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Posted on Dec 31, 2008 in Poll | 41 comments

Poll: Why do you pack bento lunches?

Why do you pack bento-style lunches, or why do you want to?

I gradually got into bento lunches through a series of coincidences that I wrote about in my profile. I lived in Japan for almost a decade, but didn’t pack bentos often until my husband was misdiagnosed with celiac disease, a food intolerance that all but ruled out restaurant meals. Bento-style packing appealed to me as a way to help my husband eat well despite health restrictions.

After the doctors figured out that my husband didn’t actually have celiac disease, I drifted back into the bento habit because of my toddler son: one small bento box took up a lot less room in my diaper bag than four or five Tupperware containers. How about you?

Why do you pack bento lunches? (check all that apply)

  • Eating healthier (73%, 783 Votes)
  • Fun and playful (62%, 665 Votes)
  • Save money (57%, 616 Votes)
  • Portion control or dieting (52%, 559 Votes)
  • Interest in Japan (44%, 471 Votes)
  • Compact size (42%, 455 Votes)
  • Cooking experimentation (40%, 431 Votes)
  • More variety (38%, 412 Votes)
  • Artistic expression (29%, 314 Votes)
  • Get picky eaters to eat (12%, 132 Votes)
  • Food allergies (8%, 81 Votes)
  • Other (describe in comments) (6%, 63 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,078

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Poll voting closes at midnight Pacific on Sunday, January 11, 2009.

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  1. Since I am an “other” I will explain. I have always packed lunches in this way because honestly, sandwiches bored me. Kids at school thought I was weird because I would show up with all these little potions of a variety of things. I used Tupperware midgets and packets I had made out of wax paper to separate things and keep things from getting all over my thermos. It wasn’t till I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese (not English as I had when younger) that I realized there was a name for that sort of lunch. Then I found that there were boxes made for that sort of lunch too! The rest is history.

  2. I have had interest in bento since I switched over to being vegetarian and now vegan. It’s hard to try and find sensible food options on the road or at work. Plus it’s nice to be able to control what goes into my body and have a variety of items.
    My husband perfers bento mostly as well but on Fridays he opts out for variety lol. He is a former athlete so he likes for me to help keep him on the right track really. Plus he’s trying to become a vegetarian and the variety is helping him solidify his choice!

  3. I picked ‘other’ because a small one tier bento box can pakc the right amount of food for my 2 and 1/2 year old. It is not too big or small and he can pretty much eat all of the food without getting too full or still be hungry. Plus wife likes how cute the bento box looks!

  4. My bentos are far tastier than buying lunch at work or at a restaurant!

  5. I’m one of the “others” also. My biggest reason is because I want delicious food every day :)

    When I was buying lunch on campus I often found that there wasn’t anything I really wanted to eat. I’d pick something because I had to (or go hungry). When I bring bentos I know I’ll enjoy my lunch!

  6. My other is that I like little bites of many things rather than one meal of something. We have begun cooking more Japanese and Korean cuisine around our house and it lends itself to little dishes.

  7. Other: less wasteful of food and plastic bags.

    I started doing bentos a year and a half ago after reading your blog, when my daughters were in elementary and middle school. Even with traditional “American lunch food”, if I put the same amount of food in plastic bags, the girls won’t eat as much of it. We were throwing away so many bags and so much food, but the same food in the bento appeals to them more. Plus, one of my daughters hates sandwiches and most “normal American” lunch food. We don’t do much Asian food, but we do now include many more types of foods in bentos than we could in little baggies.

  8. I originally started packing bentos because of a general interest in Japanese culture, and they were just so cute, but as I started packing them I realized that the variety in food is really important for me. When I used to pack “regular” lunches (usually a single leftover or sandwich) I’d get bored with the food and only eat part of it, whereas if I pack multiple different kinds of food, I’m more apt to finish my lunch.

  9. Mostly because they’re fun, cute and save money. :)

    But the reason I started was my interest in Japanese culture. I started packing them after I found this site, actually.

  10. Other: I bento for my husband, as a way of doing something for him. He really appreciates the days I do it, and it’s become a way to “bond.” A side perk has been that he loses weight when I do it regularly. I started packing bentos after seeing Cooking Cute on Yahoo’s “The 9″, I started that very night in some cheap food container! Since that fateful day, we’ve since had a daughter and she’s now in preschool, so I make bento for her, too.

  11. healthiness and money are my main reasons. if i pack straight leftovers from dinner, it tends to be a huge portion of just one thing. bento encourages me to put more variety in my lunches and think about the balance in my diet. if i have to buy my lunches at work, i waste money and wind up eating unhealthy things with ingredients i wouldn’t ever cook with.

  12. I am not a full fledged bento maker like most of you all, mainly because we have a microwave at work and I use it regularly. Alas I work hard to incorporate the principals of bento boxes in my lunch, like the ratios of types of food and storage solutions. I found you blog while searching for an alternative way to take salad dressing to work and haven’t stop reading it for over a year.

  13. other: Packing a bento box gives me something to look forward to during the day besides school or work being over, it re energizes me when I see my lunch. I also feel better knowing that I made a conscious decision to pack a healthy and delicious lunch for myself. It’s like I’m a big kid making smart decisions and I get a pat on the head :D

  14. I’m an other too. True I pack it for variety of foods and a way to use up leftovers and the like. It does keep me more interested in food. But I also do it for (some) environmental reasons. I use almost no sandwich baggies/foil/etc. and end up packing no waste lunches. And a bento box fits in the fridge at work a lot better than a bag full of small Tupperware containers. That part drove me nuts more than anything else.

  15. My son, the person I primarily pack bento for, has an early morning math class that’s at a different school than his regular classes. This means that this year he had NO option for school hot lunch because he’s not there to put in his choice in the morning (I did a “Mom WINS” victory dance behind closed doors). He wasn’t very excited about taking lunch every day because sandwiches get so boring. I sympathized. Stuffing a sandwich and grapes into baggies is frankly not my idea of fun kitchen time. Bento lunches with plenty of variety have made him prefer taking his lunch over the greasy sugar bombs they serve for most school lunch.

    He knows that he always has the right to critique his lunch (“Mom, that cutesy soy sauce bottle… I’m eleven…?”) and tell me what he does and doesn’t like. He also gets to help me plan what he’s going to eat which is hopefully helping to teach him to make smart choices. Bentos have made a big difference for him.

  16. When my kids started school I wanted to pack a waste free lunch. At first I had a large assortments of small containers in her lunch, and it was very awkward and space-consuming. I eventually stumbled upon the bento concept of carpementalizing food in one container, and discovered the gadgets and gizmos that make bento lunching fun. The rest, as they say, is history. My kids and hubby, and even his co-workers, love to open their lunch boxes and see what goodies they have for lunch. Actually, DH is the talk of the office now.

  17. I’m a bento-ing fan because i can choose what I eat and actually know what is in it, and how it was made. Also because of the really cute containers and items. =)

  18. I pack for a variety of reasons. I am a commuter in college and I found that running around so much makes me hungrier and its impossible to find time to eat several small meals.

    I discovered bento and found that im eating healthier and im happier with a cute fun lunch and snacks.

    Now im addicted to this site! Great work
    Biggie- I’m a philly girl and saw a great article in gourmet about cheesesteaks and thought of you :)
    Glad to know im not the only one with scrapple and pork roll in my bento!

  19. I started making bentos as a way of getting my husband to eat a healthy lunch. If I don’t pack anything he’ll just forget about lunch or eat something like an ice cream sandwich. It’s also a nice way of showing one’s love for another.

  20. I get bored so easy with many things in life not just the same ole sandwich. I was searching the web for ideas and that’s how I heard about bentos. I always liked asian food but I found I can do so much more with bento styled lunch and I never end up starving at the end of the day. I was inspired…

    I also need to keep from so much snacking (not all junk food) being on the medication I am now I gain weight quickly but can’t get it off. I gained almost 30 lbs in about the first 6 months on it.

    One last thing I am excited to try bentos with my daughter she is only 3 and can out eat a grown up. She not over weight and I can’t figure where she puts it all. I have bee told she has an empty leg : )

    Thanks Biggie for all the inspiration… my coworkers stay jealous of my tasty little lunches!

  21. I selected other because one of the main reasons I pack bento style lunches is to not use plastic bags, either ziploc baggies to put individual components, or a plastic bag to put the whole lunch in. My main driver is to be more eco-friendly.

  22. In addition to liking the creative aspect of making a bento, I’m a vegetarian. I work for a large corporation. In our cafe, we have many food options every day, but I found that day after day I had to choose either a small pre-packaged, expensive bowl of cereal or a very unhealthy piece of pizza (which also happens to taste terrible) if I wanted something without meat. Sometimes, I would go to the meat area and ask for just the vegetable sides, if they had any. Eventually I realized that for me, bento was the way to go. It also gives me something productive and creative to do, which I always enjoy.

  23. The main reason I pack a lunch is because I am a letter carrier. It’s just easier (and fun!) to make my own lunch. Though during the summer and winter months it gets hard to keep food cold or warm. Mainly because I have no access to a frig or microwave. So Biggie if you have any tips, tricks or recipes for people like me who are outside all day with no access to a frig or a microwave, please pass them on! (Believe me, there are A LOT of us out there.)

  24. I picked More variety as the reason I started but I’ve recently been diagnosed with a food intollerance that excludes wheat so packing a Bento lunch is now a must – no more home or bought sandwiches or pub lunches! Rice is so much tastier than the stuff that passes for wheat free bread! My lunches also intrigue my worl colleagues who seem to enjoy talking about them as much as I do eating them!

  25. Every year it seems that we bento more and more. I have made bentos for my kiddo for years and got started when he was in pre-school and he has requested them ever since and I’m happy to send a healthy meal-sometimes 6 days a week- that is eaten up rather than discarded as so many lunches are.

    I started bentoing for myself occasionally 2 years ago due to a health problem that requires a special diet. Another new challenge was added this year that has it’s own dietary restrictions and so I am bentoing even more. Due to my dietary restrictions, I have even made and brought bentos with me, almost daily, when out and about while I was staying oversees and for early morning pre or in-flight breakfasts.

    From time to time, when we’re on the road early, I pack breakfast bentos to save time. It’s sometimes quicker to make and pack a bento than to have a sit-down breakfast with a bunch of sleepy-heads, myself included!

    Lastly, Hubby has a work schedule that keeps him away from home for most weekday meals so is making his own bentos these days-sometimes for 2 meals- in the am to help us stay on track budget wise.

    I am VERY grateful for bentos and can’t imagine what we would do without them!

  26. Other: I have a horrible habit of running out of plastic bags and HATE going to the store for just one thing. Much better to have reusable boxes I can just wash.

    Incidentally, that’s also one of the reasons I cloth diapered, lol.

  27. Trying to control portion sizes and the cuteness factor are big for me, but not as big as my two “Other” reasons.

    1.) I grew up in a big family and my Dad was a chef as an expensive country club that had a lot of banquets cooking for hundreds at a time. As a result, I only learned how to cook large quantities. Most of my favorite recipes are really difficult to make for just two (my best friend/roommate and myself), I usually make enough for at least 4-6. So bento lunches help us use our leftovers more efficiently. I throw away way less food now than I did before.

    2.)I really hate my job. It is a little easier to deal with when I have an adorable sunny yellow bunny-decorated bento box awaiting me on my lunch break. It’s a great pick-me-up. My roommate and I take turns cooking for each other, it adds a little fun to our days.

  28. I found that bringing my lunch to work is a great way to continuously eat healthy and a great way to save money. I work for a company that makes reusable food containers and they help avoid any unnecessary waste that bringing food in brown bags and plastic bags causes. take a look at some of our products. I use them myself and love them

    http://www.aladdin-pmi.com/shop/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=10-00354-000

  29. Yet another “Other” ;)

    I use bentos as a time management tool.

    I work from home, I am French and I love cooking. That just spells trouble when lunchtime rolls around- I will drop what I am doing and go cook myself a nice lunch, take my time eating it and then do the washing up. Not good for productivity…

    Now that I have switched to bentos, I pack my lunch in the morning and store it in the fridge, ready for when I get hungry around 1:00pm. No extra cooking time and minimal dishwashing required- no wasted time anymore!

  30. I picked almost everything on that list >_>.

    To be completely truthful, I have a dysthymic disorder that causes me to um, I guess what most people view it as “lazy.” I am a bit apathetic about making food or doing things like that in general which means I skip lunch every day at school…but I do love cooking, it’s very therapeutic.

    There’s something about a lacquered plastic box or a cute little monkey face that encourages me to actually pack in food, no matter how simple like rice it is, and take it to me with school the following day to eat.

    I guess it’s the little, fleeting fun things like this that make things worthwhile hahaha.

    Plus, it means I get to use my Totoro mug and Ultraman fork. ? <<< — chopstick-ally challenged.

  31. I picked “other” because they also produce less packaging waste and (with respect to the lunches I pack for my husband rather than for myself) are a way of showing affection.

  32. My “other” was time management. My job often overlaps lunch or dinner hours, and while I get a brief break to eat something, it’s not so long that I have time to go off site. Packing a bento gives me time to sit outside and eat a decent meal as opposed to eating nothing!

  33. Well, I live in Japan so that’s the main reason. There’s no other choice for my husband- like most other blue collar workers he gets a few minutes to eat and needs something easily shoveable into his mouth which will give him enough energy enough not to die during a 16-hour day.

  34. The portion control is a big part of it for me. It’s not that I eat such terrible food most of the time, it’s that I have this “clean your plate” complex and have lost all sense of proportion about what really should constitute a meal. So the idea of picking a box that holds an amount of food appropriate to my needs, and constraining my lunch to that size, has been great for me. And of course, being able to control WHAT I’m eating, by packing it when I’m not ravenous, helps. Especially since I’m trying to be more of a locavore and get processed food out of my diet. And if a cute box and some brightly-colored silicone cups helps motivate me to do that, well, that’s money well spent.

  35. It’s a good way to figure out what the heck to pack for lunch. Being allergic to wheat I don’t eat sandwiches often and it was always a challenge to figure out what to eat for lunch. Bentos are perfect.

  36. Other: I want to avoid waste. I’m so sick of individually-packed food, of sandwiches wrapped in cellphane, of the horrible amounts of packaging which come with every takeout, of shouting “I DON’T NEED A PLASTIC BAG” whenever I’m buying clothes… With Bento I can at least have a completely waste-free lunch.

    Except for the one other “other”:

    I got a big pack of empty takeaway packages. Whenever I make bento for my boyfriend and myself, I try to make one more and give it to someone who needs it. I live in Berlin where homeless and really poor people are everywhere and since I’m not comfortable with giving money, I give homemade food instead.

  37. Like so many posters – the “other” all about re-usable packaging and avoiding more trash in the world. I love that going bento has ment that my family (two adults and a four year old) are not adding to the landfil with lunch wrappers and such everyday. And it makes leftovers so much more attactive and fun to eat too.

  38. Other! Well, a few others work for me, but mostly they are convenience and avoiding garbage. I hated throwing away a bag everyday from a small bunch of grapes just as much as I hated dealing with the grape bag, the sandwich box, and the carrot container. Bento lets me avoid all the untidy inconveniences and trash of a typical homemade lunch.
    In fact, Biggie, you’ve got a lot to do with my bento conversion as yours was one of my first sources of bento information. THANKS!

  39. I chose most of the choices including other.
    The main reason that I got into it was I watch a lot of anime. I watch the subtitled versions and there is a lot of talk of Japanese food and Bento.

    Enviromental Reasons.

    I was spending way to much money on eating lunch everyday, I did the math for the past 15 years and I spent close to 60k on lunch and coffee.

    And I am doing Weight Watchers and Bento is a great way to do portion control.

  40. I got into bento while I was a secretary, and just as an interesting hobby. A friend was into bento, and got me curious about making onigiri. I did and liked it, and then decided to order bento boxes.

    I’m a freelancer writer these days and my office is my laptop. Thing is, I tend to eat worse than I did when I had to travel to an office. Making myself and my family bentos every evening for the next day gives me a way to relax from the stresses of being self-employed and assures that we all get at least one healthy, well-balanced meal a day. While I don’t always make Asian food, I do try to keep the classical bento balance. The natural portion control helps, too, since I have a SEDENTARY darn job!

    My teenaged son needs a bigger bento box, I can tell you that. The one that fills me up just isn’t enough for a growing young man.

  41. interesting debate….