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Here at Zojirushi we are declaring September to be National Bento Month. Since anyone can make anything become a national holiday, and since we aren't aware of any other Bento Months that have become nationally recognized yet, then there you go; September is now National Bento Month! And to celebrate, we are introducing a couple of easy to make, healthy and delicious recipes that you can pack for your kids. These lunches are even easier to bring to school with a Zojirushi Lunch Jar, which we'll get into later. Read on!
Completely from scratch, make your own pasta and marinara sauce with this recipe, exclusively tested with our Zojirushi Breadmaker. Spaghetti makes a great lunch, especially when it can be kept warm with our lunch jars. A bento doesn't always have to have rice--a bento just happens to be a more creative lunch!
See this recipe
These tender appetizers are perfect for a picnic or bento box. Your kids will love the colorful presentation so much, they won't notice the healthy vegetables inside! You can prepare them the night before, and pack them to be eaten at room temperature at school, at work, anywhere.
See this recipe
Use your Zojirushi Lunch Jar to separate your meal into compartments for hot or chilled and room temperature foods. There's even a leakproof container for soups!
  Cookies, candy, snacks, etc.
  Veggie Chicken Rolls (See recipe)
  Fresh Pasta (See recipe)
  Marinara Sauce (See recipe)
Pack your room temperature foods here.
Pack your hot or cold foods here.
If Japanese bento were to be grouped into big categories, we may be able to divide them into a few major types. Let's think about how they are used, rather than what they contain, because there are hundreds of different kinds of bento today.
The Classic Bento
The traditional takeout lunch, in classic bento form, can be found everywhere in Japan. They are sold at convenience stores, at specialty bento shops and of course, made at home to bring to work or picnics. In its broadest definition, anything can be packed into a boxed lunch and become a bento, but there are a few standout styles:
  Makunouchi: This type of bento has been around since the 1600s, when lunches were sold during 3-hour long Kabuki plays and eaten during intermissions. The term "makunouchi" literally means "between acts", and is still a popular style of bento today. If you want to sample a variety of Japanese side dishes, this would be the perfect assortment.
  Noriben & Sakeben: These are the simplest and often cheapest bento you will see being sold. The noriben is just how it's named; a basic rice lunch covered with nori (seaweed) and perhaps a side dish or two and maybe some pickles. The sakeben is a little more glamourous, with a piece of sake (grilled salmon) in place of the seaweed.
  Hinomaru: A true hinomaru bento would consist of a bed of white rice with a red pickle plum (umeboshi) in the middle, and no side dishes at all; the ultimate patriotic lunch because it resembles the Japanese flag. Bentos are never this basic these days, but you'll often see a single umeboshi on the rice in a bento, a tribute to the hinomaru.
The Ekiben
Translated as "station bento", these inexpensive and filling lunches are sold at train station kiosks for travelers. You can also buy them from carts directly on the trains on long distance express lines. The ekiben is a great way to sample regional specialties as you journey across the country, especially if you jump off the train at one of the stops and grab an ekiben at a station platform.
Soraben is the airplane version of the ekiben, sold at the airports--known as "sky bento".
The Kyaraben
This popular kids lunch has gone past the trend stage and has become an art form. The "character" or kyara-bento is sometimes so elaborate they could easily pass for 3-D manga illustrations. We often wonder how some Moms have the time and energy, but it's certainly a fantastic way to get your kids to eat their vegetables! If you wanted to get into this hobby, and it is very much like a hobby, you can dust off your scrapbooking supplies and use the paper die cutters to snip sheets of seaweed into the delicate shapes you'll need to make the eyes, hair, glasses, etc. Be sure to take a picture of your creation before you eat it!
The Koraku Bento
This bento is the classic picnic lunch--often packed in a larger container and meant to be shared by the whole family or even with friends. They are usually prepared with foods of the season, aesthetically arranged for color and chosen for variety--and made with single-portion foods like rice balls or sushi rolls that can be shared easily. At cherry blossom viewing picnics (hanami), or school athletic events (undokai), it's often a source of pride for the Moms who get all the praise for the best tasting and best looking koraku bento.
The Shokado Bento
The most elaborate bento is probably the shokado bento. Usually served at fine restaurants and ryokan (bed & breakfast inns), or during special occasions like tea ceremonies and weddings. Each dish is gourmet level quality and well thought out for seasonal flavors, colors and diversity. Consideration is given to make sure foods from the mountains and the ocean are represented (mountain vegetables and fresh fish for example). The shokado bento is usually served in an elegant black lacquer box with a lid. Inside, the box has compartments for each dish, in order to keep the smells and tastes from intermingling.
The inventor of the IBM (Lenovo) THINK PAD reportedly got the inspiration for its design from the shokado bento box. Like the bento, his laptop computer had a minimalist, black look which only revealed the "surprise" inside when its lid was opened. What a wonderful way to look at a computer!
(Source: LENOVO Blog)
You can read more about how to make your own shokado bento here, in Zojirushi 101.
Outer Container, Inner Bowls and Lids:

After washing thoroughly, wipe off moisture and leave in a well-ventilated place in sunlight to dry for 1 to 2 hours.

Soup Bowl, Gaskets and Valve Packing:

Boil for 2 to 3 minutes in water with approximately 10% vinegar. After rinsing, wipe off moisture thoroughly to dry.

Insulated vacuum technology in a drinking tumbler!
Keep icy drinks cold longer, or get cozy with a hot favorite for hours!
Special manufacturing technique applied to round the sip area for drinking comfort Excellent temperature retention keeps ice longer so cold drinks can be enjoyed without the worry of dilution
Stainless steel vacuum insulation prevents condensation on the outside when filled with cold drinks SlickSteel® polished stainless steel interior is easy to clean while allowing the color of the drink to shine through
Tumbler exterior does not get hot when filled with hot drinks, providing an easy and comfortable grip Available in 15 and 20 oz. capacities
Zojirushi America Corporation warrants only the thermal insulation of certain vacuum insulated products against defects for a period of five years from the date of original retail purchase
Next month we take hot tea to the next level. We’ll be featuring mixed tea drinks like fruit teas, liqueur teas, and more. Stay tuned!