10 Tips for Easy, Fun Bento Style Lunches

| August 13, 2013 | 7 Comments

This post is sponsored by Jarlsberg USA. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Bento Style Lunches Made Easy

Have you seen the flurry of bento style lunchboxes that are infiltrating stores everywhere these days? No longer do you have to Google and special order the cute little compartmentalized containers to make up a buffet of deliciousness for the kids to enjoy at school. These days, major manufacturers are making all sorts of bentos and they are available at bargain prices too. But the real issue isn’t where to find bento style lunchboxes anymore; it’s what to put in them.

I mean seriously, what do you put in them?

If you are anything like me, then you probably don’t have a ton of time in the mornings to whip up complicated, imaginative bento style lunches. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fill your child’s box with something cute. Here’s how to bento — without the fuss.

1. Plan Ahead

When it comes to making lunches, there is nothing worse than having to hustle to pull together something at the last minute — and even more so when that something is going into a box with a bunch of cubbies and compartments.

To make bento style lunches stress-free, stock up on foods and gear that will make it easy. You’ll want to keep foods on hand that mix, match and pack well. Many fruits and veggies that your kids love (berries, grapes, melon, cucumbers, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc) are perfect for bentos. So are cheeses, pre-cut salami and pepperoni and leftover grilled or breaded chicken. Crackers, fish crackers, etc are great too.

Tortillas can be used for wraps, quesadillas (cooked and chilled before packing), and even little tortilla shapes … if you are so inclined.

2. Keep It Simple

When I first started making my son bento style lunches, I was always envious of the super cute ones with little animals fashioned out of food. But everyone needs to know their limitations (including me!). Plus, I realized something: while cute, Will doesn’t really care if his sandwich looks like a bumblebee. What he does care about is variety — specifically, that I include favorite foods in his bento style lunch. Focus on contents that your kids will love, and don’t over-complicate the process.

Of course, if ladybug sandwiches are your thing, go for it!

Bento Style Lunches Mini Cutters

3. Be Whimsical — Within Reason

I have to admit that I adore mini cookie cutters. They add just the right touch of whimsy to a lunch, without being fussy. But, like anything, know your limits with them. For me, that means using them.

It takes seconds to add a little whimsy to pieces of salami (I buy pre-cut salami that’s about 1/4-inch thick and 1-inch in diameter). Just use a mini cookie cutter to cut a shape into the salami. Here’s the thing though: It takes a lot longer to make that shape cut all the way through. But is it necessary? These bits of salami are fun with the shape cut into them — and they are headache free.

Meanwhile, you can use that same cookie cutter to cut cucumbers, sweet peppers and cheese into shapes (yes, all the way through).

4. Skewer It

Worried something will roll around (or come unrolled)? Itty bitty toothpicks are perfect for keeping wraps together and ensuring that your grapes remain orderly. Heck, mini fruit kabobs on cocktail skewers are so darn fun.

5. Precut When Possible

Some foods are best cut when you are about to use them (cheese, for instance). But others — like peppers, cucumbers and some fruits can be prepared in advance (and even cut into fun shapes!) to save you time in the mornings. Store precut foods in airtight containers in the fridge for best results.

Easy Bento Style Lunch

6. Divide, Divide, Divide

Sure, you could totally just put everything into a sandwich container. But what happens when that sandwich container rolls around in a lunchbox on the way to school, to the cafeteria, etc? Somehow, the cute food doesn’t seem so fun, right? So you want to make sure you are keeping foods separated using special containers with compartments — but the good news? You can find them at many major retails including Target, Walmart and probably your local grocery store. Supplement them with treat cups (found near the baking supplies) or cupcake liners. Silicone cupcake liners are a great option too because they are reusable and eco-friendly.

7. Keep It Nutritious

As with any lunch for your kids, you want to provide a balance of nutrition. Fun foods like candy-coated chocolates sit alongside grapes. You can use whole grain crackers. Add a cute veggie. And when choosing the meats and cheeses, be sure to choose smartly.

For instance, Jarlsberg — one of my kids’ favorite cheeses — is a good choice. It’s made with part-skim milk so it’s lower in fat and calories than some other cheeses. And one ounce of Jarlsberg (that’s about 1 deli-cut slice!) has 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium that people need. Nutrition Action Healthletter, a monthly newsletter that I love, also gave Jarlsberg Lite props for being lower in fat and sodium content than other light Swiss cheeses. Plus, Jarlsberg is gluten-free too.

Bento Chicken Cordon Bleu Wrap

8. Change It Up

If you opened your lunchbox everyday and saw the same combination of foods, you’d probably get a little bored, right? Your kids probably will too. So change the variety from day to day. For instance, one day you might make a homemade lunchables-style lunch with crackers, cheese and a meat. But the next day? How about a wrap with grapes and something crunchy?

You can whip up an Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu Wrap that combines a slice of Jarlsberg with a slice of Virginia ham, one left-over chicken tender and a little honey mustard in a flour tortilla. A filling option, it takes a minute to make and is perfect for packing for school.

9. Transform Leftovers Into Lunches

Psst. I am going to let you in on a little secret. Leftovers are awesome in bento style lunches. Add a half ear of leftover corn. Spoon in some of last night’s pasta. Leftover steak, chicken, beans, etc can be spooned into pitas for sandwiches. If you have it, use it.

10. Include a Little Treat

What’s better than a sweet treat to end a meal? Don’t forget to add a little something special to make your child’s bento style lunch extra fun. (Hint: keyword here is little.)

Looking for More Lunch Ideas? Check out my Lunchbox Inspirations board on Pinterest for easy (and not so easy) inspiration for your child’s lunchbox!

Jarlsberg in the Deli

Join the Jarlsberg #SliceofLife Launch Party

Special thanks to Jarlsberg for sponsoring this post. Did you know that Jarlsberg has joined Instagram? And they are so excited about it that they are giving away Toastabags to the first 1,000 Instagram users who join their #SliceofLife Launch Party. Want to join in the fun? Snap a shot of Jarlsberg or Jarlsberg Lite at the deli counter or in the convenient pre-sliced packages in the specialty cheese department and upload it to Instagram, tagging it #SliceofLife.

So what’s the Toastabag? It’s this awesome bag that allows you to make grilled cheese sandwiches (mess free!) in your toaster. Fun, right?

Find out more about the launch party on the Jarlsberg blog.


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About the Author ()

Sarah Walker Caron is a freelance writer, editor and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in countless online and print publications including iVillage, BELLA NYC Magazine, Yum for Kids magazine and more. She lives in Connecticut with her two kids, two beagles and husband.

Comments (7)

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  1. Love that “be whimsical, within reason” part — I try to keep cutesy shapes to an occasional surprise so they don’t start to expect them every single time. But my daughter did go nuts for cucumber flowers last year. Great tips –off to pin this. :)

  2. Kate says:

    I make decidedly uncute Bento lunches. But I need to invest in some of those mini paper cupcake liners. I use the silicone ones and they’re a little big AND I’m always worried they won’t make it back home!

  3. I’ve been packing bento boxes for myself for a while now, but I’ve never made them this cute. Thanks for these tips.

  4. Tonia says:

    Love doing little bento boxes for Landon, even though he doesn’t go to school yet. I’m definitely going to be trying the cucumber flowers.

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