Bentos and Quick Meals

I haven’t had time to write an in-depth post, so here’s a quick one about quick meals.

I’ve already written a bit about food on the fly, but I’ve been hearing more requests for classes and information about meal planning and quick meals, so here are a couple of other tips and suggestions.

Now this might not work for everybody, but I have found bento (Japanese lunchbox) blogs to be a great resource for quick meals. For me, a bento usually takes 20-40 minutes to cook and put together, and I often increase certain portions of the dish (for example, cook more black bean burgers) so I can use that as a base for other meals (dinner, for instance). In 20-40 minutes, I can have one to three separate meals prepared – not bad! My favorite blog at the moment is Just Bento, but I’ve used Lunch in a Box quite a bit, too.

The meal on the left took maybe ten minutes to put together; you can find its more attractively-photographed equivalent here. I had black bean burgers left over from another bento, and following food on the fly strategy, I had pita, yogurt, garlic powder, salt, jam, fruits, and veggies on hand (my salad mix got a little frosty in my fridge, so try to ignore how wilted it looks). I bought the starfruit on a whim – star-shaped fruit! It’s important to remember that adults -not just kids- can find food boring. If you always have sandwiches for lunch and find yourself making poorer food choices as time goes on, I encourage you to mix it up a little – try soup once, or add a special or interesting food like starfruit. One thing I like about bentos is that they help reduce the “bored” factor – in this meal especially, as you can customize your pita to the savoriness (with garlic salt and yogurt) and your yogurt treat to the sweetness (with the jam) that you’d like. Don’t forget that natural colors and textures are a great way to add variety to your meals!

I’ll often sit down at the beginning of the week with a list of what’s in my fridge and plan my meals for the rest of the week. Again, this might not work for you, but I find that looking over food blogs and my cookbooks (on a full stomach) gives me a lot of ideas about how I can use the foods I have on hand to make tasty, diverse meals. I’ve often planned a couple of bentos for the week, used components of the bentos to make two different dinner options, and made a crock pot meal, and that will feed me (a single person) for the week. For the one or two meals I inevitably don’t have planned each week, I improvise. Pictured on the right is such an improvisation: I had some cooked rice left over, some salad I needed to eat up, and some Quorn meatless & soy-free tenders I wanted to try out (they’re delicious, for the record). I added some flavor by cooking the Quorn with Worcestershire sauce (I’m allergic to soy, otherwise I would’ve used that), rice vinegar, walnut oil, and spices, and sprinkled it all with sesame seeds for good measure. It was super easy (maybe 10 minutes total), super tasty, and super healthy.

Once again along the “mix it up” lines: don’t be afraid to try new things with breakfast, too. I get tired of oatmeal very easily, no matter what proportions of brown sugar, nuts and seeds, fruit, maple syrup, nut butters, and so forth that I add, so I’m always looking for new breakfast options. I had some mashed sweet potato left over from a bento, so I decided to chance it and have that for breakfast. Oh. My. Goodness. Delicious. I added walnuts, a little brown sugar, and heated it up mixed with a little milk. It was creamy, sweet but not overly so, and filling without feeling like cement in my stomach, like oatmeal often does. I used this recipe as my inspiration, but altered it considerably.

When you’re trying new recipes or combinations, start by only making one or two meals’ worth at a time – on the off chance that you make something inedible, you won’t have wasted as much food. I don’t consider myself a very good cook -and certainly not a creative one- but only two of the dishes out of the hundreds that I’ve cooked have been inedible. Don’t let fear hold you back – there’s a world of new culinary tastes and sights awaiting you! (Feel free to share any food blogs you’ve found helpful or your cooking tips and tricks in the comments!)


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