It’s National Bento Month again! And even though I bring my lunch to work every day anyway, I thought I’d give the Zojirushi Lunch Jar a spin, to see how it really works. Hey, let’s all get behind this great holiday and get some momentum going. We’re supposed to be evolving from the brown paper bag, remember??
Actually, what inspired me to try the Lunch Jar out was the really, really good beef stew that we had the night before. I wanted to bring it for work, so what better way than to keep it hot enough to enjoy at my desk? But that wasn’t all that I was interested in—I wondered how easy it would be to pack everything in the first place, and after I was done, how easy it would be to clean.
I used the largest container for my stew and packed as much rice as I could into the bottom soup bowl. Then my biggest challenge was coming up with what else I wanted to bring to fill up the other 2 containers. Here’s a Zojirushi tutorial on how to use their Lunch Jar:
BTW, did I mention that in Hawaii, we always eat our beef stew with rice? It’s a popular kind of plate lunch, actually, normally served with a side of macaroni salad. Since I couldn’t place a chilled salad inside the jar with my hot beef stew and rice, I added some fruit and a slice of homemade cake in the top 2 containers.
This worked out pretty well—I had some slight melting of the frosting on my cake, but my lunch was still warm, so the jar did what it was supposed to do. And I didn’t mind the fruit being room termperature anyway. I also found the carrying tote bag that comes with the Lunch Jar to be indispensable, and the spoon-fork thing to be handy.
I have to say this worked better than the hot lunch; but maybe it was because you really don’t have to keep a salad icy cold—just chilled enough. And it didn’t really matter how cool the other parts of my lunch got; my peanut butter didn’t melt, so I was happy. The top container held a packet of instant miso soup, which was perfect because I couldn’t bring a hot soup with this cold bento. I’ve got access to hot water and paper cups at work, so for me anyway, no problem—I just made the soup there. The spoon-fork wasn’t as useful with this type of food; I just used a plastic fork from our office cafeteria.
Speaking of instant miso soup; if you’ve never tried these, I highly recommend them if you love miso soup and you want some fast. It comes with a packet of real miso paste and a packet of dried ingredients like green onion, wakame seaweed, and dehydrated tofu. Combine them in a cup of hot water, and boom—instant soup!
Just for fun, I tried one more cold bento of cabbage salad, Chinese broccoli, and chicken wings. And using a trick that some of you may find useful, I loaded that bottom soup container with ice. I figured the soup container is leak proof, so it could work as a cold pack for the ice to keep my salad even colder for even longer.
This worked pretty well, surprisingly. I don’t know how often I would need to use this hack, but if you have that extra container available, why not? The ice sits at the bottom, so it kind of acted as a mini fridge for my salad.
Finally, after all is said and done, Did I have fun washing all of these containers? Ha-ha! Since I’m the primary dishwasher at our house, I didn’t think it was a big deal. We handwash everything anyway, and I do believe handwashing is the best way to make the product last longer. Air dry overnight, and it was good to go the next day!
IMHO, the best way to use the Lunch Jar is to plan what you’re going to bring the next day, whether it be a hot or cold lunch, and you can decide for yourself whether your night’s leftovers would work or not. All the containers have to be used to keep everything from rattling inside the larger jar itself, so you may as well find something to pack. The trick is to figure out what to keep temperature controlled, and what to leave room temperature. You might think the containers are too small for you, but trust me, if you use them all for your lunch, the SUM TOTAL of food is plenty for a complete meal. And the best part is that it makes you think about filling them with a balanced, healthy meal, instead of gorging out on one big lunch!
Images by @ironchefmom and Bert Tanimoto