Tired of takeout and food delivery apps? Try making your own homemade bento boxes with these traditional Indian staples that are packed with nutrients making for a wholesome meal
An Indian meal is a full-course indulgence in itself, but with some added condiments and extra sides, it can turn into an indulgence. While delivery apps are popularising thalis and a full course meal for one, it’s always a good idea to take some time out to prepare your own lunch box. Be it for the family or for yourself. This puts control of nutrition in your own hands and lets you know what goes into your body.
A traditional bento box in Japan centres around either rice or noodles to provide the carbohydrate base of the meal. Accompanying the starch is typically one or two proteins, such as fish, eggs, or meat. An array of pickled and cooked vegetables adds vibrant flavours and nutrients to complement the main dishes. A small serving of fruit is also commonly included to round out the assortment into a well-balanced portable meal. This classic bento formula allows one to enjoy tasty and healthy eating on the go. While creating a traditional bento box can be a painstaking effort, you can try these desi ones instead, which apply the same formula:
1. The Pulao Bento
This dabba or bento box as the Japanese call it is an indulgence. Tucked neatly in the corner is a container of masala chicken, tender pieces baked in an aromatic spice blend. Next to it is a container of fluffy veg pulao, basmati rice pilaf dotted with vegetables. Also included is a small tub of raita for cooling down the spice - thick yoghurt blended with cucumber and mint. Rolled rotis are wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm. For a sweet finish, there are slices of green kiwi fruit packed attractively on top.
2. The Chana Masala Bento
Vegetable pakoras, can be an occasional indulgence: lightly spiced and crisp fritters made with cauliflower, potatoes, and peas, nestled together. But the star of this box is the container full of chana masala- chickpeas in a rich, aromatic tomato and spice sauce. Add a fresh salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions on the side or sprinkle on top. Fluffy basmati rice is packed separately alongside the chana masala. Mint chutney, a cooling and herbal dip of mint, yoghurt, and spices, is also placed in one compartment so each item can be enjoyed on its own.
3. The Kebab Kofta Bento
This bento box holds kebab kofta nestled beside a bed of fluffy steamed rice. It features a creamy potato salad alongside simple roasted cauliflower florets tossed on the tawa with mild spices. Fill another compartment with mixed nuts from your pantry, and dates are placed along the edge of the rice, a lovely contrast to the savoury items packed in the dabba. Although compact, nothing feels cramped or carelessly thrown together, and it is highly nutritious.
4. The Paneer Tikka Meets Quinoa Salad Bento
The paneer tikka takes centre stage, its thick gravy rich and filling, cooked in mild spices to suit an afternoon meal at work or school. Place it alongside quinoa salad, with its grains and veggies mixed with zesty dressing. Carrots are rich in vitamins B6 and C as well as calcium and magnesium. Adding tawa roasted carrots will add the right amount of sweetness to this bento. For the sweeter part, cut apple wedges to munch on at the end of your meal. To avoid the cut apples browning, rinse them under cool water. Top the cashews on the quinoa salad or put them in a separate brunch to retain the crunch.
5. The Aloo Tikki Chaat Meets The Vegetable Korma Bento
This bento has steamed rice filling the centre space, with the mixed vegetable korma spooned around the rice's base. The aloo tikki chaat is placed in another compartment, with the paruppu vada tucked beside it. Pomegranate seeds can be artfully sprinkled on top of the chaat, adding colour and flavour to the chaat. Make sure to make small portions of the chaat and the vada so you don’t end up overeating.
6. The South Indian Bento
Add the classic tomato rice, or thakkali sadam to your box, which is rice cooked in an onion-tomato masala with a blend of aromatic spices. The Masala Dosa Rolls are great finger foods and should be folded such, that they don't get crushed in the box. The dosas have its trusty accompaniment, the coconut chutney, which will add a burst of flavour. Add a classic lemon pickle with the tomato rice to add zest to your meal. Now, for the dish that is missing: cabbage thoran. It is a simple yet delicious stir-fry made with shredded cabbage, coconut, and spices that will compliment your rice perfectly.
Whether you're packing lunch for work or school, or just want a homemade option instead of delivery, these desi bento box ideas provide tasty, nutritious meals in compact, portable containers. With minimal effort, you can enjoy homemade flavours and all the benefits of knowing exactly what went into your food.