I’m a little late (OK, a LOT late) to the bento box party, but I’m making up for lost time already.
While I knew what a ‘bento’ box was, without a kiddo in school yet, I never felt like I needed to buy one. However, after a girlfriend showed me the ones she uses for her kids, I thought they would make a great way to pack snacks for car trips. (We travel a lot. FYI, eleven trips in as many months is TOO MANY.) I snagged a couple during Amazon Prime Days, and we’ve already used them a couple times.
To be clear: you don’t need to have a school-aged child to appreciate the convenience of a bento box.
Case in point: I packed the two bento boxes this past weekend with apple slices, cheese and crackers, veggies and hummus and pepperoni, which fed seven adults and two kids as a light lunch during a trip to a pumpkin patch. They stayed cool with their own ice packs, so we didn’t even need a separate cooler bag.
Bento boxes originated in 12th century Japan and they were home-packed meals that included rice, meat and pickled vegetables. The term ‘bento’ is derived from the Chinese word for ‘convenient.’ The dividers were designed to keep foods with strong flavors from touching the other items.
They come in a variety of brands, materials and sizes. Adults may prefer something in metal, or perhaps larger, while a child’s box may need to fit inside a lunchbox. I chose a plastic version that is designed for kids, and features a built-in ice pack. Most offer a compartment that fits a half-sandwich, as well as smaller sections in various shapes. The top seals onto the divider walls, which prevents each item from spilling into the next. Perfect for adding a little hummus next to the carrots! Most boxes are dishwasher-safe, or otherwise easy to clean.
My daughter, who is three, is already obsessed and calls the box her ‘lunchbox.’ It makes the perfect ‘plate’ during our long car trips, and she thinks the variety and presentation is novel. She gobbled up her pepperoni, crackers, blueberries like a champ.
The different compartments make including a protein, carb, and fat source easy, as well as controlling portion sizes. Here are some dietitian-approved ideas for your (or your kid’s) next bento box lunch!
Mains: ½ sandwich, leftover garlic bread, sushi pieces, egg roll, fried rice, pasta salad
Proteins: pepperoni/deli meat slices, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, edamame, yogurt
Sides: steamed or raw veggies, cut-up fruit or berries, crackers, popcorn, granola
Dips: guacamole, hummus, salad dressing, peanut sauce
Bento boxes also provide a new presentation at meals, which may help picky eaters.
Kid doesn’t want to try a new food? Serve it in a bento box!
Kid doesn’t want to eat a familiar food? Serve it in a bento box!
The phrase ‘we eat with our eyes first’ really does ring true, especially with kids. Sometimes simply offering something different, such as fun utensils, may encourage kids to eat more at meal times. Other items to try include silicone muffin cups, ramekins, tiny squeeze bottles for dips and ice cube trays (this works best with very young children and small snacks like dry cereal).
Happy (lunch) packing!