Bento boxes are a traditional Japanese way of eating, butthey’ve also become popular for Western audiences. The style is a little bitlike a lunch box, except that you have many more individual sections to fill.These bento box lunch ideas can help you to take advantage of a bento box evenmore.
First though, let’s talk about the concept. There are two general goals with a bento box lunch.
One is to make the lunch box interesting. This makes themmore enjoyable and helps to make sure that the food actually gets eaten. It’seasier to do this with a bento box than with a traditional lunch box, which isone reason that bento boxes are so popular.
The other is to ensure that the box is healthy. To do so,you’ll need a good balance of nutrients, including fat, protein and carbs.
To help you along the way, this list focuses on a widevariety of different bento box ideas. While we’re including many differenttypes of snacks, we’re focusing on ones that aren’t processed.
Sure, you can easily buy snacks that will easily fill in the various sections of a box, but unprocessed options tend to be healthier (they’re often cheaper too!). Besides, filling a bento box with healthy food isn’t as difficult as you might think. You could use these ingredients in other ways too, like during a brunch picnic.
Table of Contents
Bento Box Lunch Ideas
- Rice Balls
- White Rice
- Carrot Sticks
- Fresh Fruit
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Rice Crackers
- Sliced Chicken Breast
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Sliced Peppers
- Cheese Cubes
- Shredded Chicken
- Sliced Sausages
- Quinoa Or Couscous Salad
- Egg Muffins
- Greek Yogurt
- Whole Grain Crackers
- Pulled Pork
- Caprese Salad
- Pasta Salad
- Fruit, Meat And Cheese Kebab
- Chicken Nuggets
- Deconstructed Tacos
- Zucchini Noodles
- Meat Rollups
- String Cheese
- Smoked Salmon
Rice balls are popular in Japanese bento boxes and can workwell for other audiences too. They can be made with many different fillings andcan be easily picked up and eaten.
Chicken rice balls are a good choice for fussy eaters. Thesedon’t require much effort to prepare either.
The fillings aren’t the only thing that you can change withrice balls either. The snack is sometimes fried, which creates an interestingtexture on the outside. You can also skip the frying altogether. The end resultwill taste good either way.
Edamame is a Japanese appetizer and it’s one of the simplestappetizers that you’ll find (you’re basically just boiling or steaming soybeans). These can be served salted, plain or with a little spice. While thesnack is nice warm, it is often even better cold in a bento box.
Having access to fresh edamame from a farmer’s market oryour own garden makes this a very easy bento box addition.
Don’t stress if this isn’t the case. Asian supermarkets andsome other stores will often sell frozen edamame. You can cook the edamame fromfrozen without any problem.
White rice is a classic part of a Japanese bento box. It isoften used as the base ingredient in one compartment, with other ingredientspacked on the top or to the side. This can work well because rice combines wellwith many other foods.
You can take your pick of proteins or vegetables to top yourrice with. One popular example is chicken in some type of sauce. Topping thiswith sesame seeds works well.
Carrot sticks are simple, healthy and tasty. They make aneasy addition to any bento box, while adding in a splash of color.
If carrot sticks aren’t appealing on their own, adding insome dip can make all of the difference.
You can also buy baby carrots. These involve less preparationthan carrot sticks and can be fun to eat. The catch is that you’re paying muchmore for baby carrots.
And, if we’re honest, baby carrots aren’t what most peoplethink anyway. They are often just made from shaving down larger carrots. Thismeans that there is a lot of waste – making carrot sticks a much better choiceall around.
Sandwiches are a classic lunchtime staple and they work wellin a bento box environment too. Many bento boxes won’t give you enough spacefor a full sandwich, but you can easily get creative with smaller sandwiches.
One trick is to make a large sandwich and then use cookiecutters to create smaller sandwiches in interesting shapes. This style worksvery well for kids.
You could do something similar for adults too. For example,a love heart sandwich would be perfect for someone you care about. You mightenjoy shaped sandwiches yourself, as they’re a nice size and generally don’thave any crusts.
Any type of fruit will work well in a bento box. The trickis to make the fruit look good, while also making sure that it can be easilyeaten. For example, sliced oranges work better than whole ones.
You can also use a combination of fruits. This gives you avariety of flavors and textures.
For example, grapes and mandarin pieces work well together.You could even throw in some cubes of cheese for extra protein.
Blueberries are an easy addition too. You could have a smallcontainer of these on their own or perhaps include some yogurt to mix themwith.
Cherry tomatoes deserve a special mention. They’re amazingin bento boxes, as they offer a perfect burst of flavor that can’t be beaten.
Plus, cherry tomatoes are incredibly easy to eat.
If you want a low calorie option, rice crackers or ricecakes are perfect. They also combine well with many other bento box additions,like sliced meats, cheese, and peppers.
You’re not short on flavors to choose from either. You caneasily look for flavors that complement the other items in your box. Or, justbuy plain rice crackers, and rely on hummus or something similar for flavor.
Sliced Chicken Breast With Dip
Chicken breast is a popular choice for dieters, as it is alean source of protein. The biggest problem is that the chicken can be a bitdry. You can get around this by cooking carefully, especially if you marinateit first.
Sliced chicken breast works perfectly in a bento box. Addinga little container of dip helps to get around any problems of dryness.
Don’t just focus on plain chicken either. Use some herbs andspices when you cook it to give the meat a little extra kick.
Hard Boiled Eggs
Eggs offer plenty of nutrition in a small package. They’realso a perfect way to fill up space in a bento box. You can include the egg asis or slice it up.
An interesting variation is shoyu tamago, which you’ll oftenfind in Japanese bento boxes. This dish simply involves marinating hard boiledeggs in soy sauce and often some extra spices.
The flavor combination of shoyu tamago won’t suit everyone,but many people do love the eggs. If nothing else, they’re more interestingthan regular hard boiled eggs.
If you’re stuck for ideas, what about including leftovers ina bento box? Many different types of leftovers will work well, especially ifyou have something that can be eaten cold.
This is something that you can plan for too. You might evenget involved in meal prep approaches.
As you use bento boxes more, you’ll start to get a sense ofwhich meals work very well in a bento box and which ones don’t. You can startto prepare extra portions for the meals that would be perfect in a bento box.
A classic example is cold pasta salad. This dish is always aperfect bento box addition.
Slices of red, green or yellow pepper also work well inbento boxes. These have a nice and vibrant bite to them, which helps to keepeverything nice and fresh.
As with carrots, you can easily include a dip to make thingsmore interesting. However, you might not need to, as peppers have an enjoyableflavor of their own.
Cheese is another stunning addition to a bento box. Itoffers a fantastic source of protein and calcium.
Creating cubes is a simple way to include cheese in a bentobox. The small pieces of cheese can be easily eaten with fingers or atoothpick.
There are other options too. For example, you might includeslices of brie or camembert, salami, rice crackers, sliced peppers, and similaritems. Brie and camembert can be a little difficult to eat, as they get meltyin warmer temperatures (this also makes them taste amazing, so the outcomeisn’t all bad).
We mentioned sliced chicken breast earlier, but shreddedchicken can be a good bento box addition too. Shredded chicken can be easier insome senses, as many recipes focus on keeping the chicken moist and tasty.
Shredded chicken can be easily eaten with other bento boxadditions too. The options are endless.
Wraps are another popular bento box choice.
One style is to make the wraps ahead of time and includethem in the box. Most of the time, you won’t be creating large wraps, as therewon’t be enough space. However, tiny wraps can work well, as they makefantastic finger food.
Your choices for fillings are almost endless. You can focuson classic combinations or get more adventurous.
The other style is to put the ingredients for the wrap inthe bento box, allowing the recipient to make their wrap up for themselves.This style can be a lot of fun at lunchtime. It also stops the wrap itself fromgetting soggy and the flavors mixing with one another too much.
Cooking and slicing sausages is an easy way to get moreprotein into your bento box. There’s nothing fancy about the idea, but coldsausages do often go down a treat.
You could also consider alternatives like chorizos or smallsalami rolls. These options provide a hit of protein too and tastefantastic.
Quinoa Or Couscous Salad
Quinoa and couscous are both grain alternatives that canwork well in many meals. Quinoa is the more popular of the two, as it does notcome from wheat and contains a large number of nutrients.
In fact, quinoa is often considered to be a superfood, whichis reason enough to fit it into your diet regularly. Of the two, couscous tendsto be softer and doesn’t have much flavor of its own. Quinoa has more crunchand a nutty flavor.
Both ingredients work well in cold salads, along with itemslike fresh tomatoes, diced avocado, shredded chicken and the like. You couldinclude some salad dressing too, but even just tossing through extra virginolive oil tends to work well.
Egg muffins are powerful as a go-to source of protein. Youcan easily bake them in the oven with just a few other ingredients, like milk,cheese, and chives.
The end result is a tasty snack that can be simply picked upand eaten hot or cold. While egg muffins do look similar to regular muffins,they have a recognizable texture of their own.
The fact that you’re relying on egg rather than flour isappealing too. This approach means that the muffins end up being fairly low incarbs and will be a sustainable source of energy.
Any type of yogurt can work well in a bento box, but Greekyogurt is a particularly good choice. This is a type of strained yogurt thatends up being thicker and creamier than other types of yogurt, with higherprotein content too.
The combination of features makes Greek yogurt verysatisfying.
Plain Greek yogurt is the healthiest option, as the flavoredvarieties are often high in sugar and full of additives. This doesn’t mean thatthe yogurt needs to be boring. You can easily include other ingredients in thebento box to mix with the yogurt, such as blueberries or cocoa nibs.
Just make sure that you’re putting the yogurt in a leak-proofcontainer. Yogurt is more liquidy than many other bento box ingredients, so itcan easily leak. The last thing that you want is a mess all the way throughyour box.
Whole Grain Crackers
Whole grain crackers combine well with many of the items onthis list. They can be used to dip into ingredients like hummus. You might alsostack other foods onto the cracker, like cheese and ham, creating asandwich-like snack.
We’re highlighting whole grain crackers because whole graintends to be healthier and rich in nutrients. However, you can use other typesof crackers just as easily.
As you probably know, hummus is made from chickpeas. Itmakes a delicious dip or spread, one that works perfectly in a bento box.
A great thing about hummus is that you have plenty ofoptions. You can purchase decent hummus from local stores, often with minimalprocessing, or make the hummus for yourself.
Protein is a must in any bento box and cold meatballs workperfectly in this role. You don’t need to make meatballs specifically for theoccasion either. Leftover meatballs will do just fine.
Don’t worry if the meatballs are too big for your bento boxcompartment. Slicing them into halves or quarters works just as well. You canadd in some barbecue sauce or something similar to act as a dip, if you wantto.
Pulled pork is incredibly popular. It is often cooked insauce too, so it ends up being naturally moist. This makes it perfect for bentoboxes.
Once again, the meat will pair well with other ingredientsin your box. This is the great thing about bento boxes. You can just includelittle portions of various meats, vegetables, cheeses and the like. The personeating the lunch can choose how to combine the various elements.
How can you go wrong with olives? They’re a healthy additionto any lunch and take up barely any space.
The flavor of olives makes them particularly interesting andhelps to kick the rest of your meal up a notch or two.
Caprese salad isn’t just delicious, it is also easy to make.The key ingredients are mozzarella, basil, tomato, and olive oil. You don’tneed to prepare the dish as a salad either.
A great alternative is to create Caprese salad skewers.These are easy to eat and still have all of the flavors that feature in Capresesalad.
Making a pasta salad for a bento box might soundcomplicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Many pasta salads are easy to throwtogether. Plus, you’re making multiple servings at a time.
Pasta salads are especially good because they can be eaten hot,warm or cold. This makes them especially relevant for bento boxes. After all,reheating food isn’t always an option, so it’s best to focus on items thattaste very good cold (or at room temperature).
Fruit, Meat And Cheese Kebabs
We mentioned Caprese salad kebabs before, but there are manyother types of kebabs that you can make too. Fruit and cheese or fruit, meatand cheese are common combinations that never go out of style.
These don’t need to be complicated either. Even something assimple as cubes of cheese, grapes, and ham can be a popular bento box addition.You can decide the length of the skewers based on the size of the compartmentsin your box.
While quesadillas are normally eaten hot, they can tastegood cold too. You can easily cut the quesadilla up into small pieces to makeit fit into compartments.
This is another option that perfectly complements a smallcontainer of dip or spread. What about including some salsa in the box that thequesadilla can be dipped into?
Chicken nuggets are another easy addition to think about,especially if you plan on including some type of dip in your box.
The simplest option is to use processed chicken nuggets thatyou can buy fresh or frozen from the grocery store. If you don’t mind a littleextra work, then you can make chicken nuggets at home.
Homemade chicken nuggets aren’t as difficult as you mightexpect. They’re worth the effort too, as they are healthier than anything youcan buy in the store. They taste much better too.
With deconstructed tacos, you’re including all of theingredients for tacos in their own little sections, where the person eatinglunch ends up putting the taco together themselves. This style can be quite funand means that the taco ends up tasting fresh and delicious.
You can take a similar approach with pita pockets oranything similar.
You have plenty of flexibility about the ingredients toinclude. Shredded cheese, cut up tomatoes, sour cream, lettuce, and friedonions are all options that you could consider.
Zucchini noodles (also called zoodles) are often used as apasta alternative, as they are low in carbs. They also make the meal tastefresher and less heavy than anything made with pasta.
A small zucchini noodle dish would be perfect in a bento box,especially as most of them don’t need to be heated.
A meat rollup basically just involves a slice of meat or twoand some cheese – all rolled up together. You end up with a simple proteinsnack that can be picked up and eaten.
There are other approaches too, like rolling a piece ofstring cheese up in ham.
String cheese is an easy addition if you want some extraprotein. While the cheese might seem processed, it is simply a type ofmozzarella cheese. There are some differences in processing, which is whystring cheese breaks up into little strands while mozzarella cheese.
You could use other types of cheese sticks or cheese piecestoo, if string cheese isn’t your preference.
Sushi is a classic addition to a bento box, especially ifyou’re making a Japanese-style box. You have various options at your fingertipstoo.
The simplest approach would be to buy sushi and include itin the box. Of course, this is an expensive idea and won’t suit manysituations.
You can also make sushi yourself, which isn’t as hard as itseems. Making sushi gives you the chance to choose the flavors and ingredientsthat you are most interested in. For example, if you’re compiling the bento boxfor a child, you might make chicken sushi, rather than using salmon.
Smoked salmon is an easy way to get extra protein in yourbento box. It probably isn’t enough on its own, but smoked salmon willcomplement many other bento box additions.
A classic example would be to include smoked salmon in a boxthat has a bed of rice in it. Alternatively, what about smoked salmon, wholegrain crackers and a small container of cream cheese?
Usually made for children, kyaraben (“character bento”) are lunchboxes in which rice and other bento box food are shaped and designed to look like popular characters from anime, manga, or video games.What is the difference between a bento box and a lunch box? ›
It also doesn't really make the lunch box very food friendly for other food items besides pretty much sandwiches. The bento box originated in Japan and is a lunch box with several different food compartments. It has multiple compartments so that different types of food items from different food groups can be placed.What are those Japanese lunch boxes called? ›
1. What is a Bento Box? A bento is a single-portion boxed meal usually composed of a carb (usually rice or noodles), a protein (usually meat or fish), and an assortment of pickled or cooked vegetables.What is a common bento side dish? ›
A few of the popular choices are Tamagoyaki, Japanese meatballs, asparagus roll with pork, sausages, Spinach salad, pickled daikon radish etc. It is essential to choose those side dishes seasoned well and eaten with a chopstick pair. The sauce too needs to be thickened and coated well to the food items.What should I put in my bento box? ›
Think packable foods.
Bento boxes are convenient because you often don't need to heat up anything, and the food is already portioned. Main meals can include wholesome salads, wraps, sandwiches or sushi. While snacks can be all types of fruits, freshly chopped vegetables, dips, nuts and seeds, or energy balls.