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.

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.

 

Coconut Orange Ginger Beef Stir-fry

30 Minute Meal Coconut Orange Ginger Beef Stir-fry

By Lindsey Proctor, contributing writer

Would you like another quick, easy, nutritious meal to add to your menu rotation? Then this quick stir-fry is just the thing for you! Made with grass-fed beef, rice noodles, yummy veggies, fresh-squeezed orange juice, coconut water, and toasted sesame seeds, spices, fresh ginger, and fresh garlic, this dish is full of flavor!  Best of all, it comes together quickly (it took me just under 30 minutes from stovetop to table) thanks to the quick-cooking rice noodles and a hot sauté pan, plus a few other time-saving tips.

Plan ahead, prepare ahead

The key to getting dinner on the table quickly is to plan ahead and do a few quick preparations earlier in the day when you have just a few minutes of time to spare. For example, when you go to the freezer to get your meat out to thaw, grab your veggies, too! This will cut down on the time needed to sauté them, since they won’t have to thaw in the pan before they cook.

If you are working with a whole piece of meat – say a sirloin or flank steak – that will need to be cut into smaller strips for this dish, try to cut the meat when it’s still partially frozen. It’s so much easier that way, and when cooking time comes, your meat will be completely thawed and ready to sear.

When you put the water in the saucepan for the pasta, if you can safely use water straight from your kitchen faucet, make it hot! If you need to use bottled or filtered water, measure it out and put it in the pan earlier in the day so it can at least be at room temperature. This way, there’s less time needed for the burner to heat up the water, and it’ll reach boiling just a bit faster than if you start with cold water.

And I know that this is a commonsense tip, but sometimes I forget – when it’s time to start cooking, read over the recipe and gather your ingredients and supplies. It’s a lot easier to walk over to the spice cupboard and cooking gadgets drawer once and get everything you need, than to walk around your kitchen several times grabbing things as you need them!  Read over the recipe instructions and come up with a plan of action. Start the water boiling before you heat your oil, so that you can boil the noodles while you’re cooking the meat and drain them while the veggies are cooking. Make the most of your time, and you’ll have more moments to spend around the table enjoying a great meal with your loved ones.

Note: This recipe calls for soy sauce. Please see this previous post by Kimi for advice on choosing the right kind

Coconut Orange Ginger Beef Stir-fry
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Asian Fusion
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb sirloin or flank steak, cut into small strips, thawed
  • 1 lb frozen stir-fry vegetables - I used a mix containing broccoli, carrots, peas, red pepper, and onion, thawed
  • 3 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
  • ½ teaspoon white sesame seeds
  • ½ teaspoon black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp Chinese 5 Spice powder
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ⅓ cup fresh orange juice
  • ⅓ cup coconut water
  • 3 Tablespoons organic, naturally brewed soy sauce (use tamari for gluten-free)
  • 2 Tablespoons organic, non-GMO cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1 8 oz package rice noodles
Instructions
  1. Bring water for pasta to a boil, cook according to package directions.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, toast sesame seeds over medium heat. Add sesame oil, Chinese 5 spice powder, ginger, and garlic. Cook until garlic is browned. Raise heat to medium high. Add beef strips and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Remove beef from pan and set aside. Do not remove any liquid that may have accumulated during the cooking of the meat. Add vegetables and cook until they are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together orange juice, coconut water, soy sauce, and cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Pour over cooked vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until liquid has thickened, about 3 minutes. Add meat back into the pan and stir to combine ingredients. Serve over rice noodles. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honey Garlic Drumsticks (a simple summer crockpot meal)

Honey Garlic Drumsticks (a simple summer crockpot meal)

By April Swiger, Contributing Writer

Sweet, tangy, and a little bit of red-pepper-kick, these honey garlic drumsticks are the perfect meal for a hot summer night. I love the flavorful dark meat that chicken legs have to offer. Not only are they an incredibly frugal cut of meat, but the seasoning possibilities are near endless. Add in the simplicity of a slow cooker/Crockpot, and you have a nourishing meal for the whole family, or a crowd, without much effort.

When the weather is beautiful and warm, it’s much more difficult to give up time outside for prepping meals. We don’t have central air in our home, so turning on the oven during the summer can be a little uncomfortable. It’s easy to forget that crockpots aren’t just for hearty wintertime soups, stews, and chillies! I’ve learned that it’s a great option to beat the summer heat, and a convenient way to enjoy a delicious meal after a fun day outside.

This recipe can be easily prepared in the slow cooker crock itself, minimizing the amount of dishes needed to be washed. It’s also easy to adapt based on how much “kick” you desire. You can thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch or arrowroot powder after the chicken is cooked. Pour it over the meat, or into a bowl for dipping. You definitely don’t want to skip this part as the sauce is absolutely delectable!

More time in the sun with family and friends, and less time in your kitchen – a win all around in my book! Keep it simple and serve these drumsticks with a side salad, carrot and celery sticks, rice or quinoa, or some sautéed veggies with butter or coconut oil.

Kimi uses this (affliate links)  slow cooker, and uses this clay cooker for making quinoa or rice on hot days.

Time at the stove: 10 minutes if you choose to sauté or steam some vegetables. 20 minutes if you make rice or quinoa. Or none if you serve it with cold vegetables or a salad.

Time at the oven: 5 minutes if you choose to broil the legs for a crispy skin.

Other drumstick/wing recipes:

Other crockpot recipes:

Honey Garlic Drumsticks (a simple summer crockpot meal)
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish
 
These drumsticks are a perfect mixture of sweet and tangy, with a bit of kick! They are effortless to prepare and make a great summertime meal for your family, or a crowd.
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs chicken legs
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 Tbls coconut oil, melted
  • 3 Tbls apple cider vinegar
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, minced (garlic lovers use 5!)
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, grated, or about ¼ tsp dried
  • ⅛-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbls arrowroot powder or cornstarch (used at the end to thicken the sauce)
Instructions
  1. In the crock of your slow cooker whisk together the honey, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, minced garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper.
  2. Add the drumsticks to the crock, and toss them until they are fully coated with the sauce.
  3. Cook the drumsticks on low for 4-6 hours, or high for 2-4 hours.
  4. When the chicken legs are fully cooked, remove them from the crock, leaving the sauce inside.
  5. OPTIONAL - If desired, you can place the legs under the broiler at this point to crisp up the skin. About 5 minutes at 400 F should be sufficient.
  6. Ladle out ½ cup of the sauce into a small bowl, and whisk in the arrowroot powder or cornstarch (this step may not be necessary, but I find it's easier to get the lumps out in a smaller amount of sauce).
  7. Pour the sauce and arrowroot/cornstarch mixture back into the crock with the rest of the sauce. Whisk it in and allow it to thicken for a few minutes with the crock on 'high.'
  8. Serve the drumsticks with the sauce poured on top, or in a small bowl for dipping!