A Simple Guide into eating Healthy, Budgeting & Surviving in a busy, corporate, Mega-City

The BUSY Bento Box for Busy Guys and Gals - Easy Lunchbox Ideas

Thursday, 6 July 2017

If you're not familiar what a bento is, you should really start opening your world to it. Chances are, you've heard it or seen it on Japanese Restaurants Menus or maybe you've watched a video online about a cute lunchbox with different portions that are just too cute to eat. 

A Bento (弁当, べんと う) is a Japanese word for a lunchbox or a home-packed meal that mainly consists of rice, a type of protein (meat or fish) and other vegetables and fruits. Portion and variety are the main elements you'll see in a typical bento but it's become more of a cultural phenomenon that nowadays you have endless choices and categories of what a bento would and should be/look like. 

Eating healthy is not just cutting back on food or depriving yourself. It's a lifestyle and a way of life. Things that help you adapt to this new way of life and a new way of eating will definitely vary but let me just introduce you to this cute and subtle art of Bento Boxes. This helps keep you from being dissatisfied with eating vegetables, encourages creativity and ingenuity. This will keep you from ordering lunch ever again! 


Depending on which part of the world you're from, you might have a different perspective or view of food and eating. Although food is a wonderful thing that brings people together, many have strayed away from the deep connections one has to have with the food they eat. Now we have foods that are not real, foods you can take while you're running or foods that can come by knocking on your door when you're alone and you're feeling like binge-watching on Netflix and binge-eating french fries. 

You might have some sort of idea what "Eating with your eyes" means and how to apply this to the food you consume every single day. Our Japanese friends have practiced and introduced this concept to the world and I believe in it and swear by it. 

The Japanese way of eating with your eyes is a habit you can develop and it's going to help tremendously if you're trying to change your eating habits and health habits. 

Things you'll need: 

2 cups of uncooked White Jasmine rice (more than enough for 4 lunch boxes) 
3 cups of water
Sheets of Nori or dried Seaweed (optional)
Japanese Mayo (optional)
Cayenne Pepper (if you want to add more taste to your rice) 

4 eggs beaten 
Organic Almond Milk
Freshly Ground Black Pepper 
Cayenne Pepper

1 Tbsp of Ghee 
3 Carrots (sliced any way you want)
2 cups Frozen Spinach
1 onion 

So this new recipe from me is nowhere near the traditional Japanese-way of preparing a bento box (lunch box/packed lunch) but it does apply some of the most basic elements from traditional Bento boxes. 
You have the rice. Rice is eaten by millions of people all over the world and this is not just applicable in Asia. There's also some debate whether rice is really good for you but we won't dive into that here. You can use other alternatives for white rice like brown rice, red rice, black rice or crushed Cauliflower, Couscous or Quinoa

I used white rice with Mirin or Rice Vinegar to give it a more Japanese taste to it. Rice with Mirin is typically the type of rice you find when you're eating sushi. It's sweet and tangy and it partners very very well with the seaweed or Nori. 

You can use a rice cooker or just a regular cooking pan to cook your rice. I used white Jasmine Rice because I generally just prefer it that way. If you'd like to do this with basmati rice or any other coarse rice you might have a hard time forming your rice ball. But my recipe is just a suggestion for you guys. You can tweak and change the things you add to this depending on the vegetables you like. The aim is for you to get inspired to eat healthier with easier options. 


Most of the Asian expats in Dubai own a rice cooker so if you have that, you can use this ratio for great, smooth and sticky rice. But if you don't own a rice cooker, you'll have to really pay attention to your rice while it's cooking. You can cook it for about 20 minutes more or less. You'll have to cook it longer if your rice is still not fully and thoroughly cook but you'll have to watch it otherwise it's easy to burn the rice if you don't have a rice cooker. 
After the rice is cooked, you can let it cool down a bit so you don't burn your fingers when you are trying to mold it. You can let it cool down for 15 minutes. Then you can add your mirin. 
If you don't like mirin, you can add salt and Japanese Mayonaise (Kewpie). But since we're trying to reduce adding unhealthy things to your healthy lunchbox I would discourage it. But if you'd like more flavor to your rice, you can add the mayo. Then add the Cayenne Pepper depending on how spicy you like it. But for me, just a little bit can already make your rice ball a winner. 

Then, you can cut your nori or seaweed and decorate your rice ball. If you don't like seaweed, you can skip it. 

If you love Japanese Food & Cusine, this would be great for you. It's not as simple and a little bit more time consuming that just shoving your rice in your lunchbox but the effort and creativity you put in it will make you appreciate your cooking even more. And it will less likely encourage you to overeat. If you're eating something that is this good-looking and tasty, I bet you won't even think about Mickey Dee's or KFC. 

You might be intimidated with how the eggs look and you might think you will probably need to be a pro chef to make this stuff, but you don't. All you need is patience and practice. You won't even need a rectangular pan (although this will make it easier for you to make it). 

Tamagoyaki is a Japanese-style rolled omelette. You've probably encountered one of these during your time at a Japanese Restaurant or a Sushi Bar. My version is not as immaculate or perfect but it's still cute and packed with flavor. 
Traditional Tamagoyaki is usually flavored with Soy Sauce and Sugar but for my recipe, I used a little bit of Almond Milk, Pepper and Cayenne Powder. 

I don't have a rectangular pan that's specially made for making Japanese Tamagoyaki. I used my round non-stick pan for this one and it turned out pretty great. But mind you, it does take some practice. If you don't feel like going through all that trouble for some eggs, you can boil an egg, cut it and neatly place it in your lunchbox as well. 

You can watch some videos of how to make a tamagoyaki on the links below

But I will also share my own way so you can make it at your homes with just the basic kitchen tools so you don't scratch your head while you're reading through all this >< 


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The best part of your lunchbox should be the easiest. I used Frozen Spinach for this recipe. I defrosted the frozen spinach on a hot pan. When all the ice and water are gone, I added some ghee in a hot pan and sautéd it with onions and chopped carrots. 

Some of you guys reading from different parts of the world would argue that the fresh vegetables would still be the better option of you can skip grocery shopping by going to the farmers' market. However, where I live (the desert), there is no farmers market readily available for everyone. You only have big grocery stores and produce that have traveled long and far to get there. Often times it will be very difficult to find great produce that is not super expensive. You usually get reject greens and you have to really fight for great vegetables. The best produce will come from the Netherlands but their vegetables are generally three to four times more expensive than local produce. 

These are the reasons why I really rely on frozen vegetables. They're cheap and they're easy to work with. Once in a while, I do splurge on asparagus or some premium mixed greens and fresh spinach but if you're like me who's working with a limited budget but I still want to eat great and healthy food, then this is the way I would be suggesting. 


1. Smaller Portions and Wider Variety

Instead of eating just a salad for lunch or instead of eating just a sandwich and some crisps or instead of ordering chicken and rice, you can introduce more variety to your diet with this method. If you're cooking for yourself you'd still have to buy in bulk and chances are you'll end up with a lot of leftover vegetables after one dish. Making bento boxes can let you sneak in your leftovers in a more innovative way without spending more and less food waste. 

Add your fruit of the week since you can buy fruits that are in season and usually cheaper by bulk. Rather than going to the convenient store and buying a cup of fruit for like 8 AED which usually have added sugars in them. 

What I usually do is I either get avocados, kiwis or bananas (usually prices will vary depending on season) but when Kiwi is on sale, I eat kiwi most of the days of the week. I add it to my lunchbox and usually pair it with raw almonds for snacks. Just think about the food you enjoy and are generally good for you. Skip the junk. You won't really need it. Trust me. 

2. Put more effort into your food - You'll appreciate it more

I have this obsession that my food needs to be pretty. Really pretty. I make an effort at plating and presentation and I think this is where most people skip. 

I enjoy my food. I still eat junk. But now, I know better. In my mind, I would be thinking a cheesy and beefy cheese would trump this lunch but the mindset is slowly changing. Now, when I look at how great my lunchbox looks, how interesting the rice is set up, how great the carrots would be coated in spinach and how exotic it would be to bite into egg rolls with a dash of cayenne pepper, the stimulation of thought distracts me from grabbing my phone and checking online menus from fast-food chains or other restaurants that use too much salt or too much sugar or too much oil in their food. I appreciate my lunchboxes more and when I eat with co-workers they're interested in what the elements are. How you make your food and your choices kind of inspired them to do the same. It's a great ripple effect especially for young professionals who are too busy to cook/prep meals, too lazy to try or the worst — people who cannot cook entirely. You don't have to make intricate bentos every week but it does add a good variety instead of eating boiled chicken and peas every single day. That habit takes out the fun and enjoyment of food and you don't really want to be miserable just because you're eating healthy, right? 

3. More Colors = More Nutrients 

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There are so many things you should be eating that are not from processed and packaged boxes off the grocery shelf. Head on to the fresh produce area and immerse yourself in the variety and just imagine the endless possibilities you can put into your daily diet. 

For example:

My grocery shopping list will always consist of "Fillers". Veggies that are always there so I can just snack on them or add them to dishes as filling or just general lunchbox eye candy but will never place last with nutrients and flavor. 

I would always have:  

Bell Peppers (Red, Yellow and Green) 
Sweet Potato - Boil and Mash
Spinach (Fresh and Frozen) 
Frozen Mixed Vegetables

The more colors you introduce to your lunchbox and dinners, the more enjoyable healthy eating will be. If you're unsure how to cook one particular veggie, you have the internet as a guide. Hundreds and hundreds of recipes and you can base your side dishes around your staples or fillers so you stay within the budget and you don't end up buying things you can't cook or don't know how to cook. You also discover more dishes and more recipes and the more you get used to them the more you can tweak them and make them your own. Soon enough you'll have a wider range of dishes you can cook while being more consious of which to buy, how to buy and which choices are better for you.

4. Presentation encourages creativity, Don't be boring! 

 This is a bento I've done some time ago. I used steamed squash instead of rice, I have the tamagoyaki and I have mixed vegetables on the side. It's simple but it has different colors and it's really Instagram-worthy if you ask me.

For me, presentation is everything and if you're looking into changing your eating habits, I recommend adding this routine to your daily meals. The more you appreciate your meals, the more you will be connected to the food you will be consuming. The more connected you are to your food, the more conscious you will be of the food you put inside your body.

If I had a pizza or fried chicken for lunch, I won't be interested in it that much. I'll probably scroll through my facebook timeline while I bite into it and I would probably end up eating more than I should because I'm doing something else. But if you're eating a carefully prepared meal, you get a chance to reset the stress you've accumulated from the morning and just focus on the art you've worked on and will be consuming. It's also a great ice breaker and you'll feel more inspired to prepare healthier and cuter lunchboxes. It doesn't have to be expensive. One bag of mixed vegetables will last me two weeks and it would be 6-8 AED depending on the brand you will pick. That's not even enough to buy one take-away meal. It doesn't have to be expensive.
Be creative! Don't be boring! Happy eating!

5. Research! 

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You can't cook anything if you don't have any info.

Before hitting the groceries, research. You have to make a list. Make a food plan first and then choose the veggies or meat you need. Check your fridge for things you still have or things you don't have. Always practice FIFO (First in- First Out) to avoid forgotten vegetables and food waste. Pick 3 meals from the internet which you'd like to try and see which ingredients you can use for cheaper or more local substitute.  Research! Watch cooking shows. Tweak the recipes you find. You can always use other alternatives if you find a fancy-looking recipe. All you need to do is up on the presentation. It doesn't need to be expensive! Research is key to a cheaper grocery shopping list without compromising on flavor and health benefits. Research! Research! Research!

Again, you don't have to break the bank to eat healthily. You don't have to be a master chef to create great dishes that would impress your friends and or your life partner. You don't have to suffer because you've decided to eat healthily and not eat junk. You can enjoy food even if you're trying to eat healthily or try to lose weight. It just comes with portions, moderation, variety and a whole lot of planning. Thanks for reading and I'll see you guys again soon for more tips and more recipes! 

3 comments on "The BUSY Bento Box for Busy Guys and Gals - Easy Lunchbox Ideas"
  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Kate! I'm glad you liked the post! Have you tried the recipe?
      I hope you're having a great day!

  2. Considering I have college and a job together and I hardly get to eat anything because of my busy routine, this looks something which will help me overcome this issue.