If you have any little ones in your life (or you're simply a grown-up kid yourself), Just Bento has has posted Maki's Top 10 Bento Rules for Back-to-School. Rules listed below, click through for full explanations.
Step 1 Make your bentos reasonably healthy and balanced.
Protein. Veggies. Carbs. Bentos should be balanced, like any healthy meal. Maki says: "I realize that it's sometimes difficult to pack lunch for picky kids. This is where cute charaben bentos come in - they were originally devised as a means for Japanese moms to get their picky kids to eat healthy food. Why not try some vegetables cut into flowers, or a healthy sandwich with a smiley face, and see how your kids react? Another idea that I talked about previously is to just use stickers."
Step 2 Keep it simple.
Bentos can be time consuming! Maki says: "I stick to a maximum of four or five different items per box for everyday bentos; many of my bentos contain three items or less."
Step 3 Make sure the bento is tasty.
Taste above looks. Taste above health? Your choice.
Step 4 Make the bento fun, colorful and attractive, but don't fuss too much.
Bentos should be fun and decorative, but they shouldn't take over your life (unless bento is your life's passion. Maki says: "Here's a general rule of keeping bento decorating time — the time needed for the addition of things like cutely cut vegetables or decorated rice balls — to a maximum of ten minutes per bento for everyday bentos. Usually it takes me no more than five minutes to add a fun, decorative element."
Step 5 Use seasonal, locally grown, natural ingredients when possible.
Use seasonal produce, and stay away from pre-made process foods! If you must use processed foods, select those with the least additives.
Step 6 Pay attention to safety and hygiene.
Maki says: "When packing food that may have to sit at room temperature for some time before being eaten, it's crucial to follow proper, safe, bento-packing practices."
- Don't use your bare hands.
- Don't lick your fingers.
- Use an ice pack in warm weather or for food that may spoil.
Step 7 Plan ahead.
Step 8 Stock up on homemade and store-bought staples.
Maki says: "Try to keep at least a few such items stocked in my freezer, refrigerator, or pantry. Most of my bento staples are homemade—I usually make them when I'm cooking dinner, or when I have some time on the weekends. I have a stock of store bought staples too."
Step 9 Keep it cheap.
Maki says: "Stick to economical cuts of meat and fish, and vegetables that are in season." After all, a packed lunch is meant to save you money, not cost more than going out.
Step 10 Don't try to replicate Japanese bentos made in Japan (not all the time).
Maki says: "While the increasing popularity of Japanese food worldwide has meant that staple ingredients such as soy sauce and miso are getting much easier - and economical - to buy, many fresh ingredients that are taken for granted in Japan are hard or impossible to get outside of regions with large Japanese expatriate or immigrant populations. And if you can get hold of them, they may be too expensive for the average household budget."