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Creating fun, delicious, and easy bento boxes for your kids’ lunches
Creating fun and delicious bento boxes (but super easy) for kids’ lunches is still a thing!
Even while on quarantine ☺️
In our house, at least.
(When we are not busy creating fun and easy bento box lunches, we are creating one of these 17 Fun Food Art Projects! Other times when we have candy corn available, we try doing some of these creative candy corn ideas.)
So where did the idea of bento boxes come from?
Bento boxes are of course, from the land of anything cute!
They are of Japanese origin. The Japanese almost always pack home cooked meals in cute little special boxed containers.
(Awww, I so love their culture of cute…)
Simple bento boxes usually have the following:
- pickled food, and
- cooked vegetable
For the Japanese, it is common to pack single-portion home cooked meals and take-out in cute little special boxed containers.
Some people take a lot of time preparing elaborate bento boxes making the food look like well-known cartoon characters or cute animals. It makes the bento boxes fun and interesting and encourages the person who is eating it to enjoy her lunch even more.
You can easily make bento boxes, too! You can be as elaborate or as simple as you want. I get most of my Bento boxes on Amazon.
Besides the actual bento boxes, you can get additional containers, bottles, bento jars, and cute bears and other animal-shaped boxes.
Bento Boxes Are Not Just for Japanese Food-Benefits of Using Bento Boxes
Bento boxes are definitely not just for Japanese food. You can pack just about any food you fancy and make them look cute! Your kids will love them! There are many benefits of using bento boxes for your child’s lunch.
- Are Eco Friendly – Your child will not be adding plastic, paper or other waste. Everything they bring to school for lunch will be brought home to be washed and used again.
- Are Served in Perfect Portions – Eating the right amount of each food group can be difficult with a regular lunch box, but with a bento box, it is easy to portion out the food.
- Are Great for Picky Eaters – Children are notorious for being picky eaters, but you can use a cookie cutter to make a star shaped sandwich or cut vegetables into a variety of shapes.
- Encourage Healthy Eating – There are so many containers to fill with fresh veggies and fruits.
- Are Budget Friendly – It costs a lot to pay for school lunches plus your bento box lunch could be healthier than the school cafeteria food.
- Are Fun – Children will love the colorful boxes, the cute shapes of their food, and the variety that they can get inside their lunch. They’ll be excited to open it each day as if it’s a gift, and you’ll feel great about it.
- Gets Kids Involved – Once your child has a bento box, they might be more interested in preparing their own lunches and it’s easy to let them with a bento box.
What to Buy for Bento Boxes
You really don’t have tobuy fancy Japanese bento boxes to create awesome bento box lunches for your kids. Cute containers of all shapes and sizes can be found at Amazon, department stores, and your local grocery store. They don’t have to be fancy – it’s all about how you fill them and make them look pretty.
Easy Food Ideas to Use
For healthy food, you can try using:
- Black Bean Burgers – You don’t even have to make them traditionally shaped like burgers. Add some shredded carrot for color and sweetness.
- Chicken Quesadilla – Use a cookie cutter to make cute shapes.
- Ham Sandwich – Cut the ham sandwiches into cute shapes and sizes. You can also skip the bread and use lettuce to wrap the ham.
- Seafood Wraps – Make sushi rolls and use a lot of available veggies.
- Noodles – Children love noodles. Make a DIY ramen by putting noodles, sauces, bite sized chicken pieces, and veggies in different containers.
- Dipping Sauces – Always include some dipping sauces since children love to dip things, especially veggies.
- Finger Veggies – Always put some finger veggie sticks in with every lunch. Veggies are great for energy, good carbs and vitamins. Carrots, celery, and cucumbers are all good choices, but almost any veggie can be eaten raw in sticks.
- Brown Rice or Quinoa – This is a great addition to any lunch and will look great inside the bento box, especially with some shredded veggies stirred in.
- Salad Bar – Using different containers and spaces, make your child a mini salad bar with the ingredients they love in a salad. Salad can contain fruit, beans, grains, and veggies, so don’t just stick to iceberg lettuce.
- Yogurt & Fruit Chunks – These are always a nice combination to include in your bento box and can serve as dessert at the end of their lunch.
- Something Special – Always put something special inside as a prize that doesn’t have to be super healthy. A nice dark chocolate Hershey’s kiss is always appreciated.
How to Pack a Bento Box
If you are a “bento boxer’, packing a bento box is an art itself. Making it look beautiful is part of the joy, but you don’t have to go crazy.
Make sure you know the type of box you have. Here are some boxes and what they are useful for:
- Partitioned Boxes – These are easy to use for a mini salad bar, making the ingredients separate from each other.
- Plain Boxes – These are best to use for meals that are either all hot, or all cold, or can be reheated all at once. To make these boxes look good, you can put different foods in between each group to differentiate each section and to keep food from touching something that would ruin the flavor.
- Little Containers – Some bento boxes have one main box, with many little containers to put inside the main box. This is very convenient as you can make so many different cadjustments inside the bento box. Plus you can remove and heat what needs heated, and keep cold what needs to be kept cold. Not to mention having some covered lids will make packing liquids easier.
- Stackable – Stackable bento boxes are really great because you can put like ingredients together, and build up a larger lunch with the stackable boxes, some of which include partitioned boxes as well as plain boxes and even little containers.
Getting a variety of different types of bento boxes, even the newer, less expensive copies that you can get via Rubber Maid at the grocery store will work. But, the more colorful and interesting they look, the more likely your child is to eat the contents.
How to Safely Pack your Child’s Easy Bento Box
Here are basic rules to safely pack your child’s bento box:
- Hot Foods Stay Hot – Consider which foods need to stay hot and pack accordingly using a thermal package especially made for bento boxes.
- Cold Foods Stay Cold –Consider adding some ice packs if food needs to really stay cold.
- No Raw Meat or Fish – It’s too risky to pack these raw foods, no matter how cold you keep them in your child’s lunch box. If you want to pack sushi, try California rolls with smoked fish or something without meat or fish wrapped like a sushi roll.
- No Undercooked Meat or Fish – It’s easy to accidentally under cook meat or fish, so it’s best to use a thermometer to test doneness before packaging in a bento box.
- No Undercooked Tofu – Moist non animal proteins are also a danger when undercooked and kept in a tight confined area where bacteria can grow.
- No Undercooked Beans – Like tofu, beans are at risk of becoming contaminated when undercooked and packaged without proper refrigeration.
- Watch the Leftover Rice – Leftover rice can become spoiled. Use freshly prepared rice or frozen rice instead of rice that’s been hanging around in the fridge for a while.
Other Safety Rules and Tips:
- Use Condiments Carefully – Condiments heavy in egg or mayo products can become dangerous. It is best to pack condiments that are prepackaged like what you get from the “to-go” area in a fast food restaurant.
- Use Ice Packs – When appropriate, you can put icepacks in and around the bento box to keep it cold. Not only will that keep things safer, but also some things just taste better as cold as possible.
- Use Insulated Thermal Carrying Package – There are special carrying cases made for bento boxes that are insulated and thermal. These can help keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. .
- Use Green Leaves as Dividers – You can use any type of green leaves such as fresh, clean parsley and lettuce as dividers in between the different types of food. The antibacterial properties can help keep the food safe. They taste good, too.
- Include Pickled Items – Pickled items really taste good and can help the food stay fresh.
- Use Wasabi – because they make food taste good, that’s it.
- Use Ginger – Like Wasabi which is traditionally used on raw fish, so is thinly sliced ginger. This might prove spicy for a kid, so you can just cook with it in the food to help it stay fresh.
- Use Salt – Salt will add a little taste to your child’s food.
- Use Sugar – Just like salt, sugar is a preservative. Add sugar, not that much though, (and you can use honey instead which also has antibacterial properties) on food to keep it fresh and make it taste better.
- Ask About Rules – Your child’s school may have specific rules about what you can pack in a child’s lunch. This is not to invade on your rights but rather to protect children with allergies. Some children who are highly allergic to nuts, for example, cannot even get near them. Instruct your child not to share his lunch.
- Get Creative with Liquids – Finding interesting shapes of containers with tight lids that store liquid can be tricky, but they are to be found. Always cover liquids and test for a tight seal. These little things here are great for salad dressing.
- Get Antibacterial Bento Sheets – Yes, you can buy bento box sheets to help keep food safe.
- Pack Boxes Hygienically – Take a clue from professional food preparers. Always wear gloves and wash your hands.
How to Pack Bento Boxes Ahead of Time
Packing bento boxes may seem like a lot of work, but here are ways you can pack ahead of time.
- Use your freezer – Create portion sizes prior to freezing that easily fit in the container you want to use for that lunch. Some bento boxes come with plastic containers with lids that fit inside the main bento box and you can put the food in them and freeze. Then just pop them into the bento box when you’re making them.
- Make Food in Batches – You can do this just for bento boxes, but why? Why not plan for filling bento boxes at dinnertime? Make extra veggies, make extra rice, and plan your bento boxes around the food you are eating for dinner.
- Be Creative – If you are having meatloaf for dinner, wrap that for a lettuce wrap inside a bento box for lunch tomorrow. You will need to reheat it in the morning, and pack it properly to keep it hot and separate from the wrap and filling.
- Remember the Rainbow — One thing you can do to ensure that your bento boxes for kids is healthy is to think of the rainbow as you prepare them. The more color, the more vitamins, and probably the more flavorful they will be.
- Create a Weekly Meal Planner – When you write your grocery list for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the family, think about your bento boxes and what out of these items will go well together. Each bento box should contain a protein, a starch, a veggie and something sweet. It’s all about balance.
- You Don’t Have to be An Artist – Don’t try to copy the Japanese versions or you’ll get overwhelmed. If you do have a special talent for it, that’s great, otherwise, just do the best you can to focus on safety, balance and flavor with presentation last.
Other Factors to Consider When Packing Bento Boxes for Your Kid’s Lunch
- Focus on Balance – You don’t have to be a food artist to make attractive bento boxes. Instead, focus on making a balanced and healthy lunch.
- Fill in the Gaps – As you prepare the bento boxes, consider the gaps in between each type of food and fill them with green veggies or fruits
- Match Flavors – Choose foods that go together.
- Be Creative
- Safety First
Bento boxes are a great way to create healthy meals in a box that not only taste great, but look great, too. Some people take great pride in creating bento boxes that are works of art.