Want to make delicious and nutritious meals that are perfect for school, work and play? Learn how to make bento-style lunches and snacks and have some food fun!
Bentos, or Japanese boxed lunches, are convenient and perfectly portioned with rice, protein, fruits and vegetables. Both children and adults love them, and even the fussiest of eaters are eager to try new foods when cutely arranged in brightly colored reusable containers.
Traditionally healthy, bento feature wholesome and high-quality ingredients instead of candy or processed foods. These popular laptop meals have cousins in India and Korea. Friends in North America have caught on to the trend of these moveable feasts and make bento-style boxes filled with cuisine from Italy, Greece, Mexico, Morocco and many other places around the globe.
Parents like these lunches because they are budget-friendly and easy to make since ingredients can be leftovers, made ahead of time and frozen for later. They can also be easily adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and allergy-friendly eaters.
Here are four friendly tips to remember when making bento-style boxes:
Pick four to six well-balanced ingredients. For school lunches, consider less perishable foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, rice or noodles, a variety of fruits and raw vegetables. Crackers and semi-firm or hard cheeses — cow or goat milk — travel well.
Bento makers can get very creative and spend scads of time making intricately crafted works of art. Keep your assembly time, however, to 20 minutes or less. Even the plainest and simplest bento can be delightful.
Pick foods that keep best at room temperature. Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and egg products need refrigeration or they can spoil and cause food poisoning. Help perishable items with an insulated lunch bag, a cold pack or a frozen juice carton.
An easy way to make ingredients eye-catching with minimal effort is to make shapes with tiny cookie cutters that you can find in the cake-decorating department of craft stores. There you can also find reusable silicone baking cups in exciting colors and petite containers for moist ingredients. Get some darling paper notes to send words of encouragement.
Ready to make tomorrow’s bento lunch? Pick your favorite gluten-friendly option below, gather up your tools and get going!
Oven-roasted turkey breast
Goat’s milk cheddar cheese, such as Woolwich Dairy
Gluten-free tortilla wrap
Nonperishable condiment packet
Coconut macaroons (see recipe below)
Roll slices of oven-roasted turkey breast, Woolwich Dairy cheddar and mixed greens in a gluten-free tortilla wrap. Secure with toothpicks and cut sandwich to fit inside the largest section reusable container. Next, cut a Gala apple in half then arrange the slices over ¼ cup of gluten-free granola placed in a smaller section. Add two homemade coconut macaroons for a sweet treat in the remaining section along with a nonperishable condiment packet. Do not forget to pack napkins, a cool pack and a beverage of your choice to complete your laptop lunch!
Jarlsberg (or the reduced-fat version), a part-skim cow’s milk cheese
Cut cheese into ¼-inch thick slices. Use tiny fondant icing cutters bought at a craft store to make eye-catching shapes. Alternate eight cheese shapes with gluten-free crackers, and place in two stacks in the middle of the container. Wash and dry 1 cup each of snow peas and blueberries; then carefully arrange them on opposite sides of the cheese and crackers. Fill the remaining spaces with ¼ cup of dried cranberries and granola. Pair a cool pack or frozen juice box with this snack bento.
Tip: Leftover cheese from shapes can be saved in a container for quick breakfast add-ins or a mid-week grilled cheese.
2 egg whites
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 325°F. Beat egg whites and salt until almost stiff. Slowly add sugar and beat until whites peak. Add almond and fold in coconut. Spoon mix onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until toasty brown. Cool thoroughly before eating. Freeze macaroons for up to six months.
Story and images courtesy of The Burrell Group and Sarah Platanitis of SarahInTheKitchen.com