Archive for June, 2008
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.
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… Read the rest of this entry »
Published by Biggie on June 11th, 2008 tagged admin | 79 Comments »
Although fancy bento boxes and cute accessories from Japan aren’t at all necessary to pack a bento-style lunch, once you get into it you might develop a hankering for them. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at local stores using the worldwide Bento Store Locator map with user-generated store feedback, you might want to look into online sources. To this end, I’ve put together a list of online stores that stock a variety of bento gear.
The list below is not exhaustive, but please leave a comment with info to add reliable stores or update the shipping area on an existing store. Eventually I hope to incorporate these online store listings into the geographic Bento Store Locator (BSL) so that people can easily leave feedback on each store entry. Stores that seem particularly popular are underlined, but be sure to look around for the best price before you buy (I’ve seen some pretty steep mark-ups out there, especially on eBay!). This is not a particular endorsement of any of the following stores, although stores marked with an asterisk are affiliate links that support Lunch in a Box at no additional cost when you use them to shop. (Read on for the full list of online bento stores.)
Published by Biggie on June 9th, 2008 tagged equipment, shopping | 61 Comments »
I’m really pleased with how everyone has been adding local stores to the new worldwide Bento Store Locator (BSL) with Google Maps — thank you! The database has almost doubled in size since its launch on Monday. It’s turning into a helpful tool, but it’s only as good as the information that we all put into it. So please check it out and leave your feedback by adding new stores, commenting on existing stores about what sort of bento gear they stock, places that might have closed down or no longer carry bento boxes and accessories, etc.
Please use the search box to check your area, not just the map’s zoom function (the BSL only displays the stores nearest to the location in the search box). See the posting guidelines and a detailed Locator description; check to see if your favorite store is already there before adding as we’re starting to get duplicates (that I delete). Next week I’m expecting an influx of visitors to the site who are new to bento lunches, and am hoping the Bento Store Locator will be complete enough to help them find local sources for bento gear quickly and easily. More news on Monday, stay tuned!
Contents of preschooler lunch: Mini burger patties made from meatloaf mix, roasted asparagus and a lemon wedge, cherry tomato, mini pudding cup (shelf-stable Kiku Petit Pudding, found here online and at Cost Plus World Market’s retail stores in the U.S.), home fries with garlic and rosemary, ketchup for dipping, and blueberries. (Click any photo for a larger view.)
Morning prep time: 7 minutes, using leftovers and little burger patties I’d previously made, fried up and frozen (then stored in my freezer basket of bento food for easy access). In the morning I filled a lidded sauce cup with ketchup for the burgers and fries, cut the tips off of the asparagus (my preschooler’s not a fan), and arranged the rest.
Speed tip: Building up a freezer stash with individual portions of different foods can save you on busy mornings. Make a little extra when you’re cooking dinner, portion it out in baking cups or freezer bags, and pop it into the freezer. Think of it as a pain-free time investment for fast lunches. My freezer basket for packed lunches currently holds rice & onigiri rice balls, waffles, edible ice packs, unsauced pasta, ground pork subdivided into usable portions, inarizushi stuffed sushi, ginger, green onions in plastic drink bottles, and chopped herbs. Remember to cycle through freezer items quickly to avoid freezer burn, and figure out a way to keep track of what you’ve got in your freezer (such as homemade magnets, a whiteboard, paper lists, etc.). See the Top Speed Tips page for more ideas.
Published by Biggie on June 5th, 2008 tagged bento, for kids, meat, phyllo or pancake or other, vegetarian | 21 Comments »
After launching the lunchinabox.net site one year ago today, one of the most common questions I hear from people starting to make bento-style lunches is, “Where can I find bento boxes and accessories near me? Do I have to order them online and pay for shipping?” To make it easier for the lunch-packing community to share their knowledge of local stores in a common location, I hired a web developer to create the worldwide Bento Store Locator using Google Maps. This interactive map should help readers quickly find nearby stores that sell bento boxes and accessories, check out feedback from other readers, add new stores to the map themselves, and leave their own comments on individual store entries. (Like a very basic version of Yelp.com, but focused only on bento gear.)
My hope is that the Bento Store Locator (BSL?) will be a handy little tool for discovering local sources of bento boxes and accessories, potentially saving us money that’d we’d otherwise spend on shipping charges from online stores. If there aren’t any bento stores near you, though, I’ve put together an updated list of online stores with bento gear. Check back on the Bento Store Locator from time to time, as I expect the number of stores to grow as people share their finds. (Read on for details and posting guidelines.)