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Bento is a colorful Japanese tradition that creates a balanced and colorful portable meal in box or container. The name comes from a southern Japanese slang term that means “convenience.” Historically, bento was first made in Japan during the late Kamakura period (1185–1333), when dried meals were developed for workers and travelers. Today, bento is everywhere in Japan and has become popular in the United States—especially in California where Japanese influence is particularly strong.

Contemporary bento is made in a variety of styles, from basic lunches to elaborate preparations that form “images” of flowers or animals. Color and visual pop are key, with presentation often used to make healthy school lunches more attractive to children. A wide variety of ingredients can be used, with no limits apart from imagination.

Recipe Servings: 1

Prep Time
15 minutes
Cook Time
Total Time
15 minutes
Gluten Free
Dairy Free


For Carbohydrates, Choose One:
  • 1 cup white or brown rice, cooked
  • onigiri (rice balls)
  • Sandwich or wrap slices
For Proteins and Fruits and Vegetables:
  • ½ cup beef, chicken, pork, tofu, beans, or eggs, cooked as desired
  • ½ cup fruits or vegetables, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces


  1. Prepare the bento using small containers to secure the ingredients in a single box or larger container.
  2. Fill half the box with the chosen carbohydrate.
  3. Pack proteins into ¼ of the box, and fruits or vegetables into the other.
  4. Decorate the box and the ingredients, adding colored toothpicks or chopping fruits creatively, to produce an appealing effect.

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