We recently interviewed Claudia, an Innsbruck, Austria based bento creator, who makes nourishing, fresh lunches that incorporate tasty Austrian ingredients and recipes, as well as global flavors.
Scrolling through Claudia’s instagram feed (@claudias_lebenskunst), you’ll encounter photo after photo of enticing lunches artfully arranged and garnished with fresh herbs and flowers from her own garden. In the world of bento lunches where rice usually dominates as the staple carb, Claudia’s bento lunches are also unique in their variety of tasty carbs, like dumplings, spaetzle, pasta, and casserole! Read on to learn more about Claudia’s distinctive approach to making beautiful bento:
Bento&co: How do you plan the menu for your bentos?
I mainly use leftovers from dinner for my bento boxes. I love to cook in my spare time, on weekends and on my days off, and if I make a dish that is very suitable for a bento box and freezes well, I cook more of it straight away. I then freeze the leftovers in small portions, so I always have a larger selection of my homemade convenience side & main dishes on hand when I don't have time to cook or when I don't have anything left over from dinner for the bento box the next day.
Bento&co: I see! So you do some prep work in advance.
This helps me save time, adds variety to my lunch box and I also know how my food was prepared and what ingredients were used. In addition, it helps me to eat a little healthier. (I try to avoid store-bought convenience foods as they often contain a lot of sugar and other additives.)
I also often use pasta, couscous or potatoes instead of rice as the carbohydrate component. This may not be common for a classic bento box, but it also helps me to bring some variety into my lunch.
Bento&co: Your bento boxes incorporate so many different types of food, which must make lunchtime fun! Any other tips to make bento lunches more attractive?
To add colour to my bento box, I mainly use all kinds of vegetables (fresh, steamed, roasted, sautéed...) as well as edible flowers and herbs that grow on my kitchen windowsills and in my small garden in summer. This not only adds more colour to my dishes, but also makes them healthier at the same time.In the beginning, it was very difficult for me to pack a bento box in such a way that there was room for everything I wanted to pack and that it was still nice and appetising to look at at lunchtime. But it gets better with time, and I learned a lot from looking at the pictures of all the beautiful bento boxes on the internet and from other Instagram users.
Bento&co: It’s definitely helpful to see other people’s bento for inspiration. Any tips on how to organize your food inside the bento box?
When packing a bento box I prefer to use lettuce leaves or vegetable slices so that the side dishes don't get mixed up. If I don't have fresh lettuce on hand, I also love to use my lettuce-shaped silicone dividers and silicone cups that I bought at Bento & Co and during my trip to Japan.
After packing several lunch boxes in the last years, I have discovered that it is easiest for me to put the food diagonally into the Bento Box and then fill the empty spaces with fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers as decoration. I usually put the carbs all the way to the top diagonally in the corner, and then fill the box from top to bottom with meat or fish and the vegetable side dishes.
Autumn-themed bento featuring pumpkin gnocchi with pancetta, spinach and cherry tomatoes, beef roll-ups, sautéed red cabbage, and leaf-shaped cutouts of carrots and cheese.
Bento&co: That’s a great tip. Arranging food diagonally adds some visual interest! What are some dishes that you like to include in your bento?
Baked Parmesan zucchini, Cordon Bleu and beef rolls, for example, are easy to prepare and freeze. Before using them in the Bento Box, they go into the oven (Parmesan zucchini, Cordon Bleu) or are defrosted overnight in the refrigerator (beef rolls).
Claudia's lunch featuring Cordon Bleu, cranberry sauce, rice with peas and fresh items from her garden: nasturtium flowers and leaves, tagetes flowers, green salad leaves, strawberries and kumquat.
Bento&co: Those sound absolutely delicious. We may need to ask you for these recipes soon!
Thank you Claudia for chatting with us. It’s fascinating to hear what goes on behind the scenes of these talented bento makers and helpful to hear their personal techniques to make beautiful bento creations.
Have some bento-making advice of your own? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know your favorite bento making tip/hack with a picture of a bento meal made by you, for a chance to be featured on our blog!