However, about 2 years ago, when I decided that I needed to eat out less and bring my own lunch to work more often, I stumbled upon the bento-phenomenon when browsing the internet for lunchbox ideas. Besides the cute ("kawaii") containers, the idea of little divider cups appealed to me since I don't like my food to touch each other (yes, I know I'm weird...)
Basically, a bento lunch is a Japanese-style lunchbox. It often contains leftovers from the previous night's dinner and is usually eaten at room temperature (although there also special thermal bento boxes available like the Mr Zojirushi lunch jar to keep your food warm). And the Japanese being the Japanese, there is an entire culture surrounding the making of bento boxes with all sorts of gear that makes you really greedy (long live internet webshops!) and an entire subculture of true food artists making intricate "kyaraben".
Lately, bento boxes seem to gain more and more popularity outside of Japan as well.
The traditional contents of a Japanese bento box are 3 parts carbohydrates, 2 parts vegetable, 1 part protein and occasional dairy and fruit additions.*
Personally, I don't pay too much attention to these proportions, but I try to always include all the food groups. I prefer more western-style foods as well (again due to my picky-ness...).
Food is packed densely in bento boxes, and a rule of thumb is that the volume of a bento box is equal to the caloric content. So a 600ml bento box should contain a 600 kCal meal. For this reason, online shops not only list the dimensions of the box, but also the volume.
Of course you don't need to buy special bento boxes, a regular Tupperware container or department store lunchbox works just as well (but honestly, what's the fun in that??)
If you have a regular box that you would like to measure the volume of, fill it completely with water and then measure the amount of water in a measuring cup.
Here are some of my recent lunchboxes for inspiration:
3 pitas (halved), mini meatballs with ketchup, humus, mini
tomatoes and a blueberry muffin.
wholewheat ciabatta, 2 types of cherry tomatoes,
homemade coleslaw, curry salad spread, instant
mushroom soup and a blueberry muffin.
Grandma's macaroni (brought warm in a thermal lunch jar), cucumber
and mini tomatoes, container of ketchup (for the macaroni)
and a blueberry muffin for dessert.
wholewheat sourdough bread, margarine, tortilla omelet, seedless
grapes and a tomato (and a small container with seasoning).
mini wholewheat crepes, container of syrup, seedless grapes.
potato salad, cucumber, tomato, heart-shaped egg + seasoning,
seedless grapes and bread (not pictured)
Turkish pide, seedless grapes, Hello Kitty-shaped egg,
instant mushroom soup.
homemade mini pizza (cut up to fit the box), cucumber,
raspberries, seedless grapes, blueberry muffin.
[sidenote: I made a whole batch of blueberry muffins, froze them and had one for lunch occasionally over the course of a few weeks - that is the reason why they seem to make an appearance in almost every photo above :-) ]
* Lunch in a Box