I’ve mentioned before that I’m participating in a weight-loss challenge with a group of friends. Even though my progress has stagnated during the winter break, I’m renewing my commitment to portion control via the bento system. A friend introduced me to this style of eating, which is essentially making the most of your food container. Part of the idea is that the number of milliliters of your lunch box is roughly equivalent to the number of calories of the food. Here’s a link to Lunch in a Box that explains the concept.
Packing a bento does not require special containers; you can use Tupperware, those plastic to-go boxes with lids from the local take-out place, an empty margarine tub, etc. Of course, you can buy attractive containers too. Bento mostly refers to the way your food container is packed using the most of its space; it’s sort of like playing Tetris with your food. Some people like to make it super cute and attractive, like Sherimiya at Happy Little Bento. I don’t have her creative skills or those cute little accessories she has, so my bento are usually pretty mundane compared to hers; but man, do I want her skills! I’ll tell you one thing, though, bento is a nightmare for people who don’t like their food to touch!
Many people use bento as a way to control portion sizes, which is the reason I try to bento as often as I can. The Japanese use volume in milliliters to measure the sizes of different bento boxes; they’ve determined that a properly and nutritiously packed bento box will hold a calorie-equivalent meal. However, you have to bento intelligently. Clearly a 550 ml bento box full of fried chicken and onion rings will not actually equal 550 kcalories.
Am I an expert bento packer? Nope. In fact, I’m relatively new to the world of bento; I’ve only been doing it since September 2010, and not consistently. I’m trying to make time to cook large quantities of food and then either eat it all week long or come up with a different way to use the leftovers and still be able to pack bento for school.
Enough about what I think about bento! Wanna see what I had in my lunch bag for my first day of school? I’ll show you in a minute. First, let’s talk about what I made for lunch (and dinner).
A friend of mine makes something called Buffalo Chicken Dip, also known as Crack Dip or The Crack. I can’t reprint her recipe for you because, well, it’s not mine to share. I will share my version of it, though there are hundreds of variations of crack dip all over the web.
The night before school started, I was roasting some mushrooms and potatoes while feeling a little desperate for something else to pack for the next day’s lunch and dinner. I had The Crack and some tortilla wraps that the manufacturers somehow managed to cram 12 grams of fiber into. Which made me feel better about slapping some of The Crack onto the wrap. I rolled it tightly, sliced it cross-wise into pinwheels, and did the same with some salami and provolone (with mustard). Then the roasted potatoes were halved and mixed with a dollop of low-fat mayo, lemon, seasoned salt and pepper, and packed into the top tiers of each bento box. The mushrooms shared real estate with the pinwheels and were separated by a piece of wrap that I’d sliced off the ends of the rolled up pinwheels.
Buffalo Chicken “Crack” Dip
1 medium onion, peeled, diced, and sauteed in olive oil until lightly golden
1 cup hot sauce (I use Frank’s)
1/8 cup blue cheese, crumbled (you can buy a small tub of blue cheese crumbles at Trader Joe’s). Use as much as you like, or substitute with 1/2 cup bleu cheese/ranch dressing
8 oz brick cream cheese
2 lbs chicken breasts, gently poached and shredded
1/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
In the same pan you used to fry the onion, combine hot sauce, cheeses, and onion and heat over low flame until everything is melted. Stir in shredded chicken and sour cream. Serve with Fritos Scoops or tortilla chips, or roll into pinwheels like I did.