Bento Box and School Lunch Ideas for Kids

My oldest daughter started kindergarten last week, and packing her lunchbox for the day has honestly been somewhat of a challenge. I want to make sure she's got plenty of protein to keep her full, lots of fruits and vegetables, a few healthy carbs, and even a little treat. The challenge is (1) finding enough healthy & portable foods to pack that she'll actually eat and (2) figuring out where to put everything without using 36 plastic bags every day.

We discovered the Bento-style lunch boxes this year, and so far they have been amazing for packing lunches for all-day kindergarten. Less waste, less space, and fewer containers to worry about.

Since packing her school lunch is on my daughter's chore chart, we spend quality time in the kitchen together picking out her main course, 2 fruits, 1 vegetable, 1 protein, and a few snack foods to round out her day. I find that when she has the agency to decide what goes in her lunch within the framework I provide, she is much more likely to actually eat it.

 Bento Box Lunches for Kids

I am simply there to help with cutting and knives, organizing, and making sure her entire lunch isn't one big bag of crackers. My hope is that by the end of her kindergarten year she'll have taken over packing lunches entirely!

If packing lunch is a struggle for you, too, let's go through a few ways to make life easier. I'll provide some lists of ideas for each category, then show you some inspiration from Bento Box Expert Mamas. Don't worry, you don't have to cut your kid's food into cute shapes to be a good mom. Sometimes it's just fun to get ideas or admire other moms in their element, though!

Bento Box Lunch Ideas for Kids

THE MATERIALS

Assuming your child has already picked out a lunchbox, you'll want to stock up on a few essentials that will serve you well throughout the school year. It's a tiny investment up front, but you won't constantly be buying new sandwich baggies or plastic compotes.

THE CONTAINER

THE ACCESSORIES

THE LUNCH

I have no issues with my kids eating a few snacks throughout the day, but the main priority is to get some fruit, vegetables, and protein into their bodies. If your kids are like mine (a little picky), they are not too keen on lunch meats or nuts for their protein, so I had to get creative and figure out some other options!

In addition, I know there are a lot of posts out there with ideas for the "main course" that aren't sandwiches, but I really love a good old-fashioned PB&J to make school lunches cheaper and easier. Plus I know my kids will actually eat them! 

THE MAIN COURSE

  • peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • turkey or ham & cheese sandwich
  • lunch meat roll-up
  • peanut butter & banana roll-up 
  • quesadilla
  • pasta or pasta salad
  • burrito bowl (if they can stomach eating it cold)
  • mini quiche
  • pancakes or waffles (I like to add protein powder, or put peanut butter on them)
  • tacos (lunchable style)
  • pizza (lunchable style)
  • soup in a thermos

PROTEIN

  • lunch meat roll-ups
  • almonds
  • trail mix
  • energy bites (protein balls...whatever you want to call them)
  • Greek yogurt
  • hard boiled egg
  • protein bar (I give my daughter half)
  • string cheese
  • apples with peanut butter

Related: 5 Protein Snacks the Whole Family Will Enjoy

FRUITS & VEGGIES

  • apple slices
  • grapes (I still cut my daughter's length-wise)
  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • orange slices
  • bell pepper sticks
  • baby carrot sticks
  • cucumbers
  • celery (ants on a log perhaps?)

SNACKS 

  • applesauce
  • string cheese
  • yogurt
  • homemade mini muffins (I like to add protein powder, spinach, zucchini, etc)
  • energy balls
  • Annie's cheddar bunnies (or Goldfish or whatever)
  • pretzel sticks
  • 1/4 of a protein waffle
  • banana bread
  • popcorn
  • granola bars
  • Whey Thins
  • IsaLean Bar (cut up into tiny pieces...I give 1/2 a bar)

Related: Healthy Snacks for Kids

SCHOOL LUNCH INSPIRATION

I've gathered together a few examples of how other mamas are using bento-style lunches for their kids. Remember: not every parent has the inclination or time to make lunches "cute" or decorative, and that's ok. Your strengths may lie elsewhere. These images are just to give you ideas and inspiration for when you go to help your child make their lunch. 

 bento box and school lunch ideas for kids

Peanut butter & jelly sandwich (cut with a star-shaped cookie cutter...she actually asked for the crusts to be included in her lunch, too. I just took them out for the picture) • baby carrots • 2 protein balls (oats, mini chocolate chips, honey, cashew butter, flaxseed) • sliced grapes • veggie straws • strawberries • NOT PICTURED: a baggie of crackers

 easy pasta bento lunch

Easy Pasta Bento Lunch from Alex @ Three Little Ferns

She's making great use of the PlanetBox, and she's got a few more fun ideas, plus a handy printable planning sheet on her blog. Go check it out!

 taco bento box lunch

Chicken Taco Bento Box Lunch from Chyssa @ Thrifty Jinxy

If your kids love Taco Tuesday as much as mine do, they'll go loco for this Chicken Taco Bento Box Lunch! Find the instructions and some printable lunchbox notes here!

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Homemade PIzza Lunchables from Lauren @ MidgetMama

A healthier and more cost-effective way to serve your kids a pizza Lunchable in their bento box!

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Soccer-Themed Bento Box from Stacey @ The Soccer Mom Blog

If your kids are crazy about soccer, check out this healthy and fun Bento Box lunch!

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Several creative Bento Box lunch ideas from Wanna Bite

WHO MAKES THE LUNCHES?

One more note on responsibility for lunches. Maybe you are a mama who loves to make her children's lunches with care and you love surprising them with what they will find. BUT, if you are a mama who doesn't actually enjoy this entire process that much, then perhaps it's time to start shifting the burden of responsibility onto your child.

In kindergarten, that doesn't mean throwing them into the deep end by expecting them to assemble a nutritious and delicious school lunch on their own with no help, but it does mean expecting them to help, putting it on their chore chart, and telling them it is their responsibility to remember to put it in their backpack in the morning. 

As they get older you will be less involved in the process, and they will learn that Mom and Dad are not their servants. They will feel proud and capable that they know how to pack their own healthy lunch, and you will feel happy and relaxed with an after-dinner glass of wine while your child does the work.

But in all seriousness, I'm a big fan of what we call "scaffolding" in the education world. It basically means we, the adults, model a behavior, then we step back and let the child practice that behavior with our supervision and support if needed. Eventually, they will get the hang of it on their own, and we as parents will have done our job of preparing our children for the real world.

And also it gets you out of packing lunches. 

So anyway, enjoy experimenting with your Bento-style lunches for your kids, and comment below if you've got some genius lunch ideas that I haven't covered here!

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