I pack bento boxes for lunch almost every day of the week. Bentos make it easy for me to do a couple of things with my lunches that, through other means, I’ve found personally difficult to control. I have almost no impulse control.
~Portion control: I’ve gained and lost a lot of weight over the last 7-8 years, partially due to job changes, partially due to a chronic condition that maybe I’ll talk about later. I really like eating, and cooking, so I enjoy planning my food for lunch at work. However, if there’s a big container of taco meat in the fridge, I’ll take the whole thing intending to spread it over two or three days worth of lunches but just eat it all that day. Bento boxes are small. They force you to think about how much of any given thing you want to take with you, and make maybe a more reasonable choice.
~Variety: There is a specific philosophy about how a proper bento is packed. Traditionally, it’s 3 parts carbs, 1 part protein and 2 parts other stuff (veggies & fruits). I don’t follow this specifically, mainly because I feel as though I need more protien than this in my diet. Really though, because a bento full of taco meat might be tasty, but boring, I’m more inclined to include a bunch of different things to make it interesting. And, I can have a little of all of the things I want.
~Using up the leftovers: Not in the traditional sense of using them. More like, these last three crackers will fit just fine in this space I have left in my bento. Or hmm, I have a little more room here, what do we have that will fit.
~A pretty lunch: Not all of my bentos are particularly attractive. In fact, most aren’t. Many, many bento websites are devoted to making attractive bentos. However, just having some variety in a bento kind of naturally makes it more appealing, especially if you have colorful food. And you can often pack them in such a way that they look like fancy-pants restaurant meals.
Now, I’m not a full-fledged bento lunch packer, for a couple of reasons. First, bento boxes are small. Really small. When packed according to traditional ratios, a bento box is supposed to be about 500-600 calories. Really, this is a pretty accurate measurements, and is a perfectly suitable lunch for a normal person. I have two problems with this though: I don’t pack according to the traditional ratios, so my bentos usually end up being a bit lower calorically. Also, since I run a lot, I need to eat an average of 2100-2300 calories per day to maintain my current weight and activity level. Since I don’t eat breakfast either, this means that a measly 600 calories won’t cut it if that’s all I eat until I get home (usually between 730 and 830pm.) So, to deal with this, I pack about two and a half bentos per day. Usually, I have my primary bento (which is lunch,) and a secondary bento (which is replaced by a can or bowl of soup, or a big fancy salad occasionally) and a snack bento (veggies, a cheese stick or some crackers or something like that.)
So, really, a bento is just a fancy way of packing one or more tiny cute lunchboxes. Anyone can do it. You don’t even need the tiny cute lunchbox part, though having some form of compartmentalization helps. I got most of my information when I started making bentos from Lunch In A Box and Just Bento. Both of these sites are really great resources, have faqs and recipes and all sorts of stuff.