How To: 30 Easy Bento Box Recipes
Cute lunches your kid will actually eat, and ideas that won't take more than minutes to make! (32 Photos)
Every iVillage mom knows feeding kids (semi) healthy food is a struggle from baby to teen, and making lunches can quickly become same old, same old.
Parents in Japan have solved this problem by making crafts out of cuisine with Kyaraben, cartoon bento and oekakiben, picture bento. Now the trend has spread to North America.
The concept seems complicated: crafting cartoon characters out of cheese? Me?! But the principle behind it is simple: pack bright colourful (nutritious) foods inside bright colourful containers, and your kid will eat it.
And ultimately, it's as easy or as detailed as you want it to be, and a cinch to work in all of their favourite foods and healthy snacks.
Click on for 30 of our favourite bentos from moms just like you.Photo courtesy Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook, Fun Lunches for Kids
Easy and accessible, proving that the cutest doesn't have to be the most intricate. Another bonues is that no special container is required, and this will make even the pickiest, sandwich-only child happy. See more of this mama's fab creations over at Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook, Fun Lunches for Kids.
Tip: Use white cheese and a black olive for the eyes. Easy and nutritous.
Photo courtesy Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook, Fun Lunches for Kids
For the Bento Beginner
Never underestimate the power of goldfish crackers. This so-basic, sandwich box instantly becomes cute with a few little fishies thrown on top.
Tip: When your bento is this basic, be sure its colourful. The bright tomatoes and blueberries keep this one from looking bland.Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
Hopping with Happines
No shortage of what you can do with a cookie cutter, and we like that Bento Mama has put together a healthy lunch by choosing Annie Oh's organic bunny crackers to complement this Easter-themed lunch box. Hop on over to Bento Mama for more cuteness.
Tip: This can be updated for a boy with an angry bunny and a blue container.Photo by Bento Mama
I Love My Lunch
Valentine’s Day is on its way! Show your little one some love by baking heart-shaped muffins or cookies (if you’re running late, a heart-shaped cookie-cut sandwich will do). Fill the surrounding container with red, purple and pink fruits, lean meats and treats.
Tip: Holidays generate great bento ideas. Think Jack-o-Lantern oranges and white bread ghosts for Halloween; boiled eggs with faces for Easter; the options are endless.Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
Frosty the Sandwich...
“Was a jolly, happy soul. With a pretzel-stick pipe and a carrot nose and two eyes made out of…raisins.” If there’s no snow on the ground where you are, kids can still enjoy the simple pleasure of a snowman...sandwich that is. And if it is white outside, we bet this little dude will look better than the grayish slush-monster on your lawn (just don’t tell the tots)
Tip: If you don't have time to bake cookies and make food faces, improvise with store-bought.Photo by LunchboxAwesome
Leader of the Pack
There's no special technique or unusual ingredients required for this happy fellow. Best of all: It works with whatever you have on hand. Bento Mama is the queen of bento lunches that are adorable and totally practical.
Tip: If you can't cut whiskers that thin, grate cheddar (or whatever cheese you have) and toss on the critter's face.
Photo courtesy Bento Mama
Looks complicated but isn't. Throw veggies, fruit and mini buns in a divided container. Cut up hot dogs and add silly faces.
Tip: If you're worried about preservatives, replace hot dogs with something you find suitable. They key to this is the funny expressions.Photo by gamene (flickr/CC)
This box contains the healthy combo of a boiled egg, mini meat sandwich, fruits, veggies and cheese (including a Babybell bird!) It provides a nutritious punch in a package your little one will find almost as addictive as the online game.
Tip: Don’t blame us if he plays with his food.Photo by LunchboxAwesome
Proof that you don’t need to be Picasso to pack an attractive meal; you can make this by tossing fruits and veggies in a box with yesterday’s dinner. Just keep it colourful, and it’ll still be kid-pleasing. Bonus: your child will get a break from others begging to trade lunches.
Tip: Try to use leftovers for lunch at least once a week. Saves time and money. (Plus it prevents our kids from thinking the rest of us are slackers!)Photo by LunchboxAwesome
Cut a basic house shape into your kid’s favourite sandwich. Then use the discarded crusts for windows, a door, and a roof.
Tip: Toss on a bed of salad, veggies or fruit for a healthy, creative lunch in minutes.Photo by cutefoodforkids.com
African Lunchtime Safari
This is a not-too-basic bento that still doesn't require much effort. Kids will adore this animal kingdom made with the world’s cutest crackers.The broccoli-and-ham tree, veggie sunset and green grape grass provide much needed nutrients.
Tip: Keep a stash of cute-shaped crackers on-hand; they work wonders in a pinch.Photo by LunchboxAwesome
Fruit instantly becomes fun when it’s put on a skewer or a Popsicle stick. Paired with perfectly presented pastrami (or salami,or ham - get creative!) and a bagel or bun, and you’ve got a lunch that’s fast, fun, and just a little bit fancy.
Tip: Remind kids to remove the fruit from the skewer before eating. They won't be happy about your fun, new lunch ideas when they've got a sliver in their tongues.Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
These sweet snails look like they might take ages to make, but in fact are--brilliantly!--just sliced rolled up sammy slices. Here's how to do it: Bento Mama's instructions. You can't really tell how awesome those snails on utnil you see her pic of them on their own.
Tip: Also worth taking note, low-suger yoghurt-covered raisins are a nice change for a sweet snack.
Photo courtesy Bento Mama
The Very Hungry Kindergartener
Kids love Eric Carle books. That's why this very hungry caterpillar, packed with protein, veggies and fruit, is no match for your very hungry kindergartener.
Tip: Switch up the body parts with any healthy eats you’ve got on hand.Photo by LunchboxAwesome
This tongue-and-cheek, er crust, sandwich is sure to give your little one a laugh.
Tip: If this is too much food for your child, put cute stickers or encouraging notes in the empty compartments.Photo by Sakurako Kitsa (flickr/ CC)
Colors and Shapes
Your five-year-old won't say salad is "yucky" if it comes in her favourite shapes.
Tip: Chicken nuggets provide protein here; but if you're trying to cut down meat consumption, swap out veggie nuggets. She'll have so much fun eating she won't even notice.Photo by aJ GAZMEN Gucci Beat (flickr/CC)
Mommy, Can I Help?
As you well know, kids love "helping" and getting involved - especially in something edible and fun! Let him cookie-cut and decorate a couple times.
Tip: Don't make him mommy's little helper on a day you're making something complicated. You'll never get out the door.Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
Pasta Miss Piggy
Pop culture has always had a way of making it into every aspect of our lives, especially when we have kids (remember Ninja Turtle crackers?) So it only makes sense that Muppet mania has found its place in school lunches with the recent release of the new Muppets movie. A yummy sammie with pasta, fruit and veggies almost guarantees your little oinker will eat it up.
Tip: Make sure lunches with detailed pictures like this one are secured tight. You don't want to mess up Miss Piggy's hair.Photo by LunchboxAwesome
Here, the cute container does most of the work for you. Choose one in a shape your child loves (think cars, stars, hearts, anything with a distinct outline, really) then make your own dividers using colourful muffin cups or other small, flexible shapes. Fill with carbs, protein, veggies or fruit plus a treat, and you’ve got a perfect portable lunch.
Tip: Re-use a favourite container multiple times. Switch up colours and food combos within, and it will feel ike a whole new lunch!Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
Hoooos the Best Mom
Your child will think you're wiser than this guy when you cut meat, bread and/or cheese into an owl shape.
Tip: This is a little much. Yes, white rice is fine if the effort goes to making an owl face. No, your veggies don't all have to be colour co-ordinated.Photo by gamene (flickr/CC)
For kids that like things that are less cute – more creepy – this Jack Skellington (from classic Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas) bento box will make them a little scared – and seriously satisfied.
Tip: This one is a little Christmas-like, but remove the red-and-white background and Jack's Santa hat for a year-round lunch idea.Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
If your baby skipped breakfast this morning, you can still start her day off right with fruit, veggies and protein pellets (eggs!) We bet she'll polish it off by the end of first recess.
Tip: In a pinch, use food colouring for faces. It's much less finicky than cutting impossibly small shapes.Photo by oendr (flickr/ CC)
Hey Pretty Ladies!
Twins births are trending right now - and so should twin cuties in lunchboxes! Substitute any bright-coloured fruit for the strawberries.
Tip: If you don't have time to cut cheese faces, belts AND bows, go with the faces. They're what your tot will notice.Photo by gamene (flickr/ CC)
Top canned fruit, applesauce or pudding with sprinkles to add much-needed colour to a beige lunch.
Tip: Make sure the muffins are mini or else you'll be giving them seriously too much sugar.Photo by Wendy Copley (flickr/ CC)
Bear-y, Bear-y Good
Take a break from bread with a cookie cutter-shaped nan sandwich. Using that cutter again for chees is smart double-tasking that provides a nice bit of protein and calcium.
Tip: Bento Mama also has a nice technique for her larger fruits and veggies, cutting them all into nice long strips that kids will more likely pick.
Photo courtesy Bento Mama
Birds of a Feather
Love, love, love how this lunch is jam-packed with, well, love. Strawberries have an easy, natural heart shape.
Tip: Remember to fill out this affectionate lunch with the other colours of the rainbow.Photo by Shopping Mum's Bento
Cute (Tasty) Critters
These baby owl biscuits stuffed with cheddar cheese and ham are almost too cute to eat. A heart-shaped cookie cutter makes even hairy, scary kiwis attractive. Hawai`i's Bento Box Cookbook, Bentos and More for Kids has more awesome Bento Box inspiration.
Tip: Match your colourful container with something in the box for a cute, cohesive bento.Photo courtesy Hawai`i's Bento Box Cookbook, Bentos and More for Kids
Lean, Green Eating Machine
Look closely! Do you see the holes? One hungry caterpillar ate his way through a wholesome lunch that all primary schoolers would love. "Hungry Caterpillar" bentos are almost a subcategory of their own, but our all-time favourite is this one from one of our favourite mama foodies, the awesome Bento Mama.
Tip: Remember the advice from our other hungry caterpillar: it doesn't have to be exact. These are meant as awesome inspiration only.Photo courtesy Bento Mama
Working with nori (dried, seasoned sheets of seaweed) may seem intimidating, but it's as easy as cutting out a couple strips. Plus, kids tend to like the crunchy/salty/sweet tang of nori, especially if it's in individual serving-sized packets. And the petalled hot dog? Easy and adorable.
Tip: Many of these bentos are on top of plain lettuce leaves, but what kid's going to eat that? Make the base out of lightly dressed salad instead to reduce waste and increase nutrition.Photo by Lucky Sundae
Bento-making mama Susan has cleverly double-purposed a ladybug cookie cutter for this cutie, and it's a nice way to round out a classic tomato-and-cheese sandwich and fruit lunch. This technique would also serve well for a special breakfast treat.
Tip: It's probably best to stock up on the eyes. To find out how to make those, head over to her blog.
Photo courtesy Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook, Fun Lunches for Kids
Something to Aspire To...
No, we're not suggesting you make this, but isn't it pretty? Just look at the great detail on the geese!
Tip: One takeaway from this: food colouring gives rice an instant fun facelift.
Photo by Sakurako Kitsa (flickr/ CC)