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Posted on Jun 19, 2007 in Bento, Equipment, Gluten Free, Lactose Free, Meat, Rice, Tips | 22 comments

Disposable bento for airplane

Disposable bento for airplane


One nice thing about bento lunches is that they’re practically waste-free, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to toss the whole container when you’re done. Today my husband went on a business trip, so I packed him a bento lunch for the plane. This morning when I mentioned that I’d made him a bento, his first question was, “Is it in a collapsible container?” He was jazzed when he heard that it was actually disposable, so he wouldn’t have to keep track of a bento box on his trip and bring it home. In Japan, parents are occasionally asked to pack their children lunches in disposable containers for school excursions, so this is established ground. (More info on using disposable containers below in the Packing Notes.)



Contents: Donut nectarine, black Mission fig, and fried rice with Italian sausage, fresh corn, mushrooms, yellow bell peppers, egg, green onions and Korean chogochujang sauce (sauce recipe here). A recent mutation of the donut peach, the donut nectarine is flat and just the right size to pack whole in a bento lunch.

Morning prep time: 2 minutes, using leftover fried rice packed the night before when cleaning up from dinner.


Packing: This meal posed a few challenges. Airport security meant no liquids, no gels, and no metal knives. The flimsy plastic clamshell box with practically no seal called for food on the dry side, with nothing that could give off liquid. Fried rice and whole fruits were a good fit. I used an antibacterial food divider to separate the rice from the fruit, and stemmed and halved the ripe fig. I closed the container with a little rubber band, tucked a plastic fork under the rubber band, and wrapped the whole thing up tightly with a regular table napkin for extra security (multitasking benefit: you can use the napkin when eating). In Japan, you see a lot of people wrapping up their bento boxes this way with furoshiki (lunch cloths), and last year the Japanese Ministry of the Environment produced this illustrated how-to wrapping chart as part of an effort to reduce disposable bag waste. This is the traditional bento-wrapping style (first on the chart — the Otsukai Tsusumi).070619a

Gear: When Bug and I went on a trip to Philly a couple months ago, I brought collapsible sandwich cases and little bento boxes as I knew we’d use them regularly while we were there. My husband’s not going to need to pack his own meals on his trip, so different circumstances called for different equipment. I picked up a pack of 10 disposable plastic clamshell boxes for US$1 at Ichiban Kan in San Francisco, but equivalent containers are actually pretty common if you look around (I’ve seen them in bulk at stores like Smart & Final, Daiso, and even Amazon).

Lunch in a Box is nominated for Best Food Blog in the Blogger’s Choice Awards. If you’d like to cast your vote for speedy lunch packing, click here (you can vote for multiple blogs in the same category).



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  1. Nice tip Biggie, today at Daiso, I saw some disposable triangle onigiri plastic containers. The triangular design held 3 onigiri and could be thrown away afterwards. They also had another type that I hadn’t seen before that was a very small disposable one that held the tiny little circular onigiri. It was so cute! I almost got them, but seriously I am out of space and I had to draw the line somewhere. Hope your husband has a nice trip!

    • Ah, I think I know the ones you’re talking about. I’ve got some of the onigiri wrappers (think Japanese convenience store-style) and other little disposable containers, but I hardly ever use them. This really was the right opportunity to pull them out as it made sense for the situation and food.

  2. The furoshiki diagram is so cool! I want to frame it. : ) I love that you only need a cloth to carry all those things. Thanks for posting that.

    • You’re welcome! Furoshiki rock — I wrap presents in them sometimes and give the furoshiki as a present too.

  3. How important are anti-bacterial sheets when packing bento? I usually see them when I go to my favorite Japanese grocery but I wonder whether it’s really important since it’s quite pricey.

    • On the whole, I’d say they’re not very important as long as you practice good food safety on the whole. I may use them more once Bug goes to school and I can’t control storage of the lunch, or if it’s a really hot day. But hey, I’m in San Francisco — much cooler than Japan in the summer, where these things could be much more useful due to the heat.

      • Wouldn’t it be enough to just put one of those ice blocks in the bag? (like snowpacks but generally a bit bigger) - that’s what I always do with my own and kid’s lunch because neither of us have a fridge available at school/work. And the food is still cool when it’s time to eat it. - of course I use a slightly insulated (it’s got some silvery metrial on the inside) bag for my bentos, which helps to keep it cold. And before I got those, I used a small insulated bag, the size that fits a six-pack…

        The trick is to keep the stuff cool and then IMO there’s no need for antibacterial sheets.

        Or am I missing something? Could well be…

  4. Ooooh! And thanks for the furoshiki link. I was looking for a tutorial on how to do the hon tsutsumi after I saw it on TV once. Now, I don’t only know how, I also know what it’s called! Sugoi! :D

  5. I agree on the furoshiki-wrapping schedule. Really neat :). I do gift wrap and origami so container wrapping should be the next thing :).
    Aren’t those disposable boxes rather “flabby” by nature (ie. risk for leaking or spilling) or have I just not come across the right kind? I get that they are not suitable for soups etc.,

    • Jessica, you’re absolutely right about the disposable containers — they are flabby/flimsy, which is why there are special packing considerations to accommodate that aspect. There’s really no seal (so no moist foods) and they’d pop right open in your bag if you don’t wrap the whole container tightly and securely first (i.e. with a napkin, furoshiki, etc.). Definitely not a good permanent replacement for a proper lunch container, but absolutely acceptable for me as a disposable alternative that I’ll use maybe a few times a year.

      • Right, all comes down to the choice of food and packing. Probably not the best day to bring a mayo-based shrimp salad with you and have the whole thing spill over the contents of your bag in other words :).
        Do you get furoshiki-cloths or tie them in any cloth?
        I have gift-wrap cloths but I guess any that meet the requirements of the schedule would do just as well.

        • That’s a regular (large) cloth napkin from Pier 1, I believe, in the photo. The added benefit is that my husband can use it as a proper napkin when eating his meal (multi-tasker!). I seem to have gone through most of my smaller furoshiki (wrapping presents in them), so I’m on to alternate wrappings. Also, my husband prefers a plain, masculine wrapping for his bentos, and all of my furoshiki are more feminine. (I’m not a believer in emasculating my husband with girly lunch gear. ;-)

  6. Oh of course not, how could you force a girlish wrapper on him ;). He’s, after all, a man LOL.

    My gift-wrap furoshiki (how did I forget those are furoshiki too?), oh anyway, I guess I would be too careful with those to wrap a bento in them.
    Gift-wrapping gets you some great ideas on how to package things, as goes origami. Now people are getting to the point of not wanting to unwrap things. Well, just unwrap and I’ll redo it without the thing in it ;).

  7. And sorry to move off the subject of lunching and bentos over gift-wrap ;).

    • I don’t mind — it’s interesting and related!

  8. The disposable containers are so perfect for airplane trips! I’ve actually considered it myself for plane trips, especially now since so many airlines are not serving lunch on board anymore in order to save money. Plus, home cooked lunches are usually more healthy than the fare served at airlines :)

    • Exactly, amvn! On my last plane trip the only thing they had to eat was pretzels and some nasty “snack pack” for US$5, loaded with carbs and preservatives. Blech. It was such a luxury to unwrap two home-cooked meals with placemats and silverware — the flight attendants and other passengers said they were jealous.

  9. Yaaaay, furoshiki! And so easy for him to stow away afterwards.

    I didn’t know about the donut nectarines. I found the peaches to be highly amusing, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise they’ve managed to smush down nectarines into funny shapes as well. ^_^

  10. Love the idea about using a napkin as a furoshiki - I’ve done it today and my colleagues are going to go nuts when they see this - my lunches keep us occupied for at least 5 mins now while I point out all the different stuff to them now!

  11. Great ideas, and thanks for the furoshiki link.

    However, disposable plastic is SO VERY BAD. I do hope whatever you’re buying/using is recyclable.

  12. You are so creative! I love this blog. And thanks for the fantastic how-to-wrap guide.