going to start sending him little items to use in his bento, and maybe even a box for everyday use in the office.

    Neither of us have kids, by the way. And because I’ve been seen with my box at work, two more people (men)in the opffice have started bringing their lunches regularly.

  68. I’ve been making bentos for 3 nearly 4 years now and I still have to describe what a bento lunch is for those not into anime. So to say its a new “trend” is a jumping the gun a little bit. At least that’s what I think. Besides, if it was wouldn’t there be more English language bento books?

  69. well umm i always pack in that kind of way but i used seperate small rubbermaid containers hard to carry but i liked the lunch i packed better than the schools
    but i think its the containers getting popular but the idea will always stay
    but i did just buy a bento easier to carry instead of three small roud rubbermaid containers

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