Bento tidbits from Japan: 7Meals, 7-11's healthy bento and meal delivery plan
One of the questions asked in the comments to my first Japan trip report was what kind of healthy 'fast-food' options there were. In that vein, I thought I'd talk about something that you can see for yourself, in a way. You might have heard already how totally awesome Japan's convenience stores, called conbini or konbini, are. They are like the 24 hour delis and bodegas that you see all around a big city like New York in a sense, but go several steps further in terms of customer service. Competition is fierce between the major conbini chains like Lawson, Family Mart, and 7-11, and competition between the conbinis and the fast food restaurants for the quick-meal market is quite serious too.
Japan's 7-11s are not quite the same as the ones in the U.S. to say the least. One of the services they offer is takeaway or home delivery of pre-ordered meals, including bentos. They have a dedicated web site for this service, called 7meal (セブン・ミール) (in Japanese only.)
7-11 does have readymade and ready to buy bentos and other prepared foods for sale in their stores, but this is a bit different. Basically, you place an order via the web site, by phone or at your local 7-11 for a bento or other meal such as noodles (ramen, udon or soba) a day or so ahead. There is a different bento menu every day. You can order a single meal, or order ahead for a full 6 days, say for lunch every day. You can order for lunch or dinner delivery or pickup. Delivery is free (correction: delivery fee is 200 yen with a minimum 1000 yen order; though pickup is free of course).
The emphasis of the site is on healthy, balanced meals. Conbini bentos and other takeout meals have come under a lot of criticism for being unhealthy and fattening, and this is an obvious attempt to combat that. Their 7meals philosophy page states that they do not use any artificial colors or preservatives in their delivery meals, and that each meal is planned based on 'strict nutritional guidelines' and food safety considerations.
You can flip through the web version of their current print brochure here (to navigate from page to page, click the buttons at the bottom with the page back/forward icons; or to print a PDF version, click the button that says PDF). Here's a closeup of part of one of their daily-changing bento pages. The graphic in the top left quarter says that each bento is 540 yen (about US $6), averages 550 calories, has 150 grams (about 1 bowlful) of rice, and has more than 20 different kinds of food.
They also have some 'special' bentos, such as this one-bite sushi assortment, which sells for 670 yen (about US $7.40), and has only 502 calories. It has some stewed vegetables, meatballs, and even a little dessert (a kanten milk jelly). I don't know about you, but I think this for lunch would make me very happy.
I'm not sure how popular this service is, but at least there is an option for having healthy, reasonably priced readymade meals, for less than the price of a meal at McDonald's.
If you're in Japan and near a 7-11, see if you can get the brochure in-store to take a look. Ordering may be an issue unless you speak some Japanese...The regular 7-11 bentos on sale on their shelves are not bad either, though there they face a lot, and do mean a lot, of competition from other sources.
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