My office for work is located in a food dead zone.
Located in the middle of a huge warehouse district in South Brooklyn, the closest place to grab a bite to eat is Wendy's down the street. Besides that, there's pretty much zero other options besides an occasional Dunkin Donuts and traditional Brooklyn pizza shops. Nothing is healthy, and being vegan only further complicates things.
We also have no onsite vending machines of any kind. Or coffee makers. The closest things we get to either is what we lovingly refer to as the "roach coach", otherwise known as the coffee truck. It arrives without fail at 10 am every day to serve bitterly burnt coffee and bags of chips so tiny they'd barely satiate a child. As a result, I've been more or less forced to learn to get really efficient at brown-bagging my lunch.
My solution to make packing both my lunch and snacks a breeze? The bento.
Bentos are single portion, home cooked meals which are common in Japanese cuisine. They're packed into tiny boxes and feature a healthy, well-rounded meal meant to be eaten at room temperature.
When I first learned about bentos, I purchased some traditional Japanese ones from a Japanese vendor. The size of the box is supposed to correspond to the number of calories you should eat at your meal. While this method is a great way to execute portion control, I had a few issues with these style boxes:
They work best for traditional Japanese foods. Rice, a protein (meat or fish usually) and some cooked or pickled vegetables usually round out traditional bentos. Only issue with this is I'm American and don't make Japanese style food all the time. It was difficult to fit sandwiches and other types of cuisine into these boxes.
I don't always like to eat room temperature food, And not all Japanese bentos are microwave safe.
No room for snacks. I'm gone all day, and needed a bit more space for at least two sets of snacks.
No place to keep utensils. On Japanese boxes, if there is a space built in it's almost always for chopsticks. That then takes me back to bullet point #1.
They aren't leak proof. A traditional Japanese bento has sauces packed separately. While the containers they use for them are super adorable, they're a pain to clean. Plus I'm lazy. I needed something I could pour a sauce on and not have the box leak.
After trying several different types of boxes over the years, I finally found my favorite one. It's called the Bentgo and it's available on Amazon. It solves all the issues I had with my previous boxes including:
It's a larger size, which is more appropriate for American portions but still small enough you can toss it in your purse or tote bag.
It's microwave safe.
Top box has space for two snacks.
Standard utensils are included and built into the leak-proof packaging.
They also come in adorable colors, and are inexpensive! If you're interested in purchasing a Bentgo you can get them here.
Now that I found the perfect vessel to pack my meals for the day, the actual packing part is a breeze. All I do is either pack dinner leftovers or a sandwich in the main container, and my pre-planned snack options for the week in the divided one. I usually try to keep my snacks to a sweet one for the morning with my coffee, and savory for the afternoon.
Here's some examples:
Leftover curry, stir fry or other ethnic foods and a grain, like rice or quinoa
Leftover stews (soups or anything too liquidy doesn't work in this container)
A salad (pasta and grain salads work great in bentos!)
Clean-out the fridge leftovers (like shown below, pesto shells, lemon tofu and green beans)
Fresh fruit and nuts
Hummus and cut veggies or crackers
Rice cakes with toppings like almond butter and jam, or guac and radishes
Baked goods like banana bread or muffins
The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.
Packing my bento each night and eating it the next day always makes me smile. They make your food seem so much prettier and appealing. Sure beats a sad looking sandwich in a ziplock.
Do you brown-bag it to work each day?
This post is not sponsored by Bentgo. I just really like their product.