Bento box lunches are an easy way to pack a variety of healthy foods for preschool, kindergarten and beyond! Here are some delicious ideas to help make packing school lunches fun and doable.
Why Bento Box Lunches?
Because bento box is fun to pack and fun to eat from!
Originated in Japan, a bento-style lunch box is essentially a single-portion boxed meal with neat compartments that make it possible to balance nutrition and convenience.
It may not seem like a big deal, but simply seeing all the different compartments can help packing lunches become less of a drudgery and more of a loving and creative outlet. Your child will notice it too!
Personally, I'm so much more motivated and inspired to pack a variety of foods into my children's lunch with this as opposed to when I see just a single compartment.
You also don't have to worry about say apples creating soggy sandwiches as every food item is contained in its own designated place.
Be sure to pack the bento box in an insulated lunch bag with at least 2 ice packs (one on top and one on bottom of the lunch box) to ensure the food stays safe until lunch time.
Best Bento Boxes for Toddlers and Kids
With so many options, choosing the one that is best suited for your child may feel overwhelming. Here are important factors to consider as well as my top favorite lunch boxes broken down by age group.
They are all perfect for little hands.
Healthy Bento Box Lunch Ideas
1. Bean Patties + Dip
Pictured is the recipe for my chickpea patties with quinoa. Feel free to add any homemade or store-bought protein-packed patties. Include a dip for some fun and a nutritional boost.
2. Pancake Sandwich + Egg
Simply spread yogurt, cream cheese, or nut/seed butter onto one pancake and then press another one on top!
If your child struggles to eat their vegetables, try cutting into fun shapes using these cookie cutters. They truly are magical!
Pictured: spinach pancakes with cream cheese, hard boiled egg, mashed avocado, carrots and cucumber, butternut squash, raspberries
3. Broccoli cream cheese sandwich
My son loves cream cheese. Broccoli is a hit or miss. But I continue to play the exposure game hard. Simply shave off the ends of the broccoli (can be raw or cooked) tops with a knife.
And just like that you have broccoli sprinkles! Combine with cream cheese and garlic powder (or whatever seasoning you wish).
Pictured: salmon quiche, apples, frozen peas and corn, almonds
4. Hummus Sandwich Bento Lunch
Spread your favorite hummus on bread, tortilla, or bagel. You can also make these hummus grilled cheese sandwich that tastes good warm or cold.
Pack alongside carrots, sunflower seeds, and berries.
5. Taco salad bento box lunch
Add cooked rice, quinoa, or pasta along with black beans, corn, tomatoes, chopped romaine lettuce, and salsa.
You can also add cubed or sliced avocado or guacamole. Spritz with some lemon or lime juice to prevent browning.
If your bento box is not leak proof, be sure to pack salsa and guacamole in separate containers.
6. Vegetable Muffins
7. Deconstructed Southwestern sandwich/wrap
Roast a large batch of broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and potatoes with cumin, paprika, and garlic powder to enjoy throughout the week.
Add leftovers to lunch box (delicious cold so no need to reheat) along with black beans, avocado, cheese, and sliced bread or tortilla.
8. DIY Pasta salad bento lunch idea
Deconstructed meals are wonderful as depending on your child's mood and preferences, they can eat the individual components separately or mix them together.
Add cooked pasta (vary the shape for fun and variety) along with cheese, protein, and vegetables.
Here are some EASY homemade sauces and dips to help bring everything together. You can certainly use store-bought for convenience for days when you just can't! We all have those days, don't we?
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for specific ideas!
9. Meatball Bento Box Lunch
The next time you make meatballs, double the recipe and freeze for a quick, hearty lunch.
Now you have 2 options:
- Either heat them in the morning and store them in a thermos to stay warm
- Or you can add straight from the refrigerator to enjoy cold (thaw in the fridge overnight if frozen).
Pair with some type of carbohydrate, like pasta, and fruits/veggies.
Try these meatballs!
- Beet meatballs (pictured)
- Moist turkey meatballs with rice
- Butternut squash beef meatballs
- Baked quinoa beef meatballs
10. Mediterranean Platter
This is a super easy snacky lunch idea! Just imagine placing each of these food items into the individual compartments.
Pictured: hummus, yogurt, chickpeas, cucumber slices, tomatoes, grapes, naan bread
11. Lunch Box Kabobs
Place chicken, cherry tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, and cucumber on skewer til the skewer is full.
Fill your lunch box with oranges and pretzels.
12. Spinach Muffins Bento Box Idea
These hulk muffins are super fluffy, moist in texture, and packed with nutrition. You can add whole or slice into smaller pieces to make it easier to eat.
Add in some type of protein, fruit and vegetable to round out the meal.
13. Hummus Platter
Use your favorite store-bought hummus or whip up any of these nutritious recipes. What I suggest is freezing into individual portions so you can grab just what you need at any given time.
Simply thaw in the fridge overnight and it will be ready to go the next morning.
Add crackers, pretzels, or bread along with fruits and veggies.
14. Veggie Waffles Lunch
Packed with simple, wholesome ingredients, these vegetable waffles will nourish child and keep them full for longer than your typical waffles.
If your child's school is peanut or nut-free, you can sub with sunflower seed butter or tahini.
15. Crackers and cheese snack pack
You can't go wrong with this combination! For younger toddlers, choose crackers that are easier to bite into and chew (pictured: Triscuit thins).
Again, add in fresh fruit and veggies and you've got a 5 minute no-cook lunch that is delicious and well-balanced.
16. Mashed butternut squash sandwich
Butternut squash is so easy to roast and makes a lot! And here's a great way to repurpose leftovers.
Combine ½ cup of mashed butternut squash (can also use sweet potatoes) with ¼ teaspoon of cumin. Spread some cream cheese (or nut/seed butter) on bread.
Add butternut squash mash evenly on top. Finally top with the second slice of bread and slice!
17. Hamburger helper
Here's another leftover dinner that tastes delicious cold. If your child isn't used to eating cold dinner leftovers, I recommend serving them cold or at room temperature at home before trying it out at school.
Tip: Do not pack new foods. Unless you have an adventurous eater, sending unfamiliar foods can shut down your child's appetite. Instead, try them at home first.
18. Pumpkin bean muffins
I'm including a lot of muffins on this list, and that's because they truly are an exhausted parent's/caregiver's dream. I try my hardest to develop nutrient-packed recipes, and these pumpkin bean muffins are no exception.
Pair with any of these finger foods.
19. English Muffin Pizza
A super fun and delicious way to encourage even the pickiest eater to eat their vegetables. I suggest making a couple of trays of these and freezing.
You can add these mini pizzas straight from the freezer into the lunch box the night before or microwave for 30 seconds or so in the morning if you forget.
Again, if your child has never had cold pizza before then try it at home first.
Pair with some simple fruit and veggie sides. Try celery sticks with peanut/nut/seed butter or cream cheese.
20. Pizza Quesadilla
Speaking of pizza, you MUST try this quesadilla with spinach, broccoli, and bean filling! It's a great one to make with your child.
21. Smashed chickpea peanut sandwich
You can absolutely sub the peanut butter with other nut or seed butter, depending on your child's school policy.
Simply mash cooked or canned chickpeas and combine with peanut butter. You'll need to thin it out with some water.
Add any seasoning(s) of choice. I really like smoked paprika and cumin. Spread the mixture on bread and that's it!
Add in some mangoes, yogurt (or cottage cheese), crackers, snap peas and tomatoes.
22. Banana Sushi
Spread nut or seed butter onto a tortilla, add banana, roll it up, and slice! I know it may sound strange, but try adding some veggies as well.
Here's how to make banana roll ups with grated carrots and zucchini, one of my son's all-time fav!
23. Chicken vegetable roll ups
Your child not a fan of banana? Then try these veggie-loaded roll ups instead. While the recipe calls for Thai peanut sauce, you can use cream cheese or hummus.
Add in some tofu, cheese slices, roasted chestnuts (sold prepackaged at Asian groceries), and pineapple.
24. Savory Baked Oatmeal
This make-ahead, veggie-loaded oatmeal is such a nice change of pace from the usual sweet versions. It also tastes amazing straight out of the fridge.
Here I added another one of our freezer staples, pumpkin waffles, that I topped with cream cheese. Add in some protein with colored carrots, cucumber, and almonds.
If you are looking for a sweet (but not too sweet) recipe, try this strawberry baked oatmeal.
25. Pesto Pasta
Toss your favorite pesto (try this nut-free broccoli white bean pesto!) with cooked pasta and add in some blueberries, chicken, and bell peppers.
Tip: rinse and toss the pasta with some olive oil before storing in a container to prevent sticking.
26. Veggie nuggets and cereal bars
I'm all about doing what serves you best at any point in time, so head straight for your favorite frozen veggie nuggets if that means preserving your sanity. Same goes for cereal bars.
27. Watermelon and feta with Crackers
Pack some sliced watermelon with feta, cucumber, crackers, and pumpkin lentil bars.
28. Oat balls with yogurt
2 minutes is all it takes to cook any of these veggie-loaded oatmeal. Shape into balls to make them easier to eat. Add in frozen yogurt tubes and strawberries.
29. Scrambled egg sandwich
This is the perfect freezer breakfast sandwich! You can use mini bagels, brioche buns, croissants, or english muffins.
Slice in half or bite-sized pieces for toddlers. Serve alongside cantaloupe and bell pepper slices.
30. Broccoli pasta
This 15 minute one pot pasta recipe is SO easy to whip up and delicious! Again you can warm it up and add to thermos or pack straight from the fridge. It will be great with cooked chicken (or shrimp or tofu if vegetarian) and apple slices.
More Easy Lunch Ideas
As a fellow mom and a registered dietitian, I make every attempt to share EASY recipes that freeze beautifully.
I truly hope all of these bento box lunch ideas and recipes make your lunch packing journey smoother and enjoyable!
- Master List of Lunch Box Ideas for Kids
- Lunch Ideas for Daycare or Preschool
- 60 Healthy Lunch Ideas for kids
- 5 minute Snacky Lunch Ideas
- Finger Foods
Did you make this recipe? Leave a rating below and let me know how you liked the recipe! Your feedback means so much to me!
Bento Box Lunch Ideas - DIY Pasta Salad Bar
- ½ cup Pasta of choice, preferably whole grain or legume-based (e.g. chickpeas, lentils)
- ¼ cup Protein (chicken, beef, hard-boiled egg, shrimp, beans, tofu)
- Cubed or sliced cheese
- 3 tablespoons Sauce (pesto, vinaigrette, ranch, hummus)
Vegetables (½ cup)
- cherry/grape tomatoes (quartered for 4 years and younger)
- cucumber (sliced or cubed)
- zucchini (sliced or shredded)
- carrots (sliced or shredded)
- bell peppers (sliced)
- baby spinach
- Pack all the components into separate compartments. Place the pasta in the largest compartment so that if your child decides to mix up all the components together, they can!
- If your lunch box is not leak-proof, be sure to add the sauce/dressing in a separate container.
- Greek pesto: rotini pasta, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, feta, pesto
- Italian pasta salad: fusili pasta, chicken, red bell pepper, zucchini, mozzarella balls, bail, balsamic vinaigrette
- Tortellini salad: cheese tortellini, torn romaine, shredded carrots, tomatoes, ranch dressing
- Shrimp pasta salad: lentil pasta, shrimp, cucumber, corn, black beans, lime dressing