How to Pack a Bento Box Lunch Your Kids Will Love


With four kids who take lunches to school every day, I’m a bento box convert — practically an evangelist. That’s because the benefits of packing lunch in a bento box are just so many. The format makes it easy to fill without having to wonder if you’ve packed too little or too much food, and everything stays in place (without touching each other).

The main hook: Everything looks better laid out like this. If you’ve ever served kids anything, you know that a first impression can often make all the difference in what they decide to try. Here’s my strategy:

Prep once, serve twice

When I set out to shop for the week ahead, I stock up on ingredients that I can use in the kids’ lunches at least twice in the week. Cinnamon-raisin mini bagels are served with butter as a side on Monday, and they become the “bread” for a turkey sandwich on Wednesday. I make enough hard-boiled eggs so our kids can have the very pickle-y egg salad they love on Tuesday, plus hard-boiled eggs served whole on Thursday.

Other favorites that work to fill out lunches: quick breads, including banana-based breads and pumpkin spice bread, chocolate, fruit and nut protein balls, and Quiche Valerie (video above) from Valerie Bertinelli.

Fill with variety

Another benefit of the bento is the sheer number of sections, which somehow seems to make it easier to remember the basic food types that kids need. Here are some of our favorites:

Protein: cottage cheese with fresh fruit, 5-Minute Meatball Skewers, Turkey and Cheese Roll-Ups, or a yogurt parfait

Veggies: miniature bell peppers, baby carrots with hummus or dip, or cucumber “sandwiches”

Fruit: strawberries, a kiwi cut in half and served with a spoon, or grape “caterpillars”

Grains: muffins that are full of good-for-you ingredients, flavored popcorn or dinner rolls (that make great sandwiches!)

Add a little fun

There are so many easy ways to add a cute idea to lunch. On Fridays I usually tuck a sticker into the box. Plus, I have a whole collection of adorable accessories that help me: stainless steel veggie cutters that instantly transform carrots into flowers, giraffe-shaped picks that keep little fingers from getting sticky and more.

You could also transform a “regular” dish into something a little more special. Use a rolling pin to flatten regular sandwich bread, then roll it up to get PB&J sushi. A club sandwich becomes a sandwich on a stick when you cube the fillings and thread them onto a skewer.

Charity Curley Mathews is the founder of, a site about cooking only one dinner, teaching kids the fun of trying new foods and enjoying the process together. Most of the time.