It’s time to revolutionize your lunch routine with an adorable, neatly packed bento box! Bento is a Japanese way of eating that involves a single-serving portion of various foods, all arranged compactly and efficiently in a petite box. Go on Instagram or TikTok and you won’t be scrolling for long before you find bento boxes filling up your feed. They’re easy to recreate at home and a fun way to keep your lunch organized and intact.
Great for kids and for adults alike, these cute boxes make for a very satisfying lunch “al desko” or on the run. So if you’re looking to up your lunch-packing game, give bentos a try. We rounded up everything you’ll need to prep ’em, pack ’em, and enjoy ’em, including some must-have tools and some must-try recipes. It’s time to think outside the (lunch) box!
How to Assemble
Generally speaking, you’ll want to include a carb, protein, vegetable, and fruit in each bento box, but other than that, the possibilities are endless. We like to draw inspiration from what’s freshest and most appealing at the market so that all you really need to do is slice or dice and then pair with the appropriate accompaniment—all in their own cute compartments of course! A sprinkling of flaky sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil, or a dash of Tajín goes a long way here. Oh, and don’t forget the utensils.
Use small containers as needed to keep foods separate. Be sure to cut up larger items into bite-sized pieces. And take advantage of the vast selection of cookie cutters on the market to make fun shapes like stars and hearts. (See our picks below!)
You’ll also want to consider texture. For example, keep crunchy items like chips and pretzels in their own compartment so they don’t absorb moisture, protect chewy items so they retain their shape, and use covered plasticware to keep juicy foods from leaking. As long as provisions are in place to keep wet and dry ingredients apart, your box will be a success!
Tools to Use
There’s a large variety of products available to add interest and efficiency to the bento box experience, including lidded containers, liners, reusable plastic bags, and boxes of all sizes—even bento boxes that nicely fit into larger lunch boxes so you can pack beverages, whole pieces of fruit, and napkins on the side. Here are a few products we recommend.
Salad Dressing Containers ($14 for 4)
Silicone Bento Box ($25)
Mini Cookie Cutters ($12 for 35)
Reusable Silicone Baking Cups ($10 for 12)
Bento Box Inspiration
When it comes to planning bento box themes, let your imagination run wild. Feature a specific cuisine, a particular color, your child’s favorite character … or simply what you have in your fridge! Here are some ideas to get you started.
In this compact box from Fit Foodie Finds, salsa plays double duty. Drizzle it on top of your wrap, then scoop up the remainder with your favorite sturdy corn chips!
Andi Anne’s ultra-simple apple and cheese box is a snap to assemble and easy to customize. Play around with varieties of apples, cheese, nuts, and seed butters to find your perfect combo! This box is especially tasty in the fall, when apples are at their juiciest and sweetest.
Smoked salmon is a great protein option for lunches served cold. In this creative box from Downshiftology, a thin layer of salmon brings lots of smokiness and a silky texture to basic cream cheese roll-ups. Serve with a bright, acidic melon salad on the side.
This recipe from Allison Day’s book Modern Lunch is easy to prepare several days in advance. Bake chicken breasts and sweet potatoes on large sheet pans over the weekend, then portion the ingredients into lunch-sized servings on Sunday evening. Try swapping the tzatziki for garlic hummus one day.
What’s better than charcuterie for dinner? Charcuterie for lunch! This no-cook bento box from EatingWell relies on deli meats and produce to make up the bulk of this meal. We suggest including some cubed provolone or cheddar jack cheese for an added burst of protein.