How To Make A Successful Bento Box


This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy.

Bento boxes make packing lunches for school or work a bit more fun than usual. They’re easily customizable with compartments filled with colors and textures that create a healthy, balanced meal. But if it looks intimidating to make – don’t worry. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be a bento box master in no time.

A bunch of empty bento box containers on a countertop.

What Is A Bento Box?

These beautifully organized lunch boxes are one of Japan’s most loved traditions. For daily travelers or those who have a busy work life, bentos provide convenience at its best. Bite sized foods are nicely packaged into small boxes, making it easy to carry around and eat just about anywhere. More importantly, it’s a way of enjoying tasty, well balanced meals on-the-go.

Typically, bentos consists of rice, meats, fish, vegetables or fruits. But modern days have encouraged new and exciting changes to this concept. Bento box designs are now made in all shapes and sizes and meal combinations don’t shy away from sandwiches, salads, yogurts, or easy sweet treats.

So whether you’re making an adult or kids bento box, now’s the time to get creative. You’ll be surprised how you can turn the simplest ingredients into an exciting meal that’s all around healthy!

Basic Rules To Keep In Mind

  • Keep it nutritionally balanced. Lunch is the one meal to help fuel you for the rest of the day, so make it count. Use ingredients that create tasty yet filling combinations of carbs, protein, vegetables and fruits.
  • Presentation matters. A fundamental concept behind Japanese food is that the presentation should be a reflection of how it tastes. You might be tempted to just toss your leftovers together in a container and call it a day. But when you open up your lunch box to a beautifully put-together meal, it’s going to taste and feel so much better. So think of your box as a blank canvas and have fun with flavors, textures, and a rainbow of colors.
  • Make it quick and easy. While bento boxes can be a little time consuming, there’s so many ways to make it easy. Especially when it comes to choosing the right recipes. The goal is to go for dishes that can be eaten cold. So think salads, wraps, sandwiches, fruits, and more.
  • Save a little money while you’re at it. Bento boxes are made to be simple and convenient. Which means it doesn’t require fancy, expensive foods. Recipes such as tuna salad, Greek salad, or chicken salad are budget friendly. Plus, each recipe will cover at least 2-3 meals of the week. Which means no waste!

Several bento box lunches on a counter with cutlery.

How To Make A Bento Lunch Box

Choose The Right Container

Nowadays bento boxes are designed in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. But there’s a few things to consider when choosing a box that meets your lunch needs.

  • Storage Space: While many bentos have one layer, there are some that have stacked compartments. Which allows more room for things like sandwiches or wraps. Just make sure to plan ahead for the types of meals you’ll be packing.
  • Dividers: Many bentos come with little compartments or dividers to help properly store each part of your meal. This makes everything much more organized, especially when packing spreads like hummus or snacks like trail mix.
  • Secure Container: To help preserve the freshness of your meals and prevent spills, find containers that have a secure lid and are leak-proof.

So which is the best bento box? While I love my glass containers for meal prep, they’re not the best option for taking lunch on-the-go as they’re breakable and heavy. My favorite bento box is lightweight, sturdy, leak-proof and comes in many shapes, styles and designs. Because why not have a bento box that suits you!

Think Packable Foods

The beauty of bento boxes are that you don’t need to heat your food up. Hence, why they are so convenient. This means you’ll need to create meals that can be eaten cold or at room temperature. For a step-by-step tutorial, make sure to watch my bento box lunch ideas video. Or use the ideas below to create your own!

  • Protein: make your protein option the star of your main course. Here, you have options of baked or poached chicken, canned tuna, canned salmon, smoked salmon, or even prosciutto.
  • Vegan Protein: lentils and chickpeas are also great sources of protein – which can be tossed into a main salad.
  • Eggs: hard boiled eggs make for the perfect snack or chopped up into an egg salad.
  • Cooked and Cooled Vegetables: gently steamed broccoli or cauliflower rice will work great here.
  • Raw Vegetables: you can chop fresh carrots or celery as snacks. Create a salad with fresh leafy greens (just make sure to put the dressing on the side so you leaves don’t get soggy). Or spiralize zucchini noodles for a cold pasta. Either way, take advantage of seasonal vegetables.
  • Fruits: Get creative with your fruit here as anything will work! From peaches to berries to grapes, this is the perfect way to add vibrant colors to your meal.
  • Salty Snacks: A mix of nuts, seeds, and crackers throughout each box make for great snacks and added texture. Pre-made energy balls are also great.
  • Dips: To pair with crackers or chopped veggies, whip up a batch of hummus or tzatziki. Almond butter is also great.

Black and white bento box containers on a countertop.

Create A Fun And Balanced Meal

Now that you have an idea of ingredients you can use, it’s time to plan out your meals. Bentos are all about balanced yet appetizing meals. So, you want to include an assortment of protein, fruit, carbs, and a heavy dose of vegetables. Just make sure to package things in a clean and organized matter.

Meanwhile, utilize the rainbow colors from fruits and vegetables to brighten up your box. Add a layer of greens under a sandwich or turn a small compartment into a fruit salad. Either way, having a beautifully presented meal will not only make your stomach happy, but make you proud of the meal you created.

About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before appearing on the site. Thank you for sharing your feedback!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. I have linked the bento boxes I’m using in the post. But, you can also search for other types of bento boxes on Amazon!

  1. Such a handy guide! My kids love their bento boxes – will be giving some of your suggestions a try.