Bento boxes filled with meat, cheese, fruit, veggies, dips

Have kiddos who are getting back into the swing of school? If you’re looking for some fresh lunch or snack ideas this fall, behold … the bento box!

Bento boxes are individual meals packed in reusable containers – typically with a fresh variety of different tastes, colors and textures. While they originated with Japanese cuisine, these perfectly packed and portioned lunches with different compartments have become popular with parents everywhere.

4 Reasons to Love Them

Oh, let us count the ways …

  • Healthy variety: Bento boxes can be a fun way to mix things up with different fruits, veggies and protein every week.
  • Easy to pack: If you have picky kiddos who don’t like their foods to touch, well – problem solved! Plus, you can assemble everything up to a couple days in advance, so it’s all ready to grab and go right from the fridge.
  • Super eco-friendly: There’s no need to waste plastic bags for all kinds of different snacks.
  • Perfectly portable: Since bento boxes are made for transport, they work great for everything from road trips to running to activities after school, too.

How to Build Your Bento Box: From A to Z

So what’s the secret to making a deliciously balanced bento box? Here are 10 tips to help you build the best back-to-school lunches and snacks!

1. Grab a few containers. From plastic to stainless steel, you can purchase bento boxes from most major retailers. (Think Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon, etc.)

In fact, you can even make your own “snackle boxes” using clear tackle boxes. (Just check to make sure they are BPA free and food safe.) I found a couple for my kids for only $5 each this week, and they work perfectly!

Tip: Paper muffin liners work great for separating small items within compartments, too.

2. Pick protein-rich foods. Keep your kids satisfied all afternoon with plenty of lean protein that’s lunchbox-friendly.

A few of our favorites:

– Deli turkey, ham or other cured meats
– Hard-boiled eggs
– Greek yogurt
– Hummus
– Whole grain breads and crackers
– Chickpeas and edamame
– Sun or cashew butter

3. Fill up on fruits and veggies. Mix and match 2-3 fruits and veggies in every bento box, changing up your choices throughout the week. Try to include a bright, colorful variety if you can.

– Berries, like raspberries, blueberries and strawberries
– Orange segments
– Grapes
– Kiwi
– Pineapple chunks
– Apple slices (tip: dip ‛em in lemon water to avoid browning!)

– Baby carrots
– Sugar snap peas
– Grape or cherry tomatoes
– Broccoli and cauliflower florets
– Celery sticks
– Sliced bell peppers or sweet mini peppers

4. Don’t forget the dip. Have kiddos who don’t typically eat their veggies? Add a delicious dip to pair with all of that fresh produce. My favorites:

Cashew or sun butter, sprinkled with Cinnamon Apple Seasoning.

Tip: if your bento box doesn’t have a dip compartment, consider buying a big package of 2 oz. soufflé cups with lids. They work great, and they last forever!

5. Add a little crunch. Be sure to include a crunchy snack or two for extra energy, such as:

– Crackers
– Pretzels
– Granola
– Almonds, cashews or trail mix
– Snack mixes
– Veggie puffs or straws

6. Get rolling with pinwheels. Pinwheels are oh-so-poppable and pack plenty of flavor into every little bite – plus, they are incredibly easy to make.

For a new favorite, spread prepared Applewood Smoked Cheddar Cheese Ball onto spinach tortillas, top with deli ham or turkey, and add chopped tomato or roasted red peppers.

Prefer to roll with something sweeter? Spread cashew butter or chocolate-hazelnut spread onto whole wheat tortillas. Top with a banana, and roll tightly. Slice and sprinkle with Cinnamon Apple Seasoning. Voila!

7. Think bite-sized. They say the best things come in small packages – and that’s definitely true when it comes to bento boxes. Choose cute, pint-sized alternatives that will fit right in your kiddos’ hands, like:

– Mini naan
– Mini or “skinny” bagels
– Sweet Hawaiian rolls, slider buns or mini croissants
– Mini pancakes

Of course, you can also slice larger items into small squares or wedges, too!

8. Create cute kabobs. When it comes to kid favorites, food on a stick is always a little more delicious – and a lot more fun. For a fresh twist on traditional sandwiches, thread cubes of bread, deli meat, lettuce and cheese cubes onto skewers or cocktail picks.

You can create charcuterie-style skewers with cured meats, cheese cubes and grapes, make veggie skewers with cucumber slices and grape tomatoes, or even stack up fresh fruit and jumbo marshmallows for dessert kabobs. The possibilities are endless!

9. Spread on the sandwiches. Want to add a little something special to those sandwiches, sliders and wraps? Use any Tastefully Simple dip or cheese ball as a spread!

10. Make a build-your-own box. And when it comes to bento boxes, you can even approach each one like a deconstructed dish where every single ingredient goes together.

For example, I love to make this twist on nachos – made with multi-grain scoop corn chips, black beans, Nashville Hot Shredded Chicken and fresh toppings like lettuce, tomatoes and avocados. This idea works great with build-your-own lettuce wraps, too!

Have your own tips and tricks for building an A+ bento box? Share your ideas with us on Facebook and Instagram this week.

We’d love to hear how you think inside the box!

– Jen