Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It's Bento Time: Some "Guidelines"

I've been posting my lunches on Instagram and one of my friends felt that I should do blog posts on them. So first I thought I would go into what a bento is and how to go about making one.

I find that most of the internet is filled with ideas for kid bentos, but not so much for adults. The kid ones are very cute, but I want adult food and I don't want to make my food look like cartoon characters. There are a few sites that I do like to read that I feel are nonfrivolous to the approach of bento making:

I have also come across people on the internet that feel if your bento is not filled with traditional Japanese foods, it is just a boxed lunch and shouldn't be called a bento. This is silly. Bento means boxed lunch. Does this mean I have to call my lunch a different thing every time it has a different cuisine in it? Yeah, I'm not going to do that. Bento it is.

There are a lot of guidelines for a traditional bento, but they do not really work for me like a bento should not need to be kept cold or heated. Sorry, sometimes I want heated leftovers. Or that it should include three parts rice. I like rice but I really do not want rice with every meal.
I think making a bento work for you and what you like to eat is best, rules be damned. But: I feel that the rules do work really well as a base for creating your lunch, you just have to figure out which ones.

Here are a few of the guidelines that I try to keep in mind when I'm putting a lunch together because I feel that these are the easiest to apply and adapt:

First "rule": Goshiki or Five Colors
  • red or orange
  • yellow
  • green
  • white
  • black, purple or brown
I feel that as long as you try to get at least three colors, you are doing fine. And they don't have to be just the traditional colors on the list. Because really, how many black foods are there? I like olives, but not so much to have them every day.

I try to apply color variation to when I make dinners as well. The more colors mean more varied vitamins and nutrition. Also, more colors make a prettier bento! If you have foods that are all the same color, the food looks very bland and unappetizing. This usually only works if you were going for a theme, like an all green bento for St. Patrick's day.
Second "rule": Goho or Five Methods
  • grilled
  • fried
  • simmered
  • steamed
  • pickled/boiled
I don't know about going through all that. I interpret this as just trying to give a myriad of textures. You don't want an entire mushy bento, you'd want some crunch! And obviously, there are a lot more cooking methods. Get creative!

Third "rule": Gomi or Five Flavors:
  • bitter/spicy
  • salty
  • umami
  • sour
  • sweet
I combined bitter with spicy because I cannot come up with very many bitter foods. Coffee? That would be a strange lunch item... 

This one makes sense to me because if you cover all of these, you shouldn't be craving anything after. An all salty bento would have you reaching for a candy bar after. Or maybe that's just me. Eating the same kind of food is boring. A bento should be a feast for the eyes and the tongue!
I do not manage to accomplish all of this in EVERY lunch, but I do try! Keeping all this in mind does force me to think of different items to add every week.

So I will try to take more pictures (and make a "pretty" lunch more often) and maybe do a compilation post at the end of each week with some details on the food and prep involved. It's one thing to snap a quick pic for Instagram, but another thing altogether to make a blog post about it!


  1. LOVE this post! I'm always looking for new lunch ideas!

    1. Thank you :) I am always all over pinterest and various blogs to find lunch inspiration. I will try to make more posts about mine.

  2. This is really cool. Much more work than I probably would put into a lunch. I'm lazy. :(

    1. I have been making myself less lazy. I find if I make extra dinner, and put together most of the lunch the night before, it really doesn't take very much time. Most of these lunches are leftovers.

  3. Very nice post! I've started building bentos to take in my lunch to work, as well as wandering around the blogosphere, and see where you're coming from about differences between bentos for kids and for adults! Very informative on the guidelines portion, some of these I was totally unfamiliar with.

    1. I'm glad you liked the post and found it informative :) I do feel that most of the bento presence online is child-centric so it can be hard to find ideas for adults.