40 Bento Box Ideas for Kids: How to Pack Cute and Healthy Lunches for Picky Eaters


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Jun 01, 2023

40 Bento Box Ideas for Kids: How to Pack Cute and Healthy Lunches for Picky Eaters

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Even if you've never heard the term "bento box," there's a good chance you've seen these cute meal containers before — either on Instagram or at your child's school or day care. The Japanese-style lunch boxes feature multiple compartments designed to store a main dish plus sides.

Many parents choose bentos because they can inspire selective eaters to taste-test more.

"For kids, they're fun, organized and visually appealing, which makes a difference in whether they'll try a new food or even eat at all," says Jenny Friedman, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian and a member of the What To Expect Medical Review Board. "They're also great for picky eaters who prefer their foods not to touch."

The key to packing a wholesome, satisfying bento box is including a variety of foods. It'll look colorful and exciting for your little one, and you can rest assured that you've offered both nutritious and filling options. Keep this list handy for when you're stumped on lunches, and get inspired to mix and match your own bento box combos.

Kids bento box entrees don't have to be complicated. A simple sandwich or leftovers from last night's dinner can keep your cutie fueled without a lot of fuss. The main thing to remember for toddler lunches is to include some protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates, which will fill your little one up and keep her energized throughout the afternoon. Trusted SourceAmerican Academy of PediatricsKids Need Fiber: Here's Why and HowSee All Sources [1]

Some ideas:

A veggie side can round out your little one's bento while offering fiber and antioxidants like vitamin C. If vegetables tend to be a tough sell for your toddler, go for colorful, milder options cut into kid-friendly shapes or sizes. (And don't sweat it if your offering goes untouched. The more often your sweetie sees veggies in her meal, the more likely she is to eventually take a nibble.)

Consider including:

Fruit's a wholesome way to satisfy your sweetie's sweet tooth and inject her bento with more color and nutrition.

Some toddler-friendly options to try:

A main dish, a veggie and a fruit can certainly complete a toddler meal.

"Sometimes parents feel pressure to fill every single compartment and that's certainly not a requirement. There's nothing wrong with an empty space," says Friedman, who sometimes fills an empty compartment in her son's lunchbox with a sticker.

That said, it's also fine to add an extra toddler-friendly snack if it's easy and your little one likes it. How about:

Like extra sides, desserts aren't a must in your toddler's bento, Friedman says. If you choose to add a sweet treat, opt for one that's relatively low in added sugar. Trusted SourceAmerican Academy of PediatricsHow To Reduce Added Sugar In Your Child's Diet: AAP TipsSee All Sources [2]

Some good ideas:

It's time to get packing! To build a toddler-approved bento box, just pick an entree, a veggie and a fruit, along with an extra side and/or dessert if you choose.

"I made a master list at the beginning of the year with all of the possibilities," Friedman says. "That helped me feel like I had a lot of options."

Keep in mind, too, that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. While variety is important, it's fine to include some repeat foods throughout the week if your toddler loves them or they're convenient for you, she adds.

Some satisfying combos to try:

A bento box can be fun for you to pack and exciting for your toddler to eat. Just don't stress too much over making it perfect.

"Parents feel a lot of pressure to have these 'Instagram-ready' lunches," Friedman says. "You don't have to go crazy!"

Pair a simple sandwich or leftovers from last night's dinner with a veggie and a fruit, and you've got a complete toddler meal. Feel free to fill an empty compartment with a sticker or a note from you!

Some bento- and kid-friendly veggies include:

Yes, you can pack a cold lunch in your child's bento box the night before. A tuna and cracker snack plate or veggie pasta salad, for example, would work well the next day.

A bento box filled with some protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates (from veggies, fruits and whole grains) will provide a filling and healthy lunch for your little one.

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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PB and banana sandwich: Cheesy beans: Pasta and meatballs: Veggie "sushi" with hummus: Waffle sandwich: Tuna and cracker snack plate: Frittata cubes: Veggie pasta salad: