3 DIY Healthy Convenience Store Lunch Ideas

Under 400 kcal Konbini Meals with 20g+ Protein

By Hayley Hirshland
October 24, 2017
Food & Drink, Lifestyle

Everyone can agree that convenience stores in Japan are just that — wildly convenient. Besides getting the important stuff done (paying bills, buying tickets, grabbing a newspaper), you have access to an abundance of food. However, most of it isn't good for your diet. But you can still make your own healthy menu using these tips.

With most konbini being open 24/7 on every block in the city, everything you need is within an arm’s reach at any moment. This is great when you forgot to pay a bill, but not so much when you’re craving something junky or have decision fatigue from the sheer amount of food choices Japan has to offer.

A common mantra of healthy eating is to “shop the perimeter,” where the fresh, healthy stuff usually lies, but this isn’t always the case for konbini. As soon as you walk in, you’re surrounded by fried chicken, hyperpalatable sweet bread that can clock in at 500kcal a piece, and tiny, yet carbohydrate-rich lunches. That said, the konbini is a godsend for busy Tokyoites with jam-packed schedules or for when you woke up a little too late to make your own bento.

So if you’re in need of a quick and healthy lunch but found yourself at the konvini, don’t rush to the readymade food corner. Instead, make one yourself — it will cost less and be healthier.  

1. Konjac rice and canned fish: A bodybuilding mush

This particular meal is the holy grail of gnarly bodybuilding “mush,” but packs a punch when it comes to simplicity, taste, minimal processing, and nutritional value. The “mannan-hikari rice” is made with konjac (yam flour), reduces calories from carbohydrates in regular rice by about 33% and, provides more dietary fiber than regular rice (0.5g per 150g serving in regular rice vs. 5.0g in 150 of mannan-hikari).

Saba (mackerel) provides omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and is minimally processed. While we typically walk by them and grab a pre-made sandwich in the cooler section instead, canned food is some of the least-processed convenience food. Salt and water is all that is needed to preserve the protein. There are no harmful preservatives you might see in a “salad chicken” breast, for example. If canned saba is too smelly for your liking, replace it with a raw or onsen-tamago (soft boiled egg) for a bomb ass tamago kakegohan (raw egg over rice). Trust me that it tastes good, but remember that sometimes food doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing if it’s in line with your goals.

What to buy:

  • 1 can saba (packed in water)
  • 1 pack mannan gohan
  • 1-2 sheets dried nori
  • Soy sauce to taste

What it gives you:

  • Kcal: 400 kcal
  • Protein: 21g
  • Fat: 19g
  • Carbohydrates: 40g
  • Fiber: 7g

2. Konbini Salad: A filling micronutrient bomb of deliciousness

A little more aesthetically pleasing, the following ingredients can be found at any convenience store for a protein and vitamin packed lunch under ¥800. Mix and match ingredients as you please, keeping preservatives in mind (i.e., cured ham is cured with salt, whereas sausages and processed ham are likely filled with soy protein and other fillers). Bring your own dressing to save 200-500kcal. Lemon juice, vinegar/salt and pepper, and most hot sauces clock in at under 10 kcal per serving and are sold in small bottles you can keep in your office’s fridge or in your bag. If you need more carbohydrates pre or post workout, grab a banana or a plain onigiri — again, watch out for nasty stuff like 乳化剤 (emulsifiers) and 安定剤 (stabilizers) in the fillings!

What to buy:

  • 1 bag lettuce (look for the leafy dark green stuff instead of shredded cabbage for more vitamins)
  • 1 package cucumber or cabbage/cucumber tsukemono (pickles) 
  • 2 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 pack prosciutto

What it gives you:

  • Kcal: 297 kcal
  • Protein: 30g
  • Fat: 13g
  • Carbohydrates: 15g
  • Fiber: 5g

3. Oden: Low calorie, high protein goodies galore

As it gets colder, you can warm your soul on voluminous and low-calorie oden. Typical oden items such as konjac and and daikon are filling due to their high fiber content. Kamaboko is both high in protein and made from pollock, one of the most sustainably sourced kinds of fish. Below is a list of calories in major oden choices, so mix and match as you please. Just avoid anything beginning in “age-” (fried), such as tofu, to avoid harmful heat-processed oils and extra calories. Add flavor using low-calorie karashi (hot mustard) or yuzu-kosho (citrus salt/pepper mix). To compensate for the lack of green vegetables, grab a side salad or a low-sugar green vegetable juice (such as aojiru; 青汁).

Oden Ingredient Total kcal
Daikon 12 kcal
Medium egg 76 kcal
Shirataki noodles 76 kcal
Fish cake 56 kcal
Konjac 15 kcal
Yaki-chikuwa (grilled fish cake) 75 kcal
Kombu-maki (kelp) 10 kcal
Gyusuji (beef tendon) 33 kcal
Cabbage roll 55 kcal
Tsukune (chicken meatballs) 115 kcal

Remember that a “diet” is not necessarily about reducing calories. A “diet” is actually defined as “habitual nourishment,” so the above low-calorie options allow you to maintain a deficit while consuming satiating and nutrient-rich foods. While the konbini is stocked with highly palatable, high fat and carb options that might satisfy you in the short term, it’s important to make conscious decisions about what you are putting in your body.

If you’re truly craving the ice cream, later on, opt for something protein-rich with a fibrous salad and skip the rice at lunch, then grab something minimally processed like Haagen-Dazs. Stick to whole-foods, get adequate protein, and you’ll find yourself craving the junky stuff less and less. Walking by the tempting konbini goodies will seem effortless.

What are your go-to’s at the convenience store? In what ways have you made your konbini bento a little healthier?