Bento Box Lunches

Bento Box
Bento Box. Linda Larsen

Do you know what Bento boxes are? They are boxes that are divided into sections that usually hold sushi. Not only do they make lunch fun, but they help the environment by reducing waste. You don't need to use plastic bags, foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, or waxed paper to hold your child's (or your) food for lunch. 

And these boxes are sturdy; they will last for years. Many are dishwasher safe, and they are all easy to clean and easy to keep clean.

Follow manufacturer's instructions to take care of your bento box.

There are many kinds of bento boxes, from a simple one made of metal to more complicated two-layer versions that have cold packs built in. I prefer the latter, and have purchased a CoolBites Premium Bento Box on Amazon.com. (Another great choice is the Cool Gear Ez-Freeze Collapsable Bento Box on Amazon.com.) It has a top layer you can use to hold bread, vegetables, cookies, or other non-perishable foods, and the divider that goes on top of the insulated bottom layer is a cold pack. I like to put a small fork or spoon in the top section if I pack something like chicken salad or sandwich ingredients that may need to be added to a croissant or bun. You don't need anything else to eat your lunch and keep it safe until lunchtime; no bag, no insulated carrier, nothing. Just the cool looking bento box and your appetite!

In the bento box in the picture, I put baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and chicken salad in the bottom layer.

I added two Chocolate Chip Cookies and a sliced croissant in the top layer. Now that's a nice lunch!

You can, of course, put your own homemade sushi in your bento box. But think beyond that Japanese staple. Here's what I like putting into bento boxes:

  • Chicken slices
  • Ham slices
  • Cooked shrimp
  • A sandwich wrap sliced to look like sushi
  • Mini sandwiches
  • Hard cooked eggs
  • Chicken salad
  • Pasta salad
  • Bean salad
  • vegetable salad
  • tuna salad
  • egg salad

And to accompany the above, add:

  • Tiny dinner buns, cut in half
  • Mini croissants for sandwiches, cut in half
  • Sturdy crackers
  • Dipping sauce
  • Salad dressing
  • Vegetable dip
  • Sandwich spreads

You can also put different snacks your child likes into the box. Try:

  • Ants on a log
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Carrot sticks or baby carrots
  • String cheese
  • Rice
  • Granola bar
  • Corn mixed with pesto
  • Melon cubes
  • Banana slices
  • Cauliflower florets
  • Tortilla chips
  • Cheese cubes
  • Cream cheese balls rolled in chopped nuts

And the desserts you can add:

Switch things up and add new foods every day. Remember, it takes children up to 10 introductions to a food before they may even try it. And the more varied a diet they eat, the healthier their diet will be.

Always remember food safety whenever you pack a lunch. Make sure that perishable foods such as cheeses, meats, and salads are cold before they go into the box. Make sure that the cold pack section of the bento box is thoroughly chilled in the refrigerator overnight before you pack the lunch. And tell your child that any food she doesn't eat has to be thrown away.

The bento box, like all insulated lunch boxes, can keep food cold, but it cannot bring that food back down to a safe temperature of below 40°F.

Have fun experimenting with your bento boxes. And get your kids involved! They will be more likely to eat lunch if they have had a hand in picking out the food and preparing it.