Sunday, March 6, 2011
I think I was Japanese in a past life.
I have a friend who lived in Japan for a while and then worked as a translator and went back and forth a lot, and whenever she tells me about some Japanese thing she thinks I’ll like, I always think it’s the coolest thing.
A while back she sent me a link to Just Bento, a website about Japanese boxed meals called bento, and reading it made me wish I had a job so I could take my lunch somewhere in a little box like that.
One of the things that most Americans eat a lot of that I don’t rely on much is sandwiches, because I think sandwiches are generally not cost-effective. I think you can make it work if you grow vegetables and make your own bread, and use things like hummus that can be made cheaply. But deli meats are expensive — not to mention really high in sodium — and good bread and cheese also tend to be not cheap. (Basically, good bread is not cheap and cheap bread is not good.)
Peanut butter and jelly is the cheapest sandwich you’re going to find, but even that costs more than leftovers. Also PB&J has an image problem because of its popularity among the preschool set. Though I never let that stop me, it’s still my favorite sandwich.
It’s been so long since I worked in an office that I don’t actually remember what I used to take, though I think I’d eat soup or leftovers usually. The reason I like the bento idea is because it’s basically leftovers, but it’s packaged in a way that makes it easy to transport and eat, and it’s so … cute! and organized! … that it seems especially appealing. (I was talking to a friend about this and she said it reminded her of the Molly Ringwald character in The Breakfast Club, pulling out her sushi. I suspect that reference will resonate with some demographics more than others.)
It also has a built-in portion control, and seems like a great approach if you’re trying to lose weight. There are a few good posts on the site about estimating calories per meal and different strategies for packing a lower calorie versus a higher calorie box.
One thing I found really interesting was the comment about trying to limit salty foods. This is something I discovered through a brief stint with the Rice Diet, that reducing or eliminating sodium does much to eliminate food cravings. I think it’s interesting that the Japanese have a word for salty things that means basically “makes you eat more.”
You should also watch out for the salt content in prepared foods like pickles and furikake. Salt doesn’t make you ‘fat’ per se, but high salt items in your bento will make you want more rice. In fact, things like pickles are intended to make you consume more rice (the phrase used is gohan ga susumu, “rice goes more”).
But anyway, it seems to me that you can do this totally cost-effectively — rice is one of the cheapest things around, and many of the options are things like lightly cooked vegetables or pickles that you don’t need a lot of. Also it totally fits in with my approach of making things and putting the extra in the freezer and then using that later. So you have a lot to work with without having to do a lot of extra work.
So if you’re looking for good lunch options for taking things to work, check out the Just Bento site.
And I would definitely do this if I ever left my house.