What is bento?
Bento is a boxed meal. If you want to get technical, it's any boxed meal, including takeout from a fast food restaurant or a frozen TV dinner.
Bento, however, is also an 'art'. I'm not only talking about the uber cute bentos with cartoon characters or landscapes. To me, a well balanced meal, both in taste, texture, and nutrition, is a work of art. *Though I do have to admit that I love looking at the cute creations people put together!*
There are a couple ratio rules I've seen, but my thought is that if you have a little of everything, then you are doing well. I usually pack a starch, a protein, a vegetable or two, and some fruit. I'm not as worried about what ratio I am packing, though usually the items are about equal to eachother (though I sometimes forego the fruit).
And don't worry about whether your food is Japanese, Asian, or just plain old everyday food. Fact is, if you are going to bento and stick to it, you should enjoy the stuff that you pack and it should be stuff you actually *will* pack!
Why do I bento?
The answer to that is very simple... I love food. More so, I love well made, home cooked food. I like the fact that when I make bentos, I can use up leftovers easily. Even if I only have a few tablespoons of something left, those few tablespoons can be a wonderful addition to my meal. I love the versatility in textures, flavors, and colors. A well packed bento can be very filling and hold as much food as a normal meal (if not more).
I have made bento lunches, bento breakfasts, and bento dinners. It all depends on what's going on in my life. My husband loves to make and eat bento meals too, and we plan to make bento meals for our child when he's old enough to eat something other than breastmilk.
What do I usually pack?
Here's a list of what I normally have or prefer for each category:
Protein - Ojinga bokkeum (korean spicy squid stirfry), Bulgogi (korean marinated, grilled meat), garbanzo beans, and eggs. Sometimes I'll get some hotdogs and have octidogs. Yum! I do pack other meats (like chicken, pork, seafood, etc), but mainly, I love to eat the stuff I just listed.
Starch - Normally white rice. I know brown is better, but I have to watch my money and white rice is easier and cheaper to get (especially from the asian markets). Whether the rice is plain, has a little soy sauce, is in the shape of onigiri, or is fried doesn't matter. I like them all. Sometimes I have potatoes, usually made in a korean style. See a trend?
Vegetables - Frozen sugar snap peas, kimchi (spicy pickled korean vegetables... usually I go for the nappa cabbage or baechu kimchi), refridgerator pickles (just pickles in a vinegar-sugar mixture I make), sliced carrots, or whatever veggies are mixed into my fried rice. I've also been getting into vegetable curries.
Fruit - Usually oranges, apples, or grapes. I do add other fruit, but these are usually a staple in my kitchen and are my 'fall backs'.
Treat - Sometimes the fruit is the treat, but sometimes not. So, when it's not fruit, I will sometimes pack little licorce scotties, homemade desserts, small candies, etc. These are rare though.
Extra - A prenatal multivitamin pill is a semi-staple, due to the fact that I'm breastfeeding, though I would use a normal one in my bentos anyways. Also soy sauce, sesame seeds, and nori are not uncommon in my bentos.
Below are a few more examples of my past (and early) bentos: