If the same old sandwich lunches feel a little stale, it's time to skip the classic standby and upgrade to the best bento box lunch. Bento box lunches contain a wide variety of foods in artful, cute arrangements—plus, the reusable compartments of a bento box help control portion sizes and let you skip all the plastic baggies.
To find the right bento box for you or your kids, first think about size. For older kids and adults, we like the PlanetBox Launch. This large bento made of stainless steel holds up to 7 cups of food and comes with a "tall dipper," aka an extra little container for dip or crackers. For smaller kids, the Bentgo bento boxes are a favorite.
If you plan to pack wet foods, like watermelon or hummus, pick a bento that has individual lids for the compartments, such as the bentos from Bentology. The watertight lids keep messes to a minimum (i.e., keep your cleanup sane!).
For those short on time, the Yumbox bentos have the option of purchasing an extra inner tray. This way, you can prep two days of lunch at once and swap it into the bento instantly.
Now, the biggest question ... what do you fill your bento with? Here are a few healthy non-sandwich ideas to bring a little more fun to the lunchroom.
We could all use ideas for eating more vegetables. Skip the bread and use lettuce or thinly sliced cucumbers to wrap up deli meats, taco fillings or more veggies. Picking small butter lettuce leaves makes them easiest to assemble and hold.
Pictured Recipe: Pizza Roll-Up Bento Lunch
Remember Lunchables? I'm embarrassed to admit how many I've eaten. But you can make a cleaner version by using naan or whole-wheat English muffins, tomato sauce, cheese and natural pepperoni. Get creative and add green peppers and mushrooms or your favorite pizza topping. Or make it on a whole-wheat tortilla, roll it up and cut into bite-size pieces. Complete the bento with veggies and dip, fresh fruit and a small treat.
Hummus and veggies may be standard for lunch, but try adding stuffed grape leaves, baked falafel and tzatziki to your bento for a Middle Eastern-inspired lunch. Many of these items can be purchased ready-made in the refrigerated sections of the produce department. Or try out some new recipes for dinner and pack leftovers for lunch the next day.
Related: Middle Eastern Mezze Recipes
Pictured Recipe: Deconstructed Sushi Bento Lunch
Save money and create your own takeout favorites at home. Make a Japanese sushi-inspired bento box (no rolling necessary) when you fill the compartments with rice, shrimp, avocado, edamame and cucumber salad. Or try a Chinese takeout-inspired bento box with dumplings or spring rolls, rice cakes, sesame broccoli and noodles. This is a particularly good way to use up leftovers.
Pictured Recipe: Taco Salad Bento Lunch
Nachos for a healthy lunch? Sure! Keep it classic with tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, beans and cheese. Make it healthier by skipping the sour cream and including fresh veggies and fruit, such as corn on the cob, tomatoes, lettuce, grapes and kiwi. Additional toppings could include cilantro, sweet potatoes, onion or jalapeños if you like it spicy.
Pictured Recipe: Mediterranean Bento Lunch
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the world's healthiest ways of eating and includes lots of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, such as olive oil. Pack up a Greek-style lunch with salad, hummus and pita. Or fill your bento with tapas, which are mini snacks or appetizers, such as olives, cheese, roasted potatoes, ham, stuffed cherry tomatoes ... use this as an opportunity to bring bits and pieces from the fridge into a meal.
This is a favorite of mine because I can eat eggs at any time of the day—and it's also a great option for picky eaters. Try hard-boiled, baked into a quiche or tucked into a wrap. Add waffles or pancakes and syrup, paired with plenty of fresh fruit packed into the bento.
Pictured Recipe: Smoked Salmon Maki Rolls
Maki are like lettuce wraps except instead of lettuce, you use seaweed. For a low-carb version, skip the rice and just go for veggies and smoked salmon. Be sushi smart and choose salmon that's wild caught from Alaska for the healthiest sustainable fish option.
Pictured Recipe: Picnic Bento Lunch
Feel Italian for the day when you compose a meal based on antipasti. Cured meat typically has a lot of sodium, and a little bit goes a long way, so keep portion sizes small and round out the rest of your bento with lots of fresh fruit, such as cherries, grapes and peaches, plus veggies, such as tomatoes, red peppers and carrots. Add some cooked pasta or crusty bread for staying power.
Pictured Recipe: Soy-Lime Tofu & Rice Bento Lunch
Tofu, rice and vegetables are classic bento ingredients—and they all fit in a plant-based (vegan) diet, which is good for your health and the environment. To save time, you can use cubed store-bought baked tofu instead of roasting your own.