5 healthy bento boxes for kids (gluten-free, sandwich-free) + giveaway

5 gluten-free and healthy bento box ideas that are fun, and kid-friendly too! Plus, a bento box giveaway!!

Based off of a Japanese tradition, making healthy bento boxes for your children’s lunch is fun for them, plus they can be really nutritious as well! Today I am sharing five healthy bento box ideas, all of which are gluten-free and sandwich-free. Make sure you check out the bento box giveaway as well, where you get a chance to win over $100 worth of bento box supplies, including four stainless steel bento boxes!

My girls have had so much fun helping me make bento boxes for lunch every day this week. We are gearing up for the school year, gathering supplies, and getting lunch ideas for when we are away from the house. We are part of a homeschool program that includes one day “at class,”, but even when eating at home, I’ve found that these help make lunchtime healthy and fun for the girls.

Why bento boxes?

So why I do think that bento boxes are so great? Here are just a few reasons.

1. They encourage variety. Because you are serving smaller servings of a variety of items, your kids get the chance to try out a lot of different types of food. This is important for developing your child’s palate.

2. Variety often makes healthier meals. When you include a variety of fresh produce and other healthy items in a bento box, you are much more likely to give your children a balanced diet.

3. They are super fun! My kids love eating from a bento box all the time, but especially if I take the time to cut some of the food into cute shapes, and use little Japanese food picks (more on that in a second). And when the food is fun, they are so much more likely to eat it.

Quick and easy bento box formula

An easy formula to think of when making bento boxes could be 1 or more servings of protein, 1 serving of carbohydrates, 1 serving of fruit, 1 serving of vegetables. We don’t follow that every time, but it gives a loose format to build on. Just up the servings for older children, but keep the ratio about the same.

I should also note that whether or not what is packed in one bento box is filling enough for the whole lunch will depend a lot on the appetite and age of your child. For example, my seven-year-old is growing like crazy right now and has a big appetite, so I’m adding extras on the side to her lunch for some of these. These specific containers aren’t liquid proof, so I would recommend only packing them in a lunchbag/pail that allows them to lay flat (or using all dry ingredients).

Disclosure: MightyNest is graciously  sponsoring the below giveaway! I will be linking to their website products, used in these photos, as well as a few random Amazon items using my affiliate account. 

Japanese GF bento box, plus 4 other great bento box ideas

Traditional Japanese Bento Box (our favorite)

I think it’s appropriate to start with a Japanese inspired bento box, considering that they are the ones that started this trend! For this specific bento box, I recommend making teriyaki chicken for dinner one night, along with steamed vegetables and sticky rice, but make extra of the chicken and rice. Cut up the leftover chicken for the bento box, and while the rice is still warm, pat into balls with wet, clean hands (we sprinkle salt and sesame seeds on our hands as well when making rice balls). Then all you have to make is the Japanese Cucumber Salad and cut up nori for the lunch. This is all gluten-free, provided you use the recommended tamari sauce, instead of soy sauce, in the recipes as called for.

Food

In the picture: Quad Lunchbot 

Star Struck GF Bento Box, plus 4 other great ideas

Star Struck Bento Box

One of the problems with gluten-free lunches is gluten-free bread, which doesn’t always translate well into packed lunches. My solution? I butter it, and then cut into small shapes, and it ends up like a yummy cracker! This works well even for hearty paleo nut breads, and my girls love it this way. Here I used a small star shaped cookie cutter. It pairs very nicely with my homemade lunchmeat.

Food:

In the picture: Duo Lunchbot

GF Bento box ideas that are kid-friendly and fun!

Healthy Store Bought Item Bento Box

You don’t have to actually cook anything to make a great bento box. Here is an example using only storebought foods.

Food:

  • Nitrate-free Lunchmeat, make into meat rolls
  • Cheddar Goat Cheese (cut in the shape of tulips)
  • Plantain Chips (from Trader Joes – make a great cracker substitution and are even grain-free)
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Plum on the side

In the picture: Trio Lunchbot 

GF Lettuce Wrap Bento Box, plus 4 other great gluten free bento box ideas

Gourmet Lettuce Wraps Bento Box

This box is labeled “gourmet” (and it is) but it’s the one my daughters planned the most. While a little more expensive because of the specialty goat cheese and salami, it was amazingly delicious! This is a great example of what children genuinely like if you let them experience a wide range of flavors. They already want this lunch again.

Food:

  • Romaine heart lettuce leaves (center cut out) rolled with a slice of smoked goat cheese and Applegate salami
  • Sweet mini peppers
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Sauerkraut

In the picture: Uno Lunchbot 

Mexican Bento Box, plus 4 other great gluten free bento box ideas

Mexican Bento Box

This was the most filling bento box I made, because the Mexican bean dip is quite hearty when served with a side of chips.

Food:

  • Either healthy refried beans or whole beans topped with salsa and avocado – sprinkle avocado with lemon juice (You could also use leftovers of this Paleo Mexican Seven Layer Dip)
  • Organic blue chips
  • Sliced apple

In the Picture: Duo Lunchbot

Bento Box Accessories

Extras for bento boxes

As you might have noticed, there are a couple of extras in the pictures above. 1. First, most helpful are the silicone cupcake liners you see in many of the pictures. They help keep food separate, even if the container you use isn’t bento-style. I find it especially helpful when packing things like sauerkraut, as you wouldn’t want liquid to seep from that onto sliced fruit. 2. We were pretty thrilled to find these tiny bamboo spoons, too! So cute, and easy to pack. We found ours locally, but Amazon carries this set that looks like the same thing. 3. You will also notice the use of food picks, which are glorified toothpicks! My girls love them, and they make everything so cute. I got mine at Amazon (this set and this set), and there are a lot of other options on Amazon as well.

Mightynest is not only including the pictured silicone cupcake liners in our giveaway together, but they are also sending along the pictured above 4. cute reusable napkin and a 5. whole set of bamboo utensils!

Giveaway

Win 4 lunchbots, plus more (worth over $100 dollars!)
I’m excited to partner with Mighty Nest with the following giveaway of stainless steel Bento Boxes and accessories! I’ve found them wonderful to use, and one lucky person will get the opportunity to win this collection, including the uno, duo, trio, and quad, and the silicone muffin liners, bamboo utensils, and napkin pictured above. Plus, you will be entered into a giveaway for a 1,000 dollar donation to your local school (3 winners!).

MightyNest also donates 15% of their profit to your local school when you purchase from them. I love that they offer such a wide selection of nontoxic lunch school supplies, and support local schools at the same time. That’s a win-win!

Enter this giveaway and subscribe to Mighty Nest for a chance to not only win this giveaway, but also to win a 1,000 dollars for your local school. (You can unsubscribe easily whenever you wish.) U.S. Only. You are responsible for communicating with MightyNest if you are the winner (You will be sent an email if you win, so make sure you use your correct email address).

Considering that I’ve just started experimenting with bento boxes, I’d love to hear from readers on your tips for bento boxes!

Japanese Cucumber Salad

Japanese Cucumber Salad is a perfect side dish to sushi, teriyaki chicken, miso, and other Japanese meals! This cooling cucumber salad is a bright combination of mild vinegar, sweet coconut sugar, deep toasted sesame oil, and salty tamari (or soy sauce). It’s the perfect complement to my simple teriyaki chicken, homemade sushi, miso soup, or any Japanese food!

Eating a Japanese style meal doesn’t mean stuffing your face with white rice (though white rice can certainly be an important part of it). I’ve enjoyed reading more about the traditional Japanese food culture, which often included eating small plates of a wide variety of foods. It’s a beautiful tradition that allows a wide variety of flavors and nutrition! It was also often full of lots of veggie sides – like this cucumber one! When I take the extra time to make a simple veggie side or two, it makes the meal so much better – more satisfying and fun to eat too! This cucumber salad tastes a lot like ones we’ve been served at sushi restaurants. It has a balance of salty, sweet, sour, and umami. Yum.

I used  (#affiliate links) raw coconut vinegar in mine, which is nutritious raw fermented vinegar that is lighter than the raw apple cider vinegar I tend to use. You can use apple cider vinegar, but may want to sweeten it a little more since it is so powerful. Traditionally, rice wine vinegar was used, which is mild and perfect for so many Asian dishes. I’d recommend that as well. Also, make sure you use toasted sesame oil, not untoasted. Toasted sesame oil adds a lot of nutty flavor, while untoasted is used as a cooking oil. This is the brand I used. I used coconut sugar as we are sensitive to cane sugar, but using an organic cane sugar would work beautifully as well.

If you enjoy cucumber salads, try out this cucumber and red onion salad as well.

Japanese Cucumber Salad
 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 med/large cucumber, or two small
  • ¼ cup vinegar (rice wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, raw apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or organic cane sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari (for gluten-free) or soy sauce
  • Optional for garnish: Toasted sesame seeds and/or nori flakes
Instructions
  1. About a half an hour before eating peel the cucumber(s) and cut in half lengthwise and seed. (Read out to seed a cucumber here.) Using a sharp knife, slice thinly into half moons. Put aside in a bowl. You should have about two cups worth.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, coconut sugar, toasted sesame seed oil, tamari or soy sauce. Pour over cucumbers, and gently toss. Place, covered, in the refrigerator, and let chill for about 20 minutes. The vinegar is the first to be absorbed by the cucumbers, but as the minutes pass, the cucumbers will pick up on the sweetness and saltiness of the other ingredients. Toss once or twice, if you have the chance, while it chills. When ready to serve, toss again, and feel free to adjust the flavors if needed. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and/or nori flakes, and serve.

 

Simple Peach and Honey Ice Cream

SimplepeachandHoneyIceCream2

By Katie, Contributing Writer

Simple peach ice cream, it’s the prefect summer treat! There are few things better than fresh peaches and ice cream in the summer. That is why I decided it was time to marry the two for this creamy, frozen dessert. Hot summer days always seen to be better when you can enjoy a bowl of fresh homemade ice cream.

I was raised in the Central Valley of California where in my opinion we have the best peaches around, sorry Georgia. Every week in late July through the end of August my favorite organic farmer and his wife sell their peaches at the local farmer’s market. There are so sweet, tender and juicy. There is no way I can ever eat one that has been sold in the store since I know what the fresh ones taste like. I buy a large amount each summer to can, freeze and dry to enjoy throughout the year.

There is a lot to be said about eating fruit locally and in season. Idealistically I would eat all my fruits and vegetables from farmers just down the road, but there are some things I just can’t find. What I do know is that fresh, local grown fruit is bursting with flavor and nutrition since it is picked at its prime like the peaches I buy. That’s not to say that you couldn’t find tasty peaches in the store, I just haven’t been successful. Frugal peach tip: I generally buy “bruised fruit” or “seconds” to save on cost when I am preserving or cooking with peaches.

This simple peach and honey takes only a few minutes to get prepped because it uses all fresh and mostly raw ingredients. I used yellow peaches but you could use nectarines or white peaches instead. White peaches have a more mild but sweeter flavor and are still delicious, I like the little punch of acid that comes from the yellow peach. You could make this dairy-free by substituting the cream and milk with two cans of full-fat coconut milk. You can also add more honey for a sweeter version. I used raw orange blossom honey because of its light and floral taste but any kind will do. How ever you make this ice cream, it’s sure to please!

This recipe does use raw eggs. You can read some of the safety concerns, and benefits to them here. If you feel uncomfortable using raw eggs, or don’t have a good source of them, feel free to leave them out. I used raw milk and cream in my recipe, but feel free to use store-bought as well.

This recipe does require the use of an ice cream maker. We recommend them highly! This ice cream maker is affordable and durable too.

Other Ice Cream Recipes on The Nourishing Gourmet: 

Simple Peach and Honey Ice Cream
 
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups raw cream (or heavy cream)
  • 1 cup whole raw milk (or organic whole milk milk)
  • 1 large yellow peach, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large yellow peach, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • 2 egg yolks (preferably from pastured hens, optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Blend the cream, milk, honey, egg yolks, vanilla and quartered peach on high until smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the ice cream begins to thicken, add the remaining chopped peaches, continue to churn until done.
  3. Pour or scoop the ice cream into a glass dish., cover and freeze for at least two hours to ripen (or firm up) the ice cream.

 

French Tuna Salad with Tomatoes & Herbs (Mayo-Free)

French Tuna Salad with Tomatoes & Herbs (Mayo-Free!)

By Alison Diven, Contributing Writer

It’s hard to beat a no-cook meal in late summer, and if you’re looking for something simple and a little elegant too, this French-inspired tuna salad is quick to please. We love this olive oil-dressed salad for its blend of easy prep and fresh, sophisticated flavors. Even better, it showcases two of the season’s superstars, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Serve it in lettuce cups for brunch, on sourdough bread for a last hurrah summer picnic, or alongside a giant salad for dinner.

I’ll never forget the inspiration for this recipe. I sat cross legged on the lawn of Versailles, with the palace in full view across the Grand Canal, as I tasted my first forkful of herby, tomato-filled tuna salad. It was idyllic. That was four years ago on a bicycle tour from Paris, and we’d stopped in the town of Versailles to pick up picnic goods. I remember splitting a Nutella-banana crepe with my mother-in-law—oh, that Chantilly cream!—before selecting a blue cheese that turned out to be one of the best I’d ever tasted, some forgettable odds and ends, and that marvelous mayo-less (in France, of all places!) tuna salad. I came home inspired.

Because this salad is so simple, you’ll want to use the best ingredients you can. Gourmet extra virgin olive oil really makes a difference here. Did you know that, unlike wine, the fresher the olive oil, the more prized? That’s one reason many experts recommend choosing a USA product over imported Italian ones, not to mention concerns about adulteration. Kimberly has written before about her favorite olive oil source, but if you just want to dip your toe in the water, Trader Joe’s carries an award-winning California Estatesextra virgin olive oil in a 16.9 oz bottle at a fabulous price point. That’s what I’ve been using to dress cold dishes and drizzle over soups, and I just love its robust peppery flavor.

Quality tuna is important too, not only for taste and texture, but also for health reasons. There’s the mercury content to consider, of course, but also the potential radioactive effects of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. You can read more from the Nourishing Gourmet about this here, including several tuna brand suggestions like Cole’s from Radiant Life. I used oil-packed Tonnino tuna fillets myself. We’ve cut way back on our tuna consumption, especially since these brands are pricey, but every once in a while, tuna is the only thing that will do!

French Tuna Salad with Tomatoes & Herbs

Finally, let’s talk tomatoes. Believe it or not, we still don’t have farm-fresh tomatoes at the growers’ market here in northern New Mexico! This short growing season is killing me. If you’ve got fresh tomatoes right now, well, eat an extra for me, and then use the rest fresh—deseeded and chopped—in this salad. If, however, you share my sorrow and are making do with grocery store tomatoes, you may enjoy “melting” cherry or grape tomatoes to concentrate and enrich their flavor. Actually, it’s hard for me to decide which way I like this salad better. You really can’t go wrong. (I follow this super easy method for melting tomatoes. Don’t skip the parchment paper!)

Looking for more summer food inspiration? Check out these other recipes from the Nourishing Gourmet:

Chai Tea Fauxccino
Cuban Picadillo Lettuce Wraps
Late Summer Garden Veggie Soup
Summer Kale Salad
Honey Garlic Drumsticks (a Simple Summer Crockpot Meal)

French Tuna Salad with Tomatoes & Herbs
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: French
Serves: 4
 
A French-inspired light and refreshing tuna salad with a gourmet touch. Use high quality tuna, olive oil, and tomatoes for best flavor. Either garden-fresh tomatoes or "melted" cherry tomatoes work beautifully--each gives a different, equally delicious flavor profile. Serve the tuna salad as a main course, or stuff lettuce cups with it, or pile it atop sourdough toast. You can't go wrong!
Ingredients
  • 13-14 ounces canned or jarred tuna, preferably packed in olive oil (I used Tonnino)
  • 6 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs - any combination of basil, dill, and/or parsley
  • ¼ cup minced shallot or purple onion
  • ½ cup seeded and diced heirloom tomatoes OR "melted" tomatoes (see this method)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle (I used Trader Joe's California Estate)
  • ½ large lemon, juice added to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Drain the tuna and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped herbs, minced shallot, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix gently with a fork, breaking up the tuna.
  2. If using fresh tomatoes, carefully fold them in. If using melted tomatoes, break them up with a fork a bit before stirring in--they make a delicious sauce as they burst.
  3. If the mixture is dry, add another tablespoon of olive oil. You may need even more if your tuna was water-packed.
  4. Add lemon juice to taste. Adjust salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.
  5. Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil on top.