In today's instalment of my 'How to Make A Bento' series I'm answering a question I get asked a lot - what foods can you pack in a bento box? The short answer to that is 'almost anything' but that's not particularly helpful when you're first trying to come up with food ideas for lunch boxes so I'll try to expand upon it somewhat in this post.
When I first started packing lunches for my son, I found the hardest thing about it was deciding what to pack. I quickly found myself stuck in a rut, packing ham sandwiches with an apple or a banana nearly every day, and it was boring! Both for me, doing the packing, and for him, doing the eating.
When I discovered the concept of bento boxes though, my eyes were opened to the possibilities. I realised that you can pack whatever you like for lunch - you don't have to stick to sandwiches. Got leftovers from last night's dinner? Pack them for lunch! Run out of bread for sandwiches? No problem - try packing crackers, pasta, rice or cous cous instead! Fancy a change? Make a quick quesadilla or 5 minute pizza to pop in your lunch box!
Once you start packing lunches in a bento box you'll quickly realise that it opens up a world of food possibilities that you might never have considered putting in a traditional lunch box.
When I'm deciding what to pack for lunch, I usually think by food group; Starchy Foods, Protein, Fruit, Vegetables & Dairy. I try to include one thing from each food group my lunches, which actually makes it really easy to pull a lunch together. I'll talk about this in more detail in my next post about packing a balanced lunch, but to get you started, you'll find a large selection of lunch box food ideas by food group here on the blog.
You'll also find a list of ideas for each individual food group here:
And there's a printable list of lunchbox food ideas in this post: List of Lunchbox Food Ideas - why not print it out and stick it on the fridge for inspiration all year round?
I've mentioned alternatives to sandwiches when packing lunch boxes, but of course you can't beat a good sandwich for ease and convenience at lunch time. Sandwiches don't have to be boring though, so if you need some fresh ideas to keep them interesting, check out my Ultimate List of Sandwich Fillings where you'll find over 140 sandwich filling ideas!
Another advantage of packing food in a bento box is the ability to pack food that's a little more fun and creative than the norm, so if you want to have some fun with your lunches, check out the creative sandwiches section here on the blog where you'll find loads of fun sandwich ideas!
I also mentioned packing leftovers earlier in this post, it really is a great way to keep things interesting, save money and save food waste at the same time.
My husband takes a box to be heated up at work of whatever leftovers need using up, but for the kids school lunches I pack odds and ends that are OK to eat cold - foods like like potatoes, rice, pasta, meatballs, sausages, roast meats and even leftover pizza or burgers work well. You'll find some creative ideas for using up your leftover in this post: 14 Fun Lunches made with Leftovers.
I must give traditional bento box foods a mention too! Whether it's shop bought or homemade, sushi is of course perfect to pack in a bento box. Try my rainbow vegetable sushi, or make cute rice balls like these penguin rice balls and panda rice balls - it's easier than it looks!
I hope you've found plenty of lunch packing inspiration in this post! For more lunch box food ideas, check out the Lunch Box Recipes section here on the blog, or head over to my bento lunch gallery to see more than 450 of the bento lunches I've packed for my kids. Don't forget to pop back and bookmark the How to Make a Bento home page for future reference too!
PS Packing lunches? Come join our friendly Facebook community to share your lunches and pick up new ideas from our members!
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