Table of Contents
- 1. Granola Bento Box
- 2. Deli Meat Roll-Ups Bento Box
- 3. Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes Bento Box
- 4. Turkey and Sprout Sandwich Bento Box
- 5. Chicken, Avocado and Tomato Sandwich Bento Box
- 6. Taco Bento Box
- 7. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Bento Box
- 8. Salami and Provolone Bento Box
- 9. Tuna Protein Bento Box
- 10. Pico de Gallo Quinoa Bento Box
- 11. Rainbow Bento Box
- 12. Jerk Chicken with Cauliflower Rice
- 13. Spring Roll Bento Box
- 14. Apple and Peanut Butter Bento Box
- 15. Spring Strawberry Bento Lunch Boxes
- Preschool Bento Box Lunch
- 25+ Kids Bento Lunch Box Ideas
- Reasons to Love these Preschool and Kindergarten School Lunch Ideas:
- MORE SCHOOL LUNCH BOX INSPIRATION YOU’LL LOVE:
- 68 Preschool or Kindergarten School Lunch Ideas
- Bento Box Basics for Back-to-School
- What you’ll need to start packing bento lunches:
- Techniques for adding some “cute” to your lunches:
- Why use a bento box?
- How long does it take to make a bento box lunch?
- Different varieties of Bento box lunch ideas
- How to make bento lunch boxes (step-by-step)
- How long will they last in the fridge?
- How to extend shelf life of ingredients
- Bento lunch boxes for adults
- Where can you buy bento lunch boxes?
- Other cold lunch ideas
- Other meal prep lunch resources
- Meal prep tools for this recipe
- Meal prep challenge
- Healthy Bento Lunch Box Recipes 5 Ways
- Rice dishes
- Main side dishes
- Side dishes
- Japanese Condiments for Bento Menu
- News Flash
Every mom knows that life is busy. So taking the time to create a fun AND healthy lunch for your kids often takes time you don’t have. Enter Bento boxes – your new best friend. These food containers are a quick way to organize your child’s food into easy-to-fill compartments.
Whether you’re trying to reduce your waste, avoid cleaning (what feels like) an endless amount of Tupperware, or just trying to spice up lunch time, these boxes are the perfect solution. Read further for 10 simple bento box lunch ideas that will minimize your stress and satisfy your kid’s appetite.
1. Granola Bento Box
Source: Kristine’s Kitchen
2. Deli Meat Roll-Ups Bento Box
Source: The Kitchn
3. Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes Bento Box
Source: The Baker Mama
4. Turkey and Sprout Sandwich Bento Box
5. Chicken, Avocado and Tomato Sandwich Bento Box
Source: Ambitious Kitchen
6. Taco Bento Box
7. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Bento Box
Source: Lauren Greutman
8. Salami and Provolone Bento Box
Source: Bless this Mess
9. Tuna Protein Bento Box
Source: Sweet Peas and Saffron
10. Pico de Gallo Quinoa Bento Box
Source: One Lovely Life
11. Rainbow Bento Box
Source: Brit + Co
12. Jerk Chicken with Cauliflower Rice
Source: Eat Yourself Skinny
13. Spring Roll Bento Box
Source: The Kitchn
14. Apple and Peanut Butter Bento Box
Source: Bless This Mess
15. Spring Strawberry Bento Lunch Boxes
Source: Sweet Peas and Saffron
Preschool may only be two days a week at this point but the twins are super excited about big-kid lunch boxes! I ordered these Bento style lunch boxes on Amazon and we have loved using them. Now that we are starting the school lunch journey, I’ll be posting Healthy Toddler Bento Box Lunch Ideas for Preschool and beyond! Here’s what we made this week…
Preschool Bento Box Lunch
Sandwich: Turkey & cream cheese on Dave’s Killer Bread, crust removed and cut into triangles. Spread both sides of the bread with whipped cream cheese to act as the “glue” for the turkey meat. Whipped cream cheese is easy to spread and won’t tear your bread.
Veggies with Hummus for Dipping: Millie really likes the tabouli hummus from O Organics and so do I! The twins love to dip so I included sliced Persian cucumbers and small cherry tomatoes with their stems on. To keep the hummus somewhat contained, I used a silicone star cupcake liner. I have them in a few shapes and they are a fun addition to lunch boxes especially when you need an additional compartment.
The feature I love most about these Bentgo Kids lunch boxes is that the inside tray is removable! This makes cleaning them super easy and also makes for a nice little plate when the entire box is not needed. I took these lunch boxes to the zoo and it was great how easily they popped right out so that the twins could carry just the inner tray on their laps while in the stroller. Also, the lid shuts extremely tight and locks securely so that food doesn’t tip into other compartments or spill. I love these lunch boxes!
Something Sweet: Every school lunch needs some sort of sweet treat. Dried apple slices from Trader Joe’s are a favorite and in the very center, a few Surf Sweets Organic gummy bears. I also snuck in an Olly Kid’s Multivitamin Probiotic gummy because we all know that Preschool is one giant germ factory. Hand sanitizer anyone?
Happy Lunch Making!
Looking for more toddler meals? You might like my “What I Fed The Twins” column.
These 25+ Easy Bento Lunch Box Ideas for Kids are great for encouraging picky eaters to try new foods! These kids bento box lunches are quick, easy, and totally adorable!
If you’ve ever browsed Pinterest during back-to-school season, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen some elaborate and intricate bento lunch boxes like these:
Source: Cooking Gallery
I’m SUPER impressed with the level of skill and talent that these lunchbox artists possess, but most of us parents don’t have the time it takes to create such incredible food art! Luckily for us, there are TONS of cute kids bento box ideas that only take a few minutes to create! I’ve rounded up 25+ of my favorite quick and easy bento lunch boxes for kids – more than enough to get us through an entire month’s worth of school lunches!
25+ Kids Bento Lunch Box Ideas
This Funky Monkey Bento Lunch Box from Kitchen Fun with My 3 Sons looks super impressive, but it’s SO easy to make!
All it takes is a cute shaped sandwich cutter to make this adorable Koala Kids Bento Lunch Box from Bento-logy!
This adorable Panda Bento Box from How About Cookie uses a similar sandwich cutter for a cute lunch that couldn’t be easier to make!
This Flower Bento Lunch Box from Parenting is easy peasy to whip up following their quick step-by-step instructions!
It’s easy to turn an ordinary sandwich into a clock like this Reading Time Bento Box from This Lunch Rox!
It doesn’t take much effort at all to arrange this adorable Bunny Eats a Rainbow Bento Lunch Box from Happy Little Bento!
This sweet Flower Bento Box is simple to make using just a cookie cutter set and basic food arrangement!
Make an easy Minion Bento Box with Bento-logy!
I can’t get over how cute this Frog Bento Lunch Box from Bento Lunch is! And, you guessed it, it’s also made using my favorite animal sandwich cutter set!
This Slithery Snake Kids Bento Box is an easy way to turn a sandwich into a creepy cute meal!
This Pac-Man Bento Box is a ton of fun!
Wendolonia is a wealth of simple bento box resources including this fun Dinosaur Bento Box for kids!
This Ladybug BLT would make a perfect bento lunch box addition!
How cute is this Mermaid Bento Lunch Box from Happy Little Bento? LOVE it!
I absolutely adore this sweet Cloud and Umbrella Bento Box from Cute Food for Kids! SO cute!
This Dragonfly and Flowers Bento Board from Driscoll’s is all about the arrangement of the pieces with minimal prep necessary!
Turn your favorite sandwich into a baseball diamond with this easy tutorial from Parenting!
Bent On Better Lunches nailed it with this easy-to-make Star Wars Bento Lunch Box idea!
And this Shark Week Bento Box is super fun, too!
This Bloomin’ Bento Box is super quick, easy, and adorable!
This sweet Challah Bread Cloud is so cute and super easy to make!
This School Rocks Bento Lunch Box would make a great first day of school lunch!
Make a quick and easy Tortise Bento Lunch Box using pita pockets and a food coloring marker!
You can’t get much easier than this cute Caterpillar Sandwich!
Eeek! This Waffle & PB Mouse Bento Box is the cutest!
These 68 Preschool and Kindergarten School Lunch Ideas are great healthy and colorful lunches that are also easy to pack. You could also use these school lunch ideas for older kids, you will just have to pack more;). 13 weeks of school lunches that will sure to be a hit with your little one!
Reasons to Love these Preschool and Kindergarten School Lunch Ideas:
- great for ages 3-6
- can be used for inspiration for older kids – just pack more
- fun foods so they will eat
- hidden veggies
- can be used for any bento box you own
- 13 weeks of lunch ideas
- all real school lunches
- my kids devoured most of these lunches below
Tips on How to Pack Bento Boxes:
I live by two Bento Packing Principles – protein and color.
That’s really it! After I get those items packed, the rest of the lunch usually falls right into place.
Protein – getting a good and healthy source of protein into each lunch box is key for making my kids full and energized. Some of our favorite protein sources are hummus, Greek yogurt, hardboiled eggs, almond/seed/peanut butter, cheese and chicken.
Color – I live by the #eattherainbow method when it comes to lunches 🌈(and I’m not talking about skittles here!). The goal is to try to pack the entire rainbow in each and every lunch.
Why am I so into this philosophy of eating? It’s pretty simple.
By packing lunches full of color I know, without a degree in nutrition, that my girls are getting a variety of nutrients from each fruit and veggie I pack.
Colorful Food = Healthy Food
Although it might sound pretty labor intensive to pack a ton of different colored produce in a lunch, I promise once you open up your fridge and start poking around, you will be able to find a ton of colorful fruits and veggies that are perfect for your kiddos lunches.
And if you need some ideas, then you came to the right place, because I have 68 examples of colorful and healthy lunches for preschoolers and kindergarteners below. Most of them only took me 5 minutes to pack👍🏼!
If you want even more, check out my best-selling cookbook Little Bento: 32 Irresistible Bento Box Lunch for Kids for more recipes and ideas!
For your convenience, I added a link for which bento box I used for each school lunch. But don’t think for a minute that you need a million different bento boxes to make these lunches (I just happen to have a very serious bento shopping problem, which I am working on thankyouverymuch:). Just get one bento box and work with how many sections you have, these are just example lunches not die-hard blueprints. And if you need some help figuring out which bento box is best for your kiddo then check out my post 9 Best Kids Bento Boxes for School.
Now, let’s get packing!
1. Spiced sweet potato mini muffins, peach chunks + blackberries, cherry tomatoes, Annie’s bunnies and chopped pears in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
2. Beet + apple hummus with rainbow veggie dippers, multigrain crackers, strawberries, yogurt covered pretzels and dried pineapple in the Planetbox Bento.
3. Fajita chicken quesadilla, dried cranberry + pistachios mix, chopped peaches, cherry tomatoes and a couple dark chocolate chips (in yellow container) in the Planetbox Bento.
4. Pesto + spinach pita pizza (recipe in book), pineapple, chocolate covered sunflower seeds (in pink container), ants-on-a-log, mandarin oranges+ blueberries and Annie’s chocolate bunnies in the Planetbox Bento.
5. BBQ chicken pita pizza with corn and bacon, melon balls, carrot slices and raisins in the Ecolunchbox Bento.
6. Healthy chocolate zucchini bread with cream cheese, grapes + blackberry finger salad, yellow peppers and dip, Annie’s organic yogurt and cashew pieces in the Planetbox Bento.
7. BBQ chicken pizza, snap peas and dip, pineapple + honeydew + blackberry finger salad, strawberries and pomegranate seeds and raisins in the Planetbox Bento.
8. Leftover tomato + corn + walnut couscous salad, watermelon, avocado chunks, baby carrots and dark chocolate chips in the Planetbox Bento.
9. Lemon hummus with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and crackers, strawberry applesauce, grain free raspberry + chocolate muffin and dried fruit (Bento is no longer available, but the Yumbox is even better).
10. Rainbow fruit (strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple, avocado and blackberries), homemade granola, Greek yogurt with honey and chia seeds and some snapeas in the Ecolunchbox Bento.
11. Turkey + pesto + yellow pepper wrap, trail mix, grapes, snap peas with dip and a dried apricot in the Planetbox Bento.
12. Greek yogurt with strawberry jam stir-in, peach + blackberry finger salad, homemade quinoa + almond granola, grapes and almond butter + dates with cinnamon roll-ups in the Planetbox Bento.
13. Boring cheese quesadillas, easy-peasy guac (recipe in book), pepper sticks, peaches, nut-free trail mix and a sweet potato, mango & black current pouch in the Planetbox Bento.
14. Curry egg salad sandwich (recipe in book), watermelon, mandarin oranges + blueberries, celery + peanut butter and dark chocolate in the Planetbox Bento.
15. Pulled pork sandwich with slaw, cut melon and strawberries, mixed dried fruit, Smarties and carrot sticks in the Steeltainer Bento.
16. Dinosaur almond butter + jelly sandwich, carrot sticks with ranch dip, peaches + grapes and pressed green juice (apples + celery + spinach + lemon) in BeatrixNY Bento and Cup.
17. Pumpkin yogurt with chia seeds, snappea sticks, dark chocolate power berry balls, blackberry + grape + pear finger salad, leftover cilantro + cheddar + corn bread muffin in the Bentology Bento.
18. Pretzel bagel bites and cucumber slices with honey mustard dipping sauce, granola + yogurt covered raisins and pear + pomegranate seeds finger salad in the LunchBots Bento.
19. Turkey pesto sausage pizza, green bean sticks with dipping sauce, cinnamon sweet potato chips, apple chunks and organic fruit chews in the Comfort Loft Bento.
20. ‘E’ pear sandwich with seed-tella and Halloween sprinkles (Ellie is convinced every meal should have sprinkles in it;) grape kabobs, olive slices, dehydrated strawberries and sliced sweet peppers in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
21. Bento box on left – kale chips, homemade applesauce, pink container has chocolate covered sesame seeds. Bento box on right – leftover slow cooker salsa chicken + cheese baked flautos, salsa, yellow container has a couple dried blueberries in the Steeltainer Bento.
22. Green hatch chili + lime hummus with carrot sticks, snap peas and multi-grain crackers, strawberries + pomegranate seeds, gouda slices and organic fruit chews in the Steeltainer Bento.
23. Pasta and meatballs, pear slices and graham crackers with goat cheese and blueberries (recipe in book) in the Steeltainer Bento and Thermos.
24. Whole wheat sandwich with seed-tella and raspberry jam, kettle chips, mandarin orange + blueberry finger salad, dye-free chocolate candy, dried blueberries + cranberries in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
25. Bits & pieces lunch in purée tray with lid – seed butter + raspberry jam sandwich, dried cranberries, sharp cheddar, frozen edamame, cherry tomatoes, blackberries, grapes, pomegranate seeds, dark chocolate and nut-free granola. I also sent a reusable pouch of broccoli + asparagus purée with tarragon and a little Greek yogurt in the Fresh Baby Puree Tray and Nourish with Style Pouch.
26. Turkey and cheese rollups + tomatoes on a stick with ranch dressing, kiwi + blueberry + pomegranate seeds finger salad, purple carrot sticks, homemade cookie and pretzels in the Steeltainer Bento.
27. Chicken + bean quesadilla with salsa, root veggie chips, avocado chunks, peppermint waffles cookies and blackberries in the Steeltainer Bento.
28. Egg salad sandwich, carrot sticks with ranch dip, pear + raspberry finger salad and a tropical dried fruit mix in the Steeltainer Bento.
29. Zucchini + chive cream cheese with carrot rolls ups on whole wheat tortilla, mellon balls, raspberry + pomegranate seeds, raisins and frozen edamame in the Steeltainer Bento.
30. Whole wheat mini bagel with pumpkin cream cheese, covered pretzels, tri-colored carrots, hard boiled egg and kiwi + blackberry + grape finger salad in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
31. Caprese sandwiches on-a-stick with basil dipping sauce, organic beef jerky and melon + blackberry + grape finger salad in the LunchBots Bento.
32. Bits & Pieces lunch – crackers, cheddar, grapes, sliced chicken, cucumbers, organic yummies and a pouch with applesauce + plain yogurt and cinnamon in the BEABA Container and the Nourish with Style Pouch.
33. Apple slice sandwich with spiced seed butter + shaved coconut + granola, avocado + cucumber + tomato finger salad with lime juice, cheese slices, dehydrated strawberries and some organic chocolate candy in the Steeltainer Bento.
34. Breakfast for Lunch – refined sugar-free chocolate waffle cream cheese sandwich, rainbow fruit sticks, yogurt with peach jam and granola in the Bentology Bento
35. French bread pizza with corn + cherry tomatoes, blackberry + peach + raspberry finger salad, ants on a log using seed butter, dark chocolate pretzels and red pepper sticks in the Steeltainer Bento.
36. Whole wheat sandwich rolls ups with cream cheese and peach jam, pear + edamame + dried cherry finger salad, nectarine applesauce with Greek yogurt and cherry tomatoes with ranch dip in the Bentology Bento.
37. Leftover basil + citrus chicken salad in whole wheat pita (recipe in book), grilled peaches + blueberries in yogurt, cheddar bunnies, heirloom tomatoes and a small amount of jelly beans in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
38. Leftover chicken sausage + cheese tortellini with nut-free pesto sauce and corn, pepper sticks with ranch dipping sauce, melon balls, dried fruit mix and Babybel cheese in the Steeltainer Bento.
39. Sandwich on a stick (meatball, cheese, toasted roll, olives, meatball), chopped strawberries, homemade sweet potato chips, chocolate chip cookie and avocado + edamame finger salad with lemon juice in the Steeltainer Bento.
40. Orange chicken salad + carrot wrap on whole wheat tortilla, popcorn + dried fruit with cinnamon, steamed broccoli with olive oil, dark chocolate pretzels and blackberries in the Steeltainer Bento.
41. Cream cheese + apricot jam sandwich squares, baked snapea chips, baby tri-color carrots sticks and dip, peaches and dark chocolate in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
42. Pineapple hummus, tri-colored pepper sticks, purple carrot sticks, multi-grian pita crackers, peach + plum + kiwi finger salad, chocolate surprise and frozen edamame in the Steeltainer Bento.
43. Whole wheat pita pizza with basil pesto, peach + blueberry finger salad, avocado + lime juice, yogurt covered pretzels and black olives in the Steeltainer Bento.
44. Leftover strawberry + avocado + corn + chicken farro salad, double grape + blueberry finger salad, yogurt covered pretzels, carrot sticks with ranch dip and dried cranberries in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
45. Breakfast for Lunch – fruit kabob (strawberry, melon and blackberry), yogurt with chia seeds, grain-free refined-sugar free dark chocolate chip muffin, homemade granola and hard boiled egg in the LunchBots Bento.
46. Peach + bbq chicken pizza (made from leftover chicken from dinner) with cilantro, watermelon + melon balls, dried fruit mix, letter cookies and edamame + avocado + pumpkin seeds in the Steeltainer Bento.
47. Bits + Pieces Meal – hard salami, sharp white cheese, grapes, multi-grain crackers, basil gouda, dried strawberries with dark chocolate covered raisins and an orange. In the pouch was carrot + pumpkin + apple puree mixed with Greek yogurt and cinnamon in the BEABA Container and the ReSqueeze Pouches.
48. Whole wheat pita pizza with basil, nectarine + blueberry + watermelon finger salad, sesame sticks, dark chocolate covered raisins, frozen edamame with a reusable pouch filled with pumpkin + apple + yogurt puree in the Steeltainer Bento with ReSqueeze Pouches.
49. Flower pb&j sandwich, red berry salad, homemade granola, mango yogurt and dark chocolate chips in the ThinkBaby Bento.
50. Leftover yellow coconut rice and curry + lemon chicken, dried apple slices, yellow melon balls, pineapple, cheddar cheese and yellow pepper sticks in the Comfort Loft Bento.
51. Spinach tortellini with basil + lemon pesto, kiwi slices, spinach muffins, pistachios, snap peas and green pepper sticks in the Planetbox Bento.
52. Raspberry jam + cream cheese heart sandwich, cherry tomatoes with basil dipping sauce, strawberry + raspberry finger salad and a dark chocolate cherry + almond cluster in the Ecolunchbox Bento.
53. Snack on-the-go, string cheese, apples + lemon juice, quick made trail-mix (raisins, dried cranberries, cashews, dark chocolate candy and gummy hearts from their Valentine’s Day present).
54. Spinach + basil pizza roll-up (recipe in book), berry salad, carrot + snap peas with poppyseed dressing, dried cherries and peanut butter + cinnamon popcorn (recipe in book) in the Planetbox Bento.
55. Hummus (store bought) with veggies sticks, crackers and cheese, spring fling finger salad (kiwi, avocado, pear, edamame and lime juice), blackberries + clementines and dark chocolate covered raisins in the Planetbox Bento.
56. Spinach + basil pesto pasta with chicken sausage, strawberry applesauce, snapeas and a cutie in the Ecolunchbox Bento.
57. Veggie + bean chili with cheese topping, mini corn bread muffins and pear slices in the Steeltainer Bento and Thermos.
58. Cheese pita pizza, blackberry + blueberry finger salad, peanut butter + cinnamon popcorn, sweet peppers with dip and dark chocolate covered sunflower seeds in the Planetbox Bento.
59. Pesto chicken + cheese + cherry tomato sandwich on a stick, berries with coconut dip, baked apple + cinnamon chips, dark chocolate treat and snap peas in the Steeltainer Bento.
60. Honey greek yogurt with cherry + almond chia seed jam swirl, citrus finger salad, kiwi slice, beet chocolate muffins with cream cheese surprise, homemade granola and dried fruit in the Planetbox Bento.
61. Leftover pizza, fruit salad, kiwi slices, mixed dried fruit (cherries, blueberries and raisins) and chopped tricolor peppers in the Steeltainer Bento.
62. Banana + almond butter + cinnamon tortilla roll-up (recipe in book), honey mustard pretzels, melon and blueberries, raspberry + lemon fruit roll-ups (recipe in book) and carrot sticks with dip in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
63. Lemon hummus with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and crackers, strawberry applesauce, grain-free raspberry + chocolate muffin and dried fruit (Bento no longer available, but Yumbox is even better).
64. Spinach tortellini with tomato sauce, berry salad, chewy mint chocolate chip granola bars, and a squeasygear pouch filled with sweet potato puree + applesauce + plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey and a pinch of cinnamon in the Steeltainer Bento and Thermos and Squeasy Pouch.
65. DIY spiced oatmeal with dried cranberries and blueberries and pecan pieces to add-in, apple + raspberry finger salad and 2 fruit nut bars. I added 1/2 cup of old-fashoined oats to a thermos and then added 1 1/4 cup boiling water, stir everything together and it was done and hot for lunch in the Steeltainer Bento and Thermos.
66. BBQ chicken pizza, snap peas and dip, pineapple + honeydew + blackberry finger salad, strawberries + pomegranate seeds and raisins in the Planetbox Bento.
67. Pesto pizza on ciabbita roll, sliced cucumbers with dip, strawberries, cashews + dried fruit and a couple of organic gummies in the Planetbox Bento.
68. Easy cheese + bean quesadilla, cut grapes and blueberries, letter cookies (from trader joes), cuties and snap peas in the Innobaby Bus Bento.
I would love to know, what are your favorite things to pack your kids in their lunches?
MORE SCHOOL LUNCH BOX INSPIRATION YOU’LL LOVE:
- 9 Best Kids Bento Boxes for School (expert review)
- 10 Allergy-Friendly School Lunch Box Ideas for Kids
- 100 Healthy School Lunch Box Ideas (FREE Printables!)
- 10 Easy + Healthy School Lunch Ideas
- 5 School Lunch Box Packing Tips (FREE Printables!)
- Complete School Lunch Survival Guide
- 36 Healthy Lunch Box Recipes for Kids (that they will love)
- Little Bento: 32 Irresistible Bento Box Lunches for Kids
68 Preschool or Kindergarten School Lunch Ideas
These 68 Preschool and Kindergarten School Lunch Ideas are great healthy and colorful lunches that are also easy to pack. 0 from 0 votes DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?Mention @Babyfoode or tag #babyfoode!
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Bento Box Basics for Back-to-School
Our Guest Contributor is Wendy Copley of Wendolonia.
When my oldest son entered preschool and I had to start packing him a lunch, I was terror-struck. Up to that point his daycare had fed him his lunches. Sure, I made his lunches on the weekend, but I usually just heated up leftovers or fixed him a bowl of mac and cheese. Now I was faced with filling a lunch box for him every day.
A lunch box full of cold foods.
A lunch box full of cold foods he would be willing to put in his picky three-year-old mouth.
My mind boggled.
But rather than panic, I did what I do in all times of crisis: I started searching the internet. And as I investigated packed lunches I stumbled upon the fabulous world of bento lunches.
What the heck is bento, you ask? The simplest definition of bento is that it is the Japanese word for a boxed lunch. But if I were to expand the definition a bit further I’d also say a lunch that is packed bento-style contains a variety of different types of foods: carbs, protein, fruits, veggies and sometimes a small treat. The foods are selected to provide a balance of colors, flavors and textures.
That sounds boring, you say. That sounds like a lot of boring work.
Ahhhh, but there’s where you’re wrong! The fun part of bentos is that they are meant to be cute. And that cuteness delights picky little kids. At least it delights my picky little kids. Your mileage may vary.
Some people go all out when they’re packing a bento box. They make exquisite food art that looks like cartoon characters, animals, or even scenes from movies. I am not one of those people. These lunches are lovely but they’re not something your average parent is going to throw together on a Tuesday morning. I speak from experience here: I love packing bentos for my kids, but between wrangling my toddler and begging my 1st grader to please please! put his shoes on, I don’t have a lot of extra time to spend making their lunches into masterpieces. I have to feed my kids lunch every day though they insist on eating — so I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that allow all of us to have a little fun with their meals.
What you’ll need to start packing bento lunches:
Don’t worry! You don’t need a bunch of expensive stuff to get started. Here are the basics:
- A box — The most important piece of equipment you’ll need to pack bento lunches is some sort of box to put your food in. Specialty shops and online store sell dozens of different types of boxes that are designed specifically for bento meals. These boxes come in a variety of colors and shapes and range in price from about $2.00 for plastic boxes with hinged lids to $50 for fancy thermal lunch sets. If you can find bento boxes (which is sometimes a tall order) they’re an easy way to go, but you can also use other types of containers with no trouble. For a child’s lunch box, I recommend a container that is roughly 4 x 6 inches wide and about an inch and a half deep. That may seem small, but this size will allow you pack the box tightly and fill it right up to the rim which will keep the food from moving around and mixing together when it’s in transit.
- Silicon baking cups — I use silicon baking cups just about every time I pack a bento. They are great for keeping wet things away from dry things and corralling small items like peas or berries. They also add a splash of color for a more cheerful presentation.
- A knife — A regular kitchen knife will go a long way toward sprucing up your lunch. Use it for cutting sandwiches into strips, dicing fruit or cutting veggies into matchstick shapes.
- Cookie cutters — Investing in a few versatile cookie cutters will allow you to easily add a little bit of cute to your lunches. I tend to use smaller cutters in basic shapes like circles, stars and flowers most frequently, but it’s also nice to have some larger cutters around for sandwiches. If you have kids in the house, you probably already have cookie cutters in a cupboard somewhere that would be perfect for bentos.
Techniques for adding some “cute” to your lunches:
So exactly how do you go about making fruits, veggies and sandwiches cute? Here are a couple of quick and easy techniques:
Neat and Tidy
One of the fastest, easiest ways to make the food in a lunch box look nice is to stack foods, line them up, or just generally give them some kind of order. Compare the two piles of carrots in the photo above. The crazy pile on the left is fine, but the neat little stack on the right is kind of adorable. Or at least as adorable as carrots can be….
You don’t have to line up every single piece of food in the lunch box though. For the fruit cup above, I dumped a hand full of clementine wedges willy nilly in the bottom of the cup, then arranged the top layer in a circle pattern.
Another quick technique is to cut something anything into a shape with a cookie cutter. Kids go absolutely bananas for this. I like to make mini-sandwiches, then cut extra cheese, meat or veggies into even more shapes and layer them on top. I’ve also been known to cut fruit leather, tofu, carrot coins and red bell peppers into animal shapes.
What do we do with all leftover scraps? We don’t throw them away, if you were worried about that. We usually just eat them along with our breakfasts.
Sometimes my kids go through phases where they are totally opposed to sandwiches so when that happens I make them little roll-ups. Cut a piece of thin sliced deli meat into strips that are about as wide as your bento box is deep. Layer them with similarly sized strips of cheese and then roll them up. Put them in the lunch box with a stack of whole wheat crackers and your kids can feast on cheese and crackers.
Pack it in
Now it’s time to put it all in the box. The most important thing to remember when you’re packing a bento is that you need to fill the box completely. If you don’t pack the food in snugly and right up to the top rim of the box, everything will mix together and the little bit of extra time you spent to make the lunch cute will have been wasted. If there’s no extra space in the box the food won’t have anywhere to go when the box is tilted and everything will stay where it belongs. I usually pack the main components into the box and then look for any extra spaces. If I find any, I plug them up with smaller little bites. Grapes, cubes of cheese, berries and cherry tomatoes are wonderful for filling these little gaps.
Once everything is in place, show it to your kid and bask in her smiles! Or quietly pack it in her lunch box and let her have a nice little surprise at lunch time.
Or you could just save it for yourself. Shhhhhh!
Wendy Copley lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two young sons. She writes about cooking, crafts, parenting and her obsession with lunch boxes at Wendolonia.
More Ideas for Creating Bento Box Lunches for Kids:
- 4 Flowery Ideas for Kids Lunches
- A Magical Unicorn Bento Box Kids’ Lunch
- Back-to-School Lunchbox Inspiration
These Healthy Bento Lunch Box Recipes are perfect for back to school and are the equivalent of adult lunchables! Try pizza, turkey & hummus, egg & cheese and more!
Gain access to my free 4-week meal prep magic ebook!
Why use a bento box?
Bento boxes were first common in Japan. Thanks to the Bento’s ability to make lunchtime fun for kids, they’re popular nearly everywhere these days!
The most popular Bento lunch boxes feature elaborately styled food but you don’t need a special box; glass meal prep containers work perfectly. Bento lunch ingredients are often colorful and always fun – that’s why kids love them!
It’s also a fantastic way to manage portions and divide up a larger servings, and it’s better for the environment when you skip using plastic bags and switch to reusable products.
How long does it take to make a bento box lunch?
Some people take hours to craft a picture perfect bento box. If that’s not for you, I have a perfectly easy solution to help you create Bento lunch box ideas in minutes!
To create one of the five no-cook bento box lunches below, you really only need 5-10 minutes of prep time and you’ve got amazing lunches ready in no time.
By preparing several bento boxes at one time, you can meal prep lunches for an entire week. No fancy ingredients, not a ton of prep time, and NO cook time.
Different varieties of Bento box lunch ideas
All of these varieties make a bento lunch box kids and adults will both enjoy! I have made five different bento boxes for you to try – here they are listed and pictured below alongside the ingredients you’ll need.
Pizza Bento Box
Turkey and Hummus Bento Box
Chickpea Salad Bento Box
Egg and Cheese Bento Box
Meat and Cheese Bento Box
How to make bento lunch boxes (step-by-step)
Bento boxes are basically assembling a variety of healthy ingredients into one meal. But here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Find containers you like. Typically, you will want some kind of glass or plastic container that is divided into sections. You could also use silicone dividers to separate the food in a larger container. Here are the containers I use.
- Create a well balanced meal. There are four sections to the bento box: carbs, protein, vegetables and fruits.
- Tightly pack the Bento box lunch. The tighter you pack the box, the less mess and shifting there will be. Pack the bulky stuff first and the flexible items last. For example, the cheese in the pizza bento should be last because it will fit in anywhere. Using leftovers is a great way to create a new meal out of the ingredients you already have in your fridge.
How long will they last in the fridge?
If you are packing hot food into a bento box, allow it to cool completely before putting the lid on. This will help you avoid soggy meals.
Bentos can be kept in the refrigerator overnight or can be made quickly in the morning.
How long they last in the fridge depends on the ingredients. The five in this recipe will last several days. Just wait to put any non-refrigerated ingredients in until the day you plan to eat them.
How to extend shelf life of ingredients
You can freeze most of the ingredients in the bento boxes, but do so individually. For example, make the chickpea salad and freeze it separately from other items you plan to add to the box.
You can also vacuum seal the bento box ingredients in a similar manner.
Bento lunch boxes for adults
Bento boxes are a perfect solution for leftovers. Nearly any ingredient that you have some leftovers of after dinner can be reimagined into bento lunch boxes for adults!
What started as a trend for school lunches gets a sophisticated new look when you add ingredients like eggs and cheese. This is your chance to combine the flavors you like best for a lunchtime meal you will look forward to.
Where can you buy bento lunch boxes?
With the recent popularity of bento boxes, you can find them at nearly any national chain store, or online at places like Amazon.
You want to look for boxes that have compartments for the different food groups. Most are dishwasher and microwave safe. Many even come with silverware and an ice pack to keep everything at a safe temperature until lunchtime.
- Here are the bento box containers I use in this post
- Here are some cheaper plastic bento boxes
Other cold lunch ideas
If you need some suggestions of ingredients to add to a Bento lunch box, try some of these. They don’t even need to be reheated!
- Deli meat roll ups
- Cold noodles or pasta
- Quinoa salad (with or without meat)
- Watermelon salad
- Marinated vegetables
Other meal prep lunch resources
Preparing meals in advance helps you make healthy choices and it saves you a lot of time in the morning.
A Bento box lunch box is just one solution on the quest for a healthy, easy lunch. Get more meal prep ideas from these posts:
- How to Meal Prep
- 20 Easy Healthy Meal Prep Lunch Ideas for Work
- Meal prep school lunch ideas
Meal prep tools for this recipe
- Here are the bento box containers I use in this post
- Here are some cheaper plastic bento boxes
Meal prep challenge
If you’d like some more help with meal planning, then you’ll love my free 5-day meal prep challenge! It’s basically a free course that will teach you how to meal prep and cook healthy meals at home with some PDF bonus materials. Over the course of the challenge, I’ll send you a free meal planner and shopping list templates so that you stay on the right track with meal prep (plus more goodies of course!)
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Healthy Bento Lunch Box Recipes 5 Ways
These Healthy Bento Lunch Box Recipes are perfect for back to school and are the equivalent of adult lunchables! Try pizza, turkey & hummus, egg & cheese and more! 4 from 3 votes Pin Course: Main Dish Cuisine: American Keyword: adult lunchables, bento box, bento lunch boxes, cold cuts, cold lunch Prep Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 20 minutes Servings: 4 servings Calories: 338kcal
Turkey & Hummus
- 16 deli turkey slices
- 2 cups mixed veggies (cucumber, carrots, cherry tomatoes)
- 1/2 cup hummus
- 4 cheese sticks
Meat & Cheese
- 1 cup sliced kielbasa, ham or salami
- 1 cup sliced cheddar cheese
- 2 cups crackers
- 2 cups raspberries & blackberries
Egg & Cheese
- 8 hard boiled eggs, sliced in half
- 2 apples, cored and sliced
- 1 cup sliced white cheddar cheese
- 1 cup grapes
- 1/2 cup raw almonds
- 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1/3 cup light mayo
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp salt & pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried dill
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 green onions, sliced
- Extra veggies and crackers, to serve
- 3 pitas, cut into small circles
- 1/2 cup pizza sauce
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup mini pepperoni or turkey pepperettes, sliced
- Add ingredients of choice to each bento box container. For chickpea salad, mash chickpeas in a large bowl with a fork (will be a rough mash), then serve over lettuce in bento box container with sides of choice.
- Bento boxes will last in the fridge up to 5 days. Enjoy!
Calories: 338kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 1085mg | Potassium: 455mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 48IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 92mg | Iron: 2mg
You would be wondering by now about a Bento Menu. So I am going to share the ultimate guide of Bento recipes. This is the only Bento resource you would ever need!
When Japanese people pack Bento/Obento, they often consider rice dishes as the main dish. So simply fill half of your bento box with Plain cooked rice, or in Onigiri rice ball form, or seasoned rice dishes such as Fried rice, Omurice, or Takikomi gohan.
For more different types of rice dish options, look here. Also there are many different variations of Onigiri Rice balls in terms of filling.
RecipeTin Japan explains very well about different fillings of Onigiri Japanese rice balls.
Pickled Plum shares a recipe of chicken filling : Chicken & Spicy Mayo
Chopstick Chronicles’ Salmon Onigiri and Miso Butter Yaki Onigiri are great too!
Main side dishes
Once you packed the rice dish, then choose one or two hero side dishes of Obento. For example in the Obento menu I shared recently, was Meatballs and Tamagoyaki. As I explained in the Obento rules, you need to choose dishes that can be well seasoned. And remember to thicken the sauce and coat well.
Also choose foods can be easily eaten with a pair of chopsticks. So it’s important that the ingredients are cut into small pieces already. For that reason, Just one cookbook Garlic Saikoro Steak ticks every rule.
RecipeTin Japan shares a delicious, nutritious and eye catching Asparagus roll with Pork.
No Recipes Miso Salmon and well seasoned with curry Curried Lamb Karrage go with plain rice so well.
Ok, then we choose one or two more side dishes considering different textures, flavours and colour. I have noticed that Japanese hero dishes tend to be brown in colour. So, I try to lighten up my Obento with green, red and yellow. For the side dish choices in my recipe collections, look here.
Also Just one cookbook Simmered Sweet Potato with Lemon is a popular side dish that Japanese people often add to their bento menu.
If you would like to add something refreshing, RecipeTin Japan Japanese vermicelli salad is a great addition to your bento menu.
Side dishes need to be well seasoned and marinated dishes are definitely great. For that reason, No recipes Marinated Japanese mushrooms is great side dish to add into your bento box.
Japanese Condiments for Bento Menu
Finally, the rice seasonings and Japanese condiments often added to a bento box are Umeboshi, Furikake rice seasoning, and pickled veggies. Umeboshi are particularly good as it has an antiseptic effect. So too has sushi ginger. Remember that we have to make sure the Obento does not go off easily. These Japanese condiments are not just adding colour or filling the gap, but also have an important job in the bento box.
If you do not access to real Umeboshi, which is salted plum, I shared fake rhubarb Umeboshi in a previous post. They are seriously just like Umeboshi. I could not believe it myself, and rhubarb, I believe is easily available world wide(?)
You can buy Furikake in packets but also it can be homemade. If you do not have access to the Furikake rice seasoning packet, look at my recipe. Similar to Furikake, salmon Soboro is great to eat with plain rice.
I would also add Shibazuke by Just one cookbook. Soon I can make it because I am growing one of the ingredients. I would like to share this in the blog in the future
Hope you enjoyed this post, and now have a better understanding of how Japanese people create delicious, nutritious and eye catching Obento. If you like the post or have any questions, please leave comments below.
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