Tiffin Tuesday - The Grain-Free Bento

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Posted by Petra Hildebrandt

Whenever I read (quite useful) instructions on packing bentos, I stumble upon tipps like this one:

Plan your meal. Bento lunches traditionally consist of 4 parts rice, 3 parts protein, 2 parts vegetables and 1 part dessert or pickles. Even easier-- mentally divide the box in half. Half for rice, then 1/3 of the other half for protein, 1/3 for veggies and the final 1/3 for condiments and dessert.

While this is great advice, I sometimes feel at a loss. What are people on special diets supposed to do? E.g. my body doesn't respond too well to grains, to put it mildly - rice is one of the few things I can digest in small amounts, and I'd rather keep that portion for other occasions. If you are on a low-carb diet, or suffer from type 2 diabetes, having to control carbs, or are restricted in your food choices for one reason or another, especially when it comes to carbohydrates, you'll have to find alternatives.

On the other hand, this is one reason for me - and I bet many of you - to pack my own lunches, aside from better value for money: being able to control what is in my foods, catering for the needs of allergic children or spouses.

Still, rice, or noodles, bread, potatoes, are the obvious fillers in a bento - so we are in need of fresh ideas.

Here I packed feta cheese cubes, with a sprinkling of pepper, and halved grape tomatoes (actually the pepper came in a small paper sachet I had saved on an airplane trip last year, and waited under the lid until lunch time), cucumber pieces, an egg, and a tuna dipp.

In the spirit of getting back into the habit of packing bentos, here are just a few ideas for (not only) grain-free bentos:
  • grilled chicken pieces
  • leftover grilled steak, sliced
  • tiny brochettes (saté) with shrimp or meats or fish
  • paneer cubes
  • mini cheeses
  • cubed feta
  • eggs (think quail eggs!)
  • tamagoyaki, of course
  • omelette
  • konnyaku noodles (shirataki)
  • cooked chickpeas
  • tiny amounts of curry (any kind) to be eaten with torn romaine leaves
  • chicken or tuna salad, in muffin cups, or in cucumber cups or tomato halves
  • dips - guacamole, tuna dip, herbed quark or cream cheese, tsatsiki, hummus, Mexican bean dip, blue cheese dip, peanut dip, salsa
  • cooked beans
  • edamame
  • green beans
  • cherry tomatoes
  • kohlrabi sticks
  • celery sticks
  • carrot sticks
  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • bell pepper strips
  • pickles
  • mini salamis
  • nuts
  • dried fruit
  • steamed cauliflower or broccoli
  • olives
  • yogurt (any type)
  • berries
  • mango pieces, to name just some fruit (because some are rather evil on the glycemic load)

To replace flour, instead of using gluten-free mixes, you might coat chicken pieces with sesame before frying them - the sesame adds great nutrients, too!

If your diet allows them, potatoes and sweet potatoes make great fillers, from potato salad to braised sweet potato, as do jerusalem artichokes - I like to eat these raw, they have a great crunch and nutty taste.

Do you have allergies you need to consider when packing lunches? Please feel free to share your ideas for special diet bentos - we'd love to hear / read from you.

This post was written by Petra

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Good tips. I can totally use these for planning my lunches! Thanks a lot :)

Jhonny walker said...
November 10, 2009 at 8:26:00 PM GMT+1  

I don't do this enough and end up packing easy things rather than healthy. Great list, great tips!

Jamie said...
November 13, 2009 at 3:42:00 PM GMT+1  

I try to limit my refined sugar/refined carb intake and I am also lactose intolerant. My hubby only eats chicken and tuna and is otherwise on a plant-based diet. I use my Trifecta to simulate creaminess and satisfy that creamy craving: peanut butter, hummus, and guacamole. Mexican-themed bentos are the easiest to finagle to suit both our needs because of the heavy use of corn and the ease with which you can eliminate cheese (from authentic mexican food) and replace beef with chicken in most recipes.

Salads are really the easiest, and I buy healthy snacks in bulk--we had a huge bin of honey wheat pretzels that lasted us almost three months from Costco...ditto single-serve hummus packs, bulk dried fruits and nuts. I make a little "smore" snack with specialty crackers from Whole Foods and dark chocolate bits. I use ezekiel bread and flax lahvash wraps. I make our own "fruit bottom" yogurt, with plain yogurt, agave syrup, and IQF berries. It's a pain, but it feels worse when I eat dairy all day every day and my hubby has been off red meat and pork so long I think either would make him sick.

Johanna A. said...
November 15, 2009 at 10:37:00 PM GMT+1  

What a fabulous looking lunch. I wish I had a bento box right now!

December 11, 2009 at 6:20:00 PM GMT+1  

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