The Japanese art of bento is one rooted in love. Beyond being just a method of preparing food, packing a bento is an expression of care towards the recipient—it takes time and effort to make a bento extra special. Preparing a bento combines two well-known Japanese traits: attention to detail and a particular affinity for all things kawaii. What then, is the difference between an ordinary-packed lunch and a bento? Bentos are all about ease of dining, traditionally prepared in a single box with ingredients placed side by side. Recipes are also designed such that meals do not need to be heated up, and can be enjoyed hot or cold. And of course, they look adorable.
Deco-ben, as the fancily-decorated versions are called, have swept every corner of TikTok and Instagram, with several content creators posting daily videos of the new and innovative bento recipes they are making for themselves or loved ones. Jessica Woo, better known as the ‘Bento Box Queen’ on TikTok, has garnered over 5 million followers on the platform just through posting the lunches she packs for her kids.
Woo’s TikToks are known for her signature greeting: “Let’s make some lunch for my kids!”, as well as the elaborately decorated components sure to be found in each meal she makes. While some commenters express disbelief at the effort-intensive process that Woo undertakes each day, many appreciate the love and care her children must feel when they open up the lunches prepared with them in mind (Woo even slips a note with a sweet message on it into every meal).
“When they started school, it was the first time they had really been away from me for so long,” says Woo, “and this just became a way for me to let them know that I was thinking of them.” The good thing about preparing bentos for children, according to Woo, is that the separation of the components allows her to create balanced meals easily. Even if you are making a bento for yourself (and that is no reason to make it less cute), Woo suggests taking the time to put love into the meal.
For beginners, she recommends keeping it simple—include an easy-to-prepare carb like pasta or steamed rice, and top it off with at least one source of vegetables, one serving of fruits and one protein. If nothing else, toss up a quick side salad and place it in a baking cup to keep fresh. Another easy tip? Hull your strawberries before you pack them—they instantly look like little heart shapes when sliced in half. The best bentos are also fuss-free to consume, so items should be cut into bite-sized pieces for convenience. Slowing down to put your meal together may be the only time you get in a day to yourself, and it’s certainly valuable.
Here, find the best Vogue-approved lunchboxes and accessories you’ll need to get started putting together your very own bentos.