A Beginner’s Guide to Bento Box Lunches

Have you always been hesitant to try your hand at bento box lunches? They really are not as difficult as they appear. Find out how to make your own bento boxes in our blog!

Bento boxes are a creative way to make boring lunches fun for both adults and children alike. The best part is, it’s not as hard as you think. Discover how you can make these bento boxes easily at home, so you can have a lunch that looks as good as it tastes everyday! 

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

What are Bento Boxes? 

The Bento Box is a staple in Japanese culinary history, dating back to the 5th century when Japanese workers packed their lunches for work. The compartmental design is based on the classic farmers seed box design, featuring multiple compartments. As the bento spread across Asia, the idea remained the same — a varied and healthy lunch. 

Traditionally made from lacquered wood or woven basket material, the design took a luxurious turn in 1912 with the introduction of aluminum bento boxes. The aluminum model quickly became a symbol of wealth. In the 1950s, a rice, bread and soup filled bento became the norm for school lunches. 

By the 1980s, the bento box had emerged in Western culture, which can mostly be attributed to the cultures growing love for ‘convenience’ meals. In the 90s, character bentos were introduced; a super cute trend still dominating many parenting Instagram accounts today. 

With the growing concern for health and environmental sustainability, bento-style lunch boxes have again become a popular choice, providing a waste-free lunch solution. Many bentos are now eco friendly, coming with interchangeable trays, making them adaptable to almost any lunch you desire.

Top 3 Bento Box Lunches for Adults

1. Greek pita bento box. 

This bento box is full of nutritional goodness! Suited more to the adult palette, this bento box is full of flavour, taking you right back to the deliciously fresh cuisine of the Greek Islands. Taking only 20 minutes to prep four bento boxes. This bento box recipe is inspired by Sweet Peas and Saffron.  Did we mention this recipe requires ZERO cooking! These bento boxes will keep in the fridge for up to four days! 

This bento box has four components: A Greek salad, pita bread, tzatziki and chicken.

Ingredients: 

  • 12 slices of deli chicken OR 300g of shredded chicken breast.
  • 1 cup of tzatziki.
  • 12 mini pitas.
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes.
  • 1 green capsicum chopped.
  • ¼ red onion diced.
  • 2 cups cucumber.
  • 2 tablespoons of feta cheese, crumbled.
  • Olives to taste.

How to make your Greek pita bento box. 

  1. Toss the cherry tomatoes, capsicum, onion, olives and cucumber in a medium bowl.
  2. Divide the salad between bento lunch boxes and sprinkle with feta.
  3. Place the rest of the ingredients into the lunch boxes, ensuring tzatziki, chicken and pitas have their own compartments.
A Greek pita bento box example.

     2. Taco salad bento box.

This recipe is the ultimate healthy alternative to your favourite Mexican restaurant tacos! Taco salad bento boxes are really easy to make, taking around 25 minutes to prep enough lunches for the entire week. Plus, there is no cooking required! This recipe is inspired by Sweet Peas and Saffron.

These bento box should keep for up to 5 days, when properly refrigerated.  

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup of black beans.
  • 1 cup or fresh corn kernels.
  • 3 cups of lettuce, chopped into bite-size pieces.
  • ½ shredded cheese.
  • ½ cup of your favorite dressing.
  • Tortilla chips.
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped.
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped and seeds removed.
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped red onion.
  • Pinch of salt. 
  • 1 teaspoon of lime juice.

How to make a Taco Salad Bento Box:

  1. Combine tomatoes, jalapeno, red onion, salt and lime juice in a small bowl.
  2. Place all the fresh ingredients into one compartment and divide the rest of the ingredients amongst the other compartments. Ensure the shredded cheese, dressing and tortilla chips are all kept separate, to prevent anything going soggy.

3. Spicy chicken and rice bento box.

This spicy chicken and rice bento box is full of protein. Our spicy chicken and rice recipe uses common household ingredients to create a simple and delicious meal everyone will love! Taking about 10 minutes to prep, and a further 25 to cook, this recipe yields four meals that will make you the envy of office lunches.  This recipe is inspired by Pinch of Yum.

This recipe will keep well in a refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of your favourite rice.
  • 1 cup of water.
  • 400 grams of salsa, or canned tomatoes.
  • Pinch of salt.
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
  • 4 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces.
  • Taco seasoning.
  • Handful of coriander.
  • 300g of black beans, rinsed and drained.
  • 2 capsicums of your choice.
  • 100g of nut mix.

How to make a spicy chicken and rice bento box:

  1. Over a medium heat, place the rice, water, tomatoes, salt and oil in a medium-sized pot. Stir to combine.
  2. Meanwhile, sprinkle taco seasoning on the chicken pieces. Then, cook the chicken in the oven at 180°C fan-forced for 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Turn chicken pieces halfway through cooking time.
  3. Mix cooked chicken, black beans and rice together and divide amongst bento boxes. 
  4. Cut up capsicum and place in an alternate compartment. Do the same with the nut mix.
  5.  
A chicken and rice bento box example.

Top 3 Bento Boxes for Kids

1. Flower garden bento box.

Kid’s bento boxes can be a lot of fun to make! With many different ways to get creative, including fun shaped cutters and moulds to make almost any food into art available online! The best part is bento boxes are an easy way to get your kids to eat healthy! 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 sandwich.
  • 1 mandarin.
  • A handful of grapes.
  • 2 cheese slices.
  • ½ celery stalk.
  • 1 strawberry.
  • ½ cup of yoghurt.

How to make a flower garden bento box: 

  1. Take your largest flower cutter and cut your  sandwich into flower shapes, avoiding the crust, if possible. Place in the lunch box.
  2. Using the next smallest cutter, turn your cheese slices into flower shapes. Place them on top of the sandwiches to make flowers.
  3. Place your strawberry in the centre of a smaller compartment, alternatively use a patty-paper. Peel your mandarin and place the pieces around the strawberry to make another flower shape. 
  4. Fill one of the bento compartments with your yogurt. Take three small grapes and place them in a diagonal line. Then thinly slice another grape into six pieces and place three on each side of your grapes to create an ant for your flower garden.
  5. Thinly slice the celery and place it upright along with your remaining grapes in any gaps in the lunch box, especially around the sandwich flowers.

It should be noted any of the ingredients used in this lunch can be switched out with any other fruit or vegetable. Feel free to get creative!  

A flower garden bento box example.

      2. Under the sea bento box.

We cannot go past an under-the-sea-themed bento box! This recipe is simpler than it looks and is sure to be a hit! All that is required, besides common household kitchen utensils, is a fish shaped and small star shaped cookie cutter!

Ingredients:

  • 1 sandwich.
  • 1 cheese slice.
  • ½ cup zucchini noodles.
  • 8 slices of cucumber. 
  • 6 crackers. 

How to make an under the sea bento box:

  1. Cook your zucchini noodles, by placing them in the microwave with a pinch of salt and water. Heat in 4 minute bursts until cooked through.
  2. Place your cooked zucchini noodles along the bottom of the largest compartment, to look like seaweed.
  3. Take your sandwich and cut into a fish shape using the cookie cutter. Using the star cutter, cut small cheese stars and decorate your fish. Place in the same compartment as the noodles.
  4. Using your star cutter again, cut out cucumber stars, placing in another compartment.
  5. Place the crackers in another compartment.

Feel free to switch out any of these ingredients and get creative with your own design!  

An under-the-sea-themed bento box example.

     3. Dinosaur bento box.

This is one for all the little budding paleontologists out there, a dinosaur bento box! The dinosaur bento box is super simple and allows for a well-balanced meal. Besides common kitchen utensils, the only extra tool required is a dinosaur cutter, which can be easily found online. 

Ingredients:

  • Small handful of mixed lettuce leaves.
  • 2 deli meat and cheese sandwiches.
  • 2 extra slices of chosen deli meat.
  • 1 boiled egg.
  • 30g of pretzel sticks
  • 50g of steamed broccoli.
  • Handful of grapes.

How to make your dinosaur bento box: 

  1. Place your lettuce mix in the largest compartment, spreading evenly.
  2. Using your dinosaur cutter, cut out two dinosaur sandwiches. Take your extra slices of deli meat, using a sharp knife cut out small triangles. Place these on the dinosaurs back to look like plates rising from their spine. Put your completed dinosaurs on top of the lettuce. Line the bottom edge of the compartment with grapes.
  3. Place pretzel sticks in a small compartment, to look like sticks. Put your boiled egg on top.
  4. Finally, fill another compartment with steamed broccoli.

As always, these recipes are simply a guide. Feel free to switch out the ingredients to suit dietary needs. 

A dinosaur bento box example.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bento Boxes

1. What goes in a bento box?

Traditionally, these boxes contain fish or meat, pickled vegetables, potatoes or rice and sometimes fruit. However, they can be made of practically anything. The idea of the bento lunch box is to create a well-balanced, healthy meal.

2. Are bento boxes dishwasher safe?

Most bento boxes are now made from glass, BPA-free, recycled plastics and other eco friendly materials, making them dishwasher safe. However, best practise is to check the manufacturer guidelines before purchasing any bento box.

3. How big is a bento box?

Bento boxes come in a variety of sizes, designs and materials. When purchasing your bento boxes, check the literage guide, if you’re after a generously sized bento box look for one with a volume above 1.5 liters.

If you don’t feel like making your own bento box, we get it. Many Japanese restaurants will offer takeaway bento boxes, so you don’t have to lift a finger!


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      Katrina Stapleton

      Digital Content Specialist

      Katrina Stapleton is a Digital Content Specialist at Localsearch with a background in social media and marketing. Although most of her experience lies in the entertainment sector, Katrina has written content for a vast array of industries including tourism, hospitality, retail and property development. Katrina is an avid dog lover, who finds a way to weave her fur-baby, Mylo, into most conversations. Aside from being a self-confessed bookworm, Katrina can often be found checking out the Gold Coast's latest coffee nook, paddle-boarding or baking up a storm in her free time — all with Mylo by her side, of course! As a Digital Content Specialist, Katrina enjoys sharing her knowledge and passions on the Localsearch Blog.