It's time for a round-up of the best bento box lunch ideas! Bento boxes are a great option for packing a lunch or snack on the go for school or work. You can curate healthy and balanced lunches - and they look pretty cute and organized too!
What is a Bento Box?
A Bento Box is a meal packed neatly into a lunch box, typically separated by various containers and dividers. They've been a regular part of Japanese culture for a long while, but they only became popular in the Western world a few years ago.
If I had to guess, I'd say they resonate so much with people because they're cute, convenient, and offer a lot more variety than a sandwich. In one lunch box, you can get small portions of a bunch of different foods!
Also, Bento Boxes allow for a lot of creativity, as many people enjoy organizing and packing their lunches in an aesthetically pleasing way.
My Bento Box Journey and Tips
I lived in Japan for a year and I packed Bentos for myself and Zac for the entire time. Then, I brought my bento box back to the states and packed it for work and school for myself every day for the next 3 years! I've come up with a lot of ideas about what works and what doesn't. So, since I keep talking about how they're puzzles (add whatever fits!), I thought I would show you exactly what I mean and provide ideas for how to make your own!
Obviously, what you can put in your bento box depends on what kind of lunch box & bag combo you've got. I have a bag that keeps my lunch sitting upright, so things never spill, which is why I can pack salsa and such. Zac's bag goes vertically into his backpack, so he can't have liquids.
We just use regular containers with various silicon muffin liners. We have three flat "Bentos" and about 20 silicon muffin cups. We also have a sliding divider which you'll see in some pictures.
Simple! Hopefully, this will help you get ideas for planning your & your kids' lunches. Any additional ideas in the comments are welcomed!
20 Real Food Bento Box Lunch Ideas
Soba & Sesame Green Beans
Soba, Miso Meatballs, Sesame-Steamed Green Beans, and half an orange. (Oranges are a traditional dessert in Japan.)
Hummus & Dippers
Red bell pepper slices, snap or snow peas, carrot slices, almond-crusted chicken nuggets, homemade hummus, and pizza dough slices.
Stuffed Tomatoes & Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Cucumber-feta-basil-balsamic stuffed tomatoes, almond-crusted chicken nuggets, carrot slices, roasted sweet potatoes, grapes.
Salmon-Avocado Onigiri Rolls
Salmon onigiri rolls, prosciutto-wrapped spinach frittata, watermelon & pineapple kebabs, peanut butter banana oat cookies.
Canned Salmon and Avocado
Canned salmon mixed with mashed avocado, a hardboiled egg sliced in half with mustard and bacon, banana bread, kiwi, carrot & apple slices.
Modified Spicy Tuna Cakes
Modified Spicy Tuna Cakes (from Nom Nom Paleo), carrot & apple slices, a dark chocolate peanut butter cup (Trader Joe's), and Whole Wheat Cheddar Jalapeño Scone
Tuna Cakes with Broccoli and a Sandwich
Spicy Tuna Cakes with sesame steamed broccoli, carrot-banana muffin, apple slices, and a banana "sandwich" with peanut butter in the middle.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Coconut Bites
Sesame steamed broccoli with spicy tuna cakes, grapes, carrot-banana muffin, peanut butter-chocolate-coconut bite, and carrot slices.
Cheddar Quesadillas made with Whole Wheat Tortillas (try this recipe or Roti), Best Refried Beans, salsa, carrots, trail mix, and dark chocolate.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato
Whole wheat pasta with Sun-Dried-Tomato-Feta-Yogurt Dip, mixed with zucchini and shredded chicken (or rice cooker version). Yellow bell pepper & cucumber slices, peanut butter-chocolate-coconut bite.
Paleo Egg Muffin
Paleo Egg Muffin with Chicken & Avocado on Homemade Whole Wheat Bread, carrot slices, and peanut butter-chocolate-coconut bite.
Salmon Avocado Rolls
Salmon Avocado Rolls, red bell pepper slices, carrot slices, Paleo Egg Muffin, Carrot-Banana Muffin.
Whole Wheat Banana Muffin
Whole Wheat Banana Muffin with Sesame Steamed Green Beans, Chicken-Avocado Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, apple slices, peanut butter-banana "sandwich."
Black Bean and Guacamole-Salsa Wraps
Black bean & guacamole-salsa lettuce wraps, carrot-banana bread, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, and a hard-boiled egg.
Salad with Shredded Chicken
Salad with shredded chicken, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and mixed greens; carrot-banana muffin with cream cheese frosting, grapes, peanut butter-chocolate-coconut bite.
Whole Wheat Mini Pizza
Whole Wheat Mini Pizza, homemade hummus, peanuts, carrot slices, and a dark chocolate Kit Kat.
(Additionally, these are some of the earlier bento box attempts. They're not as pretty, but they've still got some great ideas - dark chocolate brownies, anyone?
Plus, it's always good motivation to show the pretty & the not-so-pretty, right? It's still good food!)
Cabbage & Cherry Tomato Salad
Cabbage & cherry tomato salad, carrot slices, apple slices, hard-boiled eggs, and dark chocolate brownies. (Using prune paste in place of the sugar.)
Whole Wheat Blueberry Yogurt Muffins
Whole Wheat Blueberry Yogurt Muffins, cherry tomatoes, Sesame Steamed Green Beans, salmon onigiri rolls.
Dark chocolate, apple slices, roasted sweet potatoes, sesame steamed broccoli, banana bread, carrot slices.
That's it! I hope you can find something delicious & helpful for packing your healthy real food lunches.
I hope you enjoy these recipes - and if you make them, please be sure to leave a ⭐️ review and comment below!
For videos of different recipes from my blog, please check out my YouTube channel!
How fun I searched bento box on Pinterest and found this first thing!! Super helpful! We love Japanese culture and want to incprporate more of their eating habits as a culture into our own. Especially since watching terrace house on Netflix (you should check it out!!) thanks for the great post!!!
Thanks Monique! I also love so many aspects of Japanese culture; I'll have to check out Terrace House on Netflix!! If you use Instagram, I post my lunch/bento box nearly every day so if you tag #frugalnutrition I'd love to see yours!
I was looking for inspiration for my work lunches for ages, but web is full of fancy boxes with loads of accessories, that require silly amount of time and ingredients to prepare and who has time for that? I'm so happy to have found your blog! More please!
Thanks so much Bea - that's what I'm going for! If I have anything messy, I use silicone muffin liners to divide things, but beyond that, I like to keep it pretty simple! :) I try to post my lunch a few times a week on Instagram too!
Peanut butter banana sandwiches - what an awesome idea! I love PB and bananas together (Nutella and bananas even more) but hate taking bananas to work because they're oddly shaped and squish easily. Now I have the solution.
Also agree that the silicon muffin liners are cool - whether for baking or packing lunches. I'll have to get myself some of those as well.
Thanks Tal! I also found these bigger silicone cups that work great for small salads and other items in a bento. Mine are the rectangular shape of these, but I can't find the rectangles online. These rectangles look good too!
Lynn @ oh-soyummy
wow the silicon muffin liner idea is awesome! do you have a recommendation on which to buy or do they more or less just need to separate the foods?
Hi Lynn! Thanks - I don't know what I'd do without those muffin liners. I buy the ones that are oven-safe so I can bake my cupcakes in them as well, but here they're just to separate the food. I actually bought my first set in the random goods section of Marshall's for $2.99! You can order them from Amazon also. :) Thanks for the comment!