When you’re looking to shake up your child’s lunch routine and send them off to school with healthy food, the bento box trend is perhaps your best solution. A longstanding tradition in its native Japan, the bento box provides distinct compartments for meats, veggies, rice and fruits, keeping the meal both colorful and tasty. It also cuts down on disposable bags, teaching young kids the advantages of sustainability at the same time.
What is a Bento Box?
Bento refers to both a single-serving takeout style meal (typically served for lunch in Japan) or a meal packed at home to take to work or school. Bento boxes have discreet compartments and a lid, separating the contents to prevent flavors from running together. Most bento boxes have a large compartment for the main dish, whether that’s sliced up meat, a sandwich or veggie dip. You can use those compartments to pack distinct food groups (grapes, nuts, berries, sliced veggies all work well) so your kid’s lunch is both colorful and diverse.
10 Bento Recipes for All Types of Kids
No matter what kind of choosy tastes your child has, there’s surely something for them to enjoy below.
1. Last Night’s Dinner
Those hamburgers, that roast chicken, or pork loin roast is probably pretty tasty sliced up and served for lunch the next day. Use the side compartments for a hunk of crusty bread (whole grain, of course), and a side of strawberries for dessert.
2. Peanut Butter Sandwich Bento Recipe
Who doesn’t love a little PB and J at least once a week? Fashion up a sandwich, serve some grapes or half a banana (still in the peel, so it doesn’t brown) and some almonds or pistachios for extra protein and a little crunch.
3. Turkey Rollups, Chips and Salsa
While tacos may be a bit messy for a kid’s lunch, try this instead. Use two small flour tortillas, turkey, and your child’s favorite sliced cheese. Roll those up and serve yummy chips and salsa on the side.
4. High-Protein Salads
Chicken, tuna, salmon, and egg are all pretty delicious in salad form. Add about one cup of your child’s favorite protein salad to the main container. Add carrot sticks and crackers to the second and third and presto: a delicious crowd-pleasing bento recipe that is fast and easy for parents to make.
5. Pasta Salad, Roast Veggies and Pine Nuts
You can hide all kinds of healthy food goodness when it’s smothered in delicious rotini pasta, olive oil, a touch of cheese and some sort of protein (sausage, shredded chicken, or seasoned ground beef). Add some roasted red peppers on the side and fill that last compartment with roasted pine nuts (high in both fiber and protein) to finish it out. If you’re having trouble finding pine nuts, experiment with roasted pumpkin seeds.
6. Deconstructed Meatball Sub
Meatballs are delicious at any temperature. Pack the main portion with low-fat turkey meatballs; it’s not only delicious it’s also one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Slice up a ciabatta roll and fill the last compartment with tomato sauce for dipping.
7. Hummus and Sliced Veggies
Add a healthy dollop of protein-rich hummus to the biggest compartment. Fill the remaining two with sliced celery, carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and something unexpected like blanched green beans or yellow pepper.
8. Asian-Inspired Chicken Salad
A chicken salad is a welcome addition to a kid’s lunch. Place some shredded chicken, chopped celery, drained canned mandarin oranges, and shredded carrots on a pile of micro greens. Fill the second space with broken up uncooked ramen noodles and sliced almonds, so they stay crisp. Add a simple dressing of seasoned rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce to the third.
9. Quinoa Salad and Fruits
Find a recipe online for a delicious and easy quinoa salad with generous portions of healthy foods like chicken breast, veggies, nuts, and even a touch of cheese to keep it tasty. Pack your kid’s favorite fruits on the sides, and maybe a sweet treat like a cookie or two.
10. Caprese Kebabs With Olive Oil and Crackers
Grab two to three bamboo skewers and alternate stacking fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves (you can fold them in half if need be), and cherry tomatoes. Grab some extra virgin olive oil for dipping (if your kid likes his or her food salty, drop a few grains of sea salt into the mix) and some hearty, whole grain crackers.
Even if you don’t follow these bento box recipes every day, throwing in one or two a week can wake up your child’s palate and teach them the wonders of home cooking. Get creative and experiment with your own. Even if it’s just a simple sandwich, chips, and some sliced fruit, that’s surely a healthier food option than whatever they serve in the cafeteria. Have fun!