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.
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.
- 3 ingredient Teriyaki Chicken
- Japanese Cucumber Salad
- Rice Balls
- Nori Strips (You can use toasted nori or some of the nori snack strips from a variety of brands)
In the picture: Quad Lunchbot
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.
- Homemade Chicken Lunchmeat
- Star shaped buttered GF bread
- Sliced kiwi
- Roasted Beets (bought premade, and cut into star shapes)
In the picture: Duo Lunchbot
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.
- 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
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.
- Romaine heart lettuce leaves (center cut out) rolled with a slice of smoked goat cheese and Applegate salami
- Sweet mini peppers
- Sliced strawberries
In the picture: Uno Lunchbot
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.
- 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
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!
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!
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Do you think you can use these bento boxes for freezer containers and then put them in the oven to cook or reheat?
That is a really interesting question! I looked at Lunchbots website and they didn’t say anything about being freezer or oven proof. You could try to contact them though!
I love the idea of “TV” trays when I’ve ended a busy day. “TV” trays- that’s what we called them in the olden days, even though we didn’t get to eat them while watching tv it was fun and different. I think we had them about once a year. Maybe that’s why they still feel special, even if homemade. The quality of the food in them was horrid, I’m sure, but we still loved them.
Now, I like putting them together with some leftovers and some freshly put together ingredients. I’ve been looking for something to store in the freezer that’s not plastic. Maybe these could work. Thanks for checking.
As far as I know, these bento boxes are not designed for the oven. The metal is too thin.
Really cute. Looks so much more appetizing than the typical packed lunch with sandwiches wrapped in plastic.
I agree! And much nicer to eat too. 😉
What a great idea to use silicone baking cups to separate things!
We love using them! It makes the boxes that much more flexible. 🙂
I entered using my FB account but I have no idea if it worked because the pop-up window kept closing, so I entered using my email address. Sorry if there are multiple entries from me!!
Yum! These are adorable!
Where can I get bento boxes? I need two please. They look fantastic.
You can get some at my affiliate Amazon (links below) or through Mighty Nest (links in post above).
Here are two that I own: http://amzn.to/1JJgv9i
I but there is no way I could get my kids to eat any of them…