Oh bento! 6 lunchbox ideas.

Melbourne’s first week of Autumn (Fall) has been a stinker – it has been hovering around 35° (95°F), and that’s way higher than my optimal operating temperature of 25°.
It’s the perfect weather for outdoor dining though, and we especially love a good obento picnic. If you’re not familiar with the term, obento (or bento) is the Japanese word for food packed into a partitioned lunchbox. My boys adore bento meals, as they’re high on novelty, and easy to eat (and clean up). They’re also excellent to pack for school or work lunches.
Below are a few of our favourite combinations from the last few months. All the recipes are on the blog. Be warned though – I’m not a bento purist so they’re a bit of a cross-cultural mishmash.
BTW, you can find beautiful lacquered wooden bento boxes, but cheap and cheerful plastic ones are easier to transport. They’re available from the fabulous Daiso, or online from Biome or Little Bento.
PS. I often post lunch ideas such as these on the 1=2 Facebook page, and they don’t always make it to this blog, so do follow me there if you’d like to!

Bento box ideas 1–3Bento box ideas 4–6

OBENTO 1: Tsukune (Japanese teriyaki chicken meatballs)
⅓ quantity tsukune
Blanched asparagus spears, scattered with toasted white sesame seeds
Sushi rice (recipe below), scattered with toasted white sesame seeds
The linked tsukune recipe makes a huge serve of tsukune, about 60 balls in total, essentially three serves of 20 balls. You’ll need one serve (20 balls and ⅔ cup sticky glaze) for 4 bento boxes; approximately 6 tsukune balls per adult and 4 balls per child. I keep them frozen (with their sauce) and defrost overnight, for a super-quick mid-week dinner. Serve warm or at room temperature.

OBENTO 2: Sweet potato, quinoa and edamame salad with miso dressing
Sweet potato, quinoa and edamame salad with miso dressing
Pan-fried chicken tenderloins, scattered with toasted black sesame seeds
Pita bread, quartered
The linked salad recipe allows for planned-overs, which can be used for rather nice sweet potato, quinoa and salmon cakes.

OBENTO 3 (classic bento): Mixed rice sushi hand rolls
Mixed rice sushi hand rolls
Blanched edamame (salted soy beans)
Sliced tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) – recipe below
My mixed rice sushi recipe makes 12 hand rolls plus planned-over rice for onigiri balls (these are great in bento boxes too, or for school lunch boxes). You can also make traditional white rice sushi, using my sushi rice recipe at the bottom of this post.

OBENTO 4: Pulled pork po’boys
Pork po’boys
Home-made BBQ sauce, or store-bought
Puréed apple or apple sauce
Apple slaw
The linked po’boy recipe is Part 2 of a post on slow-cooked pulled pork, which is also fabulous served with caramelised apples (see recipe).

OBENTO 5: Manoushe bi za’atar (mini Lebanese pizzas with za’atar)
Manoushe bi za’atar (Lebanese pizzas with za’atar), made into mini pizzas
Home-made kid-friendly hummus, or store-bought
Carrot and celery crudites
Use my manoushe recipe to make mini pizzas. Cut little rounds of pizza dough, about 7cm (2¾”) in diameter. A full quantity of wholemeal (wholewheat) pizza dough will yield about 40 mini pizzas (you can make a half serve if preferred). Bake at 220°C (425ºF) for 8–10 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn!

OBENTO 6: Poached chicken, avocado and asparagus salad
1 serve Poached chicken, avocado and asparagus salad
Steamed corn on the cob
Wholemeal dinner roll
You can make a kid-friendly version of this salad with poached chicken, chopped avocado and grated carrot or carrot sticks. You can even toss in a chopped boiled egg!


Perfect sushi rice
2 cups Japanese white sushi rice, rinsed and drained 3 times
3 cups water
1 tablespoon caster sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons Japanese rice wine vinegar
Black or white sesame seeds, toasted, for sprinkling 

This method looks complicated, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s a cinch!
Place rice and water into a large saucepan with a tight fitting lid.
Bring to the boil. Stir, turn the heat right down, place a piece of foil over the top of the pot and replace the lid. Simmer for 12 minutes. Remove lid and foil, and remove from heat.
Place a clean dry tea towel over the top of the pot and replace the lid. Allow the pot to stand for about 10 minutes – the tea towel will absorb the excess moisture.
Meanwhile, make the rice seasoning liquid by combining sugar, sea salt and rice vinegar.
Place the cooked rice into a large non-metallic container and pour in seasoning liquid. Use a large wooden spoon or rice paddle to carefully ‘slice’ through the rice and distribute the seasoning liquid.
Spread the cooked rice out on a large tray or 2 large plates, and quickly cool it by fanning a plate above it. The rice should become lovely and glossy. Refrigerate for up to 10 hours. Bring to room temperature for about ½ an hour before serving. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds.

  • Draining and rinsing your sushi rice three times seems excessive, but it will prevent your rice from becoming gluggy.
  • Japanese rice wine vinegar is available from large supermarkets and Asian food stores.
  • You can toast the sesame seeds yourself, or cheat and buy them pre-toasted from Asian food stores.

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon caster sugar

Tamagoyaki is a sweet rectangular-shaped omelette. Kids love it, and you can whip it up in minutes! It’s fabulous sliced up in nori handrolls too.
Whisk eggs, mirin, soy sauce and sugar together. Place the mixture into an oiled, non-stick frying pan. Cook until it’s half set. Fold in half with a spatula. Fold top down, and bottom up. Press down, and flip over. Lightly fry the other side. You can roll it up in a sushi mat, pressing hard, for an extra dense omelette; or slice it up as is.

Footnote: Thanks Greatist.com for featuring Obento #2 in your 34 Healthy and Eye-Catching Bento Box Lunch Ideas roundup; and Buzzfeed for sharing Obento #1 in your Mouthwatering lunches to take to work post!