www.justbento.com is our favorite site for bento boxes.  See that site for classic bento box recipes.  The author also wrote a book The Just Bento Cookbook, which is worth checking out, although the site also duplicates the same recipes and is excellent.  Anything can go in a bento box from Yellowtail Teriyaki to Salted Salmon to Rice Balls, and even left over Korean food, which is our favorite for a next-day bento box lunch.  There are other books as well, such as Japanese Meals on the Go: Bento Boxes, which is really just a collection of Japanese recipes.  There is also the Yum-Yum Bento Box cookbook, which filled with cute pictures and should be a model for kid’s bento box favorites.  For real cooking recipes and advice, you can’t go wrong with skipping the books and just going to www.justbento.com.

The basics of how to fill a classic bento box

Bento contents, 2-tier bento (580ml capacity):

  • 1 cup (1 cup=220ml) white rice, 240 cal
  • 1 small piece salted salmon, 50 cal
  • 1-egg tamagoyaki, 100 cal
  • Approx. 1/2 cup sweet pepper and onion confit, 40 calories
  • Blanched broccoli flowerets, 10 cal
  • Blanched snow peas (mangetout) 5 cal
  • Yukari (furikake made from umeboshi and red shiso leaves)

Handy gap fillers

As I have shown, the more tightly you can pack your bento, the less things will shift around, and the more attractive and appetising the bento will appear when it’s opened at lunchtime. I try to use vegetable-based items as gap fillers whenever possible. Here are some good gap fillers:

  • Anything I have premade and stocked, like carrot kinpira. See the Side dishes and space fillers section for more ideas.
  • Plain boiled or blanched broccoli, broccoli rabe or cauliflower florets
  • Blanched snow peas, green beans
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Parsley leaves
  • Bright green lettuce leaves (though don’t use them around warm food or they go limp and soggy)
  • Small pieces of pickled vegetables (but watch out for the salt content)
  • Shredded cabbage
  • Firm grapes, if you don’t mind mixing savory and sweet

If you choose your gap fillers with an eye towards color as well as flavor and nutrition, you’ll end up with a first class bento box!