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Bento Boxes: Quick and Cute School Lunches

I *heart* creative bento box lunches. But just so I don’t scare anyone off, I’m not talking about cutting faces out of seaweed or dying pasta to make hair. I admire those who do, but I know myself and my son — I’m not that dedicated, and he isn’t going to eat seaweed or anything touched by seaweed. 🤷

What I am talking about is fun, fast, and feasible lunches that should take no more than 10 minutes to assemble in the morning or the night before. I’m in no way an expert and only have the appearance of one because of these awesome and affordable tools: 

1. The standard three-compartment lunchbox is a good choice and our go-to for cold lunches. For lunches that need to be reheated (Ian’s previous preschool has a microwave in the classroom), I recommend a tiered one, because it is easier for the teachers to slide a tray into the microwave without worrying about removing the fruits or other sides.

2. The lunch bag is a little trickier, because you’ll need one that stays in the same orientation for carrying and opening; after all, the other kind (carried upright then laid flat to open) will just undo all the cuteness.

3. Cookie cutters are the superstars of bento-making. Ian loves these animal faces sandwich cutters and asks for “yummy Peppa Pig sandwiches,” which is both hilarious and horrifying.

4. Silicone cups make organizing a breeze and add a splash of color, especially if your kid (like mine) isn’t too fond of green things other than green grapes.

5. Shape cutters and stamps can be used for sandwiches or sides.

To set both of us up for success, I pack Ian’s lunches with things I know he’ll eat like pb&j sandwiches, deli meat, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, bars, crackers, and of course, all the fruit! Honestly, prepping the fruit is the most time consuming part, mostly because I’m super paranoid about choking — so I’m still halving Ian’s grapes and cherries. But if you have older kiddos, it’ll be a much faster process for you.

Putting the bento boxes together requires a bit of creativity, and sometimes, that’s just asking too much on hectic mornings. I find that choosing a theme and sticking to it for a week/month can help reduce some of that stress. For example, I did an alphabet series when I first started. Most of them were pretty easy, thanks to my trusty cookie cutters and shape cutters, but I also picked up these animal cookie stamps and Mickey Mouse cookie cutters to make my life easier. I had to get creative with some of the letters and used an X-Acto knife and stainless steel straws for some of the details (especially for the Y is for YouTube lunch). Fruit strips really came in handy for this project, they were easy to cut and arrange with the right amount of stickiness that they actually stayed in place. Plus, Ian loved having a sweet treat in his lunch.

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You can also try to cut shapes/designs with scissors. I’ve had some mixed results with that approach:

The pirate turned out pretty great but I had to tell Ian that it was a fox (on the left) and a shark (on bottom right). 🤦

I’ve been making bento boxes for about two years now, and they have really helped Ian’s transition from home to preschool, then from his first preschool to his current one and, I hope, from preschool to kindergarten next year.

If you’re a fellow bento-maker, what are your favorite tools? If you’re not but want to give it a try, please do, and let me know how it goes!


About Angela Francis

Angela's original life plan was to have five cats and no kids. After catching the baby fever, she now has one cat and one kid – a compromise her and her husband are quite happy with. Some of her favorite things are: coffee, cats, conversations, cookies, and cardio boot camps. She is also a big fan of alliterations.

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