For those who want to start making healthy and portioned lunches but don’t want the hassle of spending a long amount of time preparing them then Bento Boxes are a great solution for you.
Traditionally used by Japanese schoolchildren, Bento Boxes are simply portioned lunchboxes that feature small amounts of a variety of foods that have been carefully selected thanks to their various protein and vitamin intake to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
There are endless options and combinations to try which means that you are guaranteed to find the perfect choice for you regardless of your dietary requirements or lifestyle. So whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or have a nut allergy, you’ll benefit from incorporating Bento Boxes into your daily life.
In this guide, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about Bento Boxes from where they originated to what you can expect to find in a Bento Box as well as six ideas to provide you with plenty of inspiration when you come to make up your own Bento Box.
We’ve also curated an exclusive FAQ where we answer the most commonly asked questions relating to Bento Boxes so you can know what to look for. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the confidence and knowledge to make your own Bento Box with ease and find that it fits into your lifestyle perfectly.
What are Bento Boxes?
Before we delve into the various components found in a Bento Box lunch, it’s important to understand what they actually are. Bento Boxes have their origins in Japan and are often associated with schoolchildren as it is a box that contains separate compartments that will contain different foods that provide needed nutrients and vitamins to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Often centering around a protein source, traditionally deli meat slices, Bento Boxes tend to also contain a mix of fruit and vegetables to provide plenty of delicious flavors. Although Bento Boxes are traditionally associated with Japanese culture, they can be found in many grocery stores around the world as they have grown exponentially in popularity around the globe.
Bento Boxes are available in all kinds of shapes and sizes and also cater to various price points so whether you have the money to spend or are working with a stricter budget, you’ll be able to find a suitable option that is perfect for you.
You can find larger sizes for adults and smaller sizes for children so you can make appropriate portions. When it comes to the material of the Bento Box, choosing one made from a durable material such as stainless steel may cost more but is going to last a lot longer than cheaper alternatives that are made from plastic.
If you are starting out using Bento Boxes, it can be helpful to purchase a plastic option initially to see if it suits your lifestyle before investing in a more expensive model.
Who can use Bento Boxes?
As mentioned previously, Bento Boxes are traditionally associated with Japanese schoolchildren but they have become more commonplace among adults as well who want to portion their foods and start to live a healthy lifestyle.
A lot of parents will find that making their own Bento Box lunch alongside their children’s helps to reduce the amount of waste as well as meaning that it is easier to organize as the ingredients will be the same and it can help to cut down on the amount spent on the weekly shop.
The great thing about Bento Boxes is that they can be eaten by anyone, especially since there are larger models that have been made with adults in mind.
Assembling your Bento Box
Now that you know what a Bento Box actually is, it’s important to know how to successfully assemble a healthy lunch that is going to contribute to a healthy lifestyle. The best part about Bento Boxes is that they have compartments so you can easily slot in a variety of different foods with ease meaning that you will be able to maximize the nutritious value of your lunch.
The important thing to bear in mind is that Bento Boxes are not traditionally comprised of unhealthy processed foods such as chocolate bars or crisps meaning that it is encouraged that you purchase foods that are as natural as possible to make the most of the nutrients and healthy aspects.
Even avoiding seemingly healthy options such as store-bought granola bars is advised as these are filled with high levels of refined sugar.
Here are the most important components that you need to consider when making up your own Bento Box:
As mentioned previously in this guide, Bento Boxes are traditionally constructed around a main source of protein as they are designed to provide the person with plenty of energy for the rest of the day. Therefore, it’s always best to start with the source of protein when constructing any kind of Bento Box.
Traditionally, Japanese Bento Boxes usually consist of deli slices of meats such as turkey which have a high protein content but there are plenty of other options to cater to different dietary needs. Here are just a few protein options that you can consider:
- Black beans
- Buckwheat groats
- Canned salmon
- Canned tuna
- Chicken slices
- Greek yogurt
- Ham slices
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Salami slices
- Turkey slices
Fruit and Vegetables
The next component that you will need to consider after selecting your protein is what fruit and vegetables you want to add to the Bento Box. This is especially important because it will be the main source of vitamins.
It’s always advised to add more vegetables than fruit as they have a higher vitamin content than fruit but including fruit is still important as this will be the sweet portion of the lunch, which is important, especially if you are making a lunch box for children.
Knowing what fruit and vegetables your child likes is a great starting point as you can be guaranteed that they will enjoy the lunch more and be more receptive to trying the Bento Box. Also, try to ensure that the fruit and vegetables complement the protein selection to make it even more enjoyable.
Here are just a few fruit and vegetable options that you can consider:
- Bell pepper
- Cherry tomatoes
- Cucumber slices
- Red onion
Dip or Sauce
The last component of the Bento Box that you will need to consider is including a dip or sauce. This is because they provide you with plenty of healthy fats that are an important contributing factor to a healthy lifestyle.
The great thing about dips and sauces is that they can help to add some delicious flavors to the meal which is important if you are making lunches for children as they can help to make the food appealing and exciting.
If you lead a vegan lifestyle, you can use chickpeas to make your own hummus or avocados to make your own guacamole to help reduce the amount of food waste. Another great thing about dips and sauces is that they can also contribute more protein, especially if you opt for a nut or seed butter such as almond butter, cashew butter, or sunflower seed butter.
- Greek yogurt
- Nut butter
- Ranch dressing
- Seed butter
Six Bento Box Lunch Ideas
Now that you know the different components that are traditionally put in a Bento Box, it’s time to look into a variety of different options that you can consider when it comes to selecting what foods to put in your own Bento Box.
Make sure that there is a balance of various nutrients including protein and various vitamins to ensure that you have a balanced lunch that will contribute to a healthy lifestyle. The easy way to think about this is by starting with the protein source and then adding in various fruits, vegetables, and dips according to your personal preference.
Here are six Bento Box lunch ideas to provide you with plenty of inspiration. Bear in mind that you can easily mix and match if you want to provided that you ensure you have your protein source to give you the much-needed energy boost for the day.
1. Classic Bento Box
For those who want to stick with the quintessential Bento Box then look no further than this classic set-up which follows the traditional Japanese layout.
Consisting of turkey as the source of protein, cheese, crackers, and grapes, the classic Bento Box is great because it contains everything you or your child needs to get that energy boost without any unhealthy foods whilst also giving you the chance to incorporate vegan or gluten-free options accordingly thanks to the versatility.
For example, you can purchase vegan cheese instead of regular cheese or opt for a meat-free protein source to substitute the turkey. Make sure that you cover the food with a paper towel so the moisture from the cheese will be absorbed and allow the crackers to stay crisp.
Here are the core ingredients for the Classic Bento Box:
½ cup – crackers
½ cup – of cheddar cheese cubes
3 – deli turkey slices
2. Apple and Cheese Bento Box
For those who want a vegetarian Bento Box then this Apple and Cheese Bento Box is perfect as the protein source comes from the cheddar cheese cubes which contain a high amount of protein.
Filled with plenty of delicious flavors, this box is also great for those who have a sweet tooth thanks to the apple slices as well as the carrots and snap peas which can be dipped in the nut or seed butter, which will provide you with plenty of vitamins that is ideal for living a healthy lifestyle.
If you or your family leads a vegan lifestyle, then you can easily swap the cheese out for a vegan cheese that will still be high in protein making this one of the best Bento Boxes for those who want to forego meat altogether.
Here are the core ingredients for the Apple and Cheese Bento Box:
¼ cup – nut or seed butter
½ cup – of cheddar cheese cubes
1 – sliced apple
3. Mediterranean Inspired Bento Box
Veering away from the traditional Bento Box layout is this Mediterranean Inspired Bento Box which is the best choice for those who want a lunch that is full of delicious flavors whilst still providing you with plenty of protein and vitamins to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
What is great about this option is that it is easy to make up and quick to prepare, making it ideal for busy households where you don’t want to spend too much time preparing lunches. The protein comes from the traditional choice of turkey slices as well as providing plenty of sodium from the olives with carrots providing the sweeter portion of the lunch.
Here are the core ingredients for the Mediterranean-Inspired Bento Box:
¼ cup – of hummus
2 or 3 – deli turkey slices
6 – baby carrots
6 – olives
4. Protein Power Bento Box
If you want your Bento Box to have a high level of protein then this Protein Power Bento Box option is perfect for you as it contains plenty of items that are filled with protein to provide you or your family with plenty of energy to get through the day. In this Bento Box, you will get protein from chickpeas, a hard-boiled egg, and salami slices.
This is great because your protein isn’t just coming from meat as you are also getting it from the egg and chickpeas, the latter of which is a popular choice among vegans. If you or your family leads a vegan lifestyle then you can opt to have a higher portion of chickpeas for your protein or substitute the salami for vegan meat which will contain plenty of protein for those who want more than one protein source in their Bento Box.
The combination of this protein with vegetables means that this lunch is still full of plenty of flavors.
Here are the core ingredients for the Protein Power Bento Box:
¼ cup – of chickpeas
1 – hard-boiled egg
1 – mini cucumber
4 – salami slices
5. Quinoa Bento Box
For those who want to opt for a vegan alternative for their Bento Box then this Quinoa Bento Box is the best option. Suitable for you and your family, this Bento Box incorporates quinoa which is known for containing a high amount of protein to provide you with plenty of energy for the day as well as plenty of flavor coming from various fruit, vegetables, and dips for a lunch that is both simple yet delicious.
You can even add more flavor by squeezing a lemon over the top of the food to give it extra zest if you want. Quinoa is also an extremely versatile food meaning that you can swap and substitute the other ingredients for alternative options and still find a combination that will complement the quinoa well.
Here are the core ingredients for the Quinoa Bento Box:
¼ cup – of hummus
½ cup – cooked quinoa
1 – mini cucumber
1 – sliced kiwi
6 – grape tomatoes
6. Tortilla Bento Box
Lastly, for those who want their lunch to be full of delicious flavors with a bit of fun then look no further than this Tortilla Bento Box. As you can guess, this Bento Box is made up of components that can be assembled together to create a taco.
The great thing about tacos is that you can choose any kind of combination to create one that is perfect for you or your child meaning that the options are endless when it comes to deciding what the protein source is as well as what kind of beans and cheese you want to use.
We’ve gathered the basic ingredients expected to be seen in a regular taco but you can swap and substitute ingredients according to your preference. Make sure that you use a paper towel to cover the food so the moisture from the beans and cheese will be absorbed and allow the taco to remain crisp.
Here are the core ingredients for the Tortilla Bento Box:
¼ cup – of guacamole
¼ cup – cheese cubes
½ cup – of black beans
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many differences between Bento Boxes and lunch boxes with the main ones being that regular lunch boxes have only one compartment which can store all of the food without any real organization whereas a Bento Box is made up of multiple separate compartments of different sizes that can hold different amounts of various foods to help contribute to a balanced and portioned lifestyle.
Traditional Bento Boxes do not have the capacity to help keep food hot but nowadays, there are brands that are developing models that are made from thermal materials so you can make a lunch that is heated.
One such example is the OmieBox which can allow you the combine hot and cold foods. However, traditional Bento Boxes are made up of cold foods.
Bento Boxes are meant to be a great way to help people make balanced lunches by containing small portions of various foods that have a lot of nutritional value to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Starting with a larger compartment for the protein source, there are also smaller compartments to store fruits, vegetables, and a dip or sauce so you can make a lunch that is delicious, flavorful, and extremely healthy.