Bento box or power bowl your way to a slimmer body

November 15, 2018 Susan Watkins, RD, CDE

Most of us know what we should be doing to lose weight and get on a healthier track. The problem is that knowing is only 10 percent of actually doing!

The issue with eating healthy is often a time factor. You wake up late, need to grab something quick before work. You get off work late or run your kids or grandkids around to practices and sports and again end up famished by the time you have time to eat.

Does this sound familiar? This type of lifestyle — being on the run — often leads to being overweight or obese, as well as health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. How can you stop this cycle in its tracks? Homemade power bowls and bento boxes can be quick, easy ways to put together healthy meals in less time than it would take to go through a drive-thru!

A bento box is common in Japanese cuisine. It is a container with different sections to hold various types of food such as rice, fish or meat, and vegetables. But don’t worry, you don’t need a special container to make your own bento, any container or bowl will do. The key is to layer your container with lots of power-packed foods. You also want items that are quick and easy!

To start, you can layer your bento with a precooked grain. The frozen bags of Trader Joe’s mix of brown rice, red rice and barley work great. Target also sells precooked bags of grains such as wild rice. Another idea for your carb would be precooked red potatoes. You can pop these in the microwave, and then they are ready to go! If you are shooting for lower carbs, you can sub this with cauliflower rice.

Next, layer with rinsed canned beans or precooked lentils (Trader Joe’s sells a pack that is precooked and delicious and great with their bruschetta and goat cheese — you can often find these in the vegetable section!). Other types of beans you can try are kidney, chickpeas, black beans, lima beans or edamame.

Next, cut up some of your favorite vegetables such as Japanese cucumbers, carrots and baby tomatoes (you can use cooked if you have time, but raw is just as good). You can even add tuna or egg salad into your bento, or just hard-boiled eggs (which you can buy precooked in many stores). Other protein ideas are precooked chicken, ground turkey or your favorite veggie burger broken up in pieces (my favorite is Trader Joe’s Quinoa Cowboy Burgers)!

You can top your bento with sprinkled goat cheese and/or jalapenos for an added kick. Before eating, you can top with your favorite low-calorie dressing, or skip the dressing and just top with your favorite salsa and a few slivers of avocado or a spoonful of guacamole (Wholly Guacamole makes it nice and easy with their pre-sealed packs).

You can make this quick and easy by purchasing or precooking the grains on the weekend, keeping canned or precooked lentils or beans in the pantry, and also buying precut vegetables. You can bring your bento anywhere with a cooler bag and ice blocks — I even bring mine to my daughter’s softball field. So, while others are grabbing fast food, I am full and satisfied with my bento!

Power bowls are the same concept, where you layer a bowl with different nutrient-dense foods from different food groups to make a meal.

Stir-frys are another way to achieve this, where you sauté in a little olive oil a grain such as quinoa, brown rice, zucchini noodles for a low carb option, etc. Then, add in your favorite vegetables such as zucchini, spinach, carrots and mushrooms, then top with a protein like beans, nuts, or even chicken, turkey or shrimp. This only takes minutes to cook if your grain is precooked, and it makes for great leftovers!

The great thing about powerbowls and bentos is that it can work for almost any diet, and everyone can make their bento or bowl mixed with their specific favorites. Doing this instead of eating out or grabbing a frozen burrito will save you lots of calories and keep your body filled with all of the essentials so that you can look and feel your best!

Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and manager at the St. Joseph Health Center for Health Promotion. If you’re in Southern California and want to meet with a registered dietitian or learn more about classes, contact the Center for Health Promotion in Brea at (714) 618-9500 or Santa Ana at (714) 628-3242.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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