Bento Lunch Ideas

Borrow from Japan for the perfect school lunch

Recipes and styling by Leeanne Wright
Photography by Michael Alberstat
Written by Megan McChesney

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Lunchtime is about to get a whole lot cuter! If your little one is tired of the same old sammies, try whipping up a bento lunch — perfect for kids thanks to small portions, lots of variety and adorable serving techniques.

Bento means lunchbox in Japanese, and has been a part of Japanese culture since the 700s. Once used for soldiers to bring food to the battlefront, they’ve evolved into an art form, where small, varied portions of fresh food meet incredible aesthetics and intricate presentation. And they’re still incredibly popular; bentos are served during theatre intermissions, sold at train stations for long train rides, and many grown-ups bring them to work. Of course, the most popular use for bento in Japan is still school time! It’s not uncommon for Japanese moms to spend up to 45 minutes carefully preparing each bento. But there’s no need for you to go quite so far.

With a few choice items in your kitchen, you can whip up a bento in no time. There are all kinds of specialty accessories you can buy at Japanese import stores and grocery stores, or online at sites like jbox.com. You can even find bento-appropriate goodies at your local hardware or kitchen supply store. But you can start to bento with what you have in your cupboard. Gather your plastic containers, silicone or paper muffin cups, cookie cutters, cute toothpicks and you’re ready to go. Some bento enthusiasts insist you need nothing more than a good knife. The trick is to keep servings small, varied and let your creativity run wild! Turn hot dogs into octopi, carrots into flowers or cheese sandwiches into dinosaurs.

Another great thing about these lunches? Most can be made completely litterless.

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