Traditional bento in Japan consists of rice, veggies and meat, all neatly arranged in a lunch box. This style has taken Aussie lunch boxes by storm, too. Mums have twisted it, though, by using sandwiches, veggie with dips, crackers and fruit. Have you made one before? If not, I got some useful tips to make bento lunch boxes for kids easy, healthy and fun to prep!
Components of Bento Boxes for Kids
First thing first: plan what you need to pack in your bento box. It has four main components: carbohydrates, protein, vegetables and fruit (or dessert). Here are a few bento lunch box ideas to help you get started:
- Carbs. Rice dishes, like sushi, omurice and onigiri, are a bento staple. But if the kids do not like rice that much, you can prep pasta, sandwiches, wraps or couscous instead.
- Protein. Depending on your carbohydrate of choice, you can pack ham, cheese, egg, meatballs or chicken nuggets. Ideally, opt for make-ahead proteins that you can freeze and cook or reheat in the morning.
- Veggies. Pack them whole or in sticks as kids prefer munching on baby vegetables. Use dips or yoghurt to make them extra tasty. You can add them in your carb (fried rice or muffin) and protein components (omelette or quiche), too, if you like.
- Fruits. Use seasonal fruits when possible to keep things budget-friendly. For variety, swap fruit with an occasional cookie, candy bar or brownie.
Tools for Making Bento Lunches
Preparing bento lunch boxes for kids is a snap with the right tools. Don’t worry. They are easy to find. You probably have one of these in your kitchen cabinet plus you can always improvise:
- Lunch box with compartments. The key to making successful bento lunches is to pack food separately and tightly. So, use lunch boxes with dividers to keep foods items in place.
- Muffin or baking cups. If you don’t have bento-style lunch boxes, you can use paper muffin cups as dividers instead. These are perfect for confining items like peas, blueberries and corn kernels. I prefer silicone cups, though, as these are reusable. Either way, these cups add a pop of colour to your work of art.
- Cookie cutters. Basic shapes like hearts, stars, circles and flowers are perfect for bite-sized fruits or veggies. Use large cookie cutters for shaping sandwiches.
- Knife and cutting board. Add variety to your kids’ packed lunch by slicing food items in wedges, matchsticks or cubes.
- Condiment containers. Some lunch boxes already have these built-in. If not, you can purchase a few for packing hummus, yoghurt and all sorts of dipping sauces.
Bento Lunch Box Packing Techniques
We eat with our eyes first. Perhaps, this is the reason why bento lunch boxes for kids are such a hit. Simple food items look extra yum (even for picky eaters) when presented beautifully. These techniques will surely step up your lunch game and bring out the bento artist in you.
Neat stacks or folds
You don’t have to be fancy all the time to make a pretty bento. Neatly lined up carrots or cucumbers, for example, is much better than dumping them all in. You can even form flowers out of egg wedges or clementine segments. Or cut up items like ham or salami and fold or roll them right next to some crackers or cheese.
There’s something special about eating flower-shaped carrots or unicorn sandwiches. Kids find them attractive and extra delicious. So, go ahead and play around with your cookie cutters. Make bite-sized fruit snacks or create funny faces using your sandwich ingredients. Just don’t throw the scraps away and plan how you will use them up.
Here’s a technique that will put a spin to sandwiches, literally. Instead of stacking everything, roll them up to show off the yummy filling inside. You can go sweet or savoury for this and try all kinds of combinations. It’s a great alternative to sushi rolls. Also, roll-ups are smaller, making them easier to eat and enjoy.
Use colourful food picks to decorate firm fruits and veggies or cubed sandwich bites. These come in paper or plastic and are usually available at party or craft stores. Aside from colour, these little accessories make food easy to grab and eat. Longer ones make excellent fruit or sandwich skewers, too. Just remember to use this technique for older kids and keep them easily visible.
Bento Lunch Box Tips
- Make a list of lunch favourites with your kids then work around those for your bento prep.
- Keep food items mini and easy to eat to increase the chances of kids finishing them up.
- Add variety, from colour to texture to flavour, to make the kids excited to try everything.
- Use an ice pack to keep food fresh or choose items that stay safe at room temperature.
- Turn your kids’ hobbies and likes into an ocean, garden, holiday or cartoon-themed bento!
Mums will probably say these bento lunch boxes for kids need lots of time. But with a little planning and simple tools, bento lunch prep can quickly be a habit. The kids’ happy faces during lunchtime also make the prep work all the more worth it.