Thinking Outside the {Bento} Box

Emily from little momma & co. is back again today! This time she is turning our attention to the plight of the brown bag lunch. By taking a cue from Bento boxes, it doesn’t have to be a squished PB&J anymore!

japanese food

photo by luckysundae on flickr

While searching for new ideas for my children’s lunch box last year, I ran across a bunch of very detailed pictures showcasing lunch as an elaborate, edible art form– not only the way to fill the time (and your belly) between morning and afternoon.



photo by luckysundae on flickr

Truthfully, I’ve spent hours looking and day dreaming over such artistry! If given the opportunity, I think I would feel slightly guilty eating something that had such a cute face. But, I’ve tried to take inspiration from books and photos and implement them into my daily lunch-box-packing routine.

japanese food

Bento "spa" by sakurako kitsa on flikr

I know what your are thinking! How can someone find the time to do this? I mean, I couldn’t get all the laundry folded today, the vacuuming awaits, and there is dishes in the sink– who’s to say that I have time to roll rice into a ball face and cut ears out of cucumbers. Who has the time to make a whole vegetable scene inspired by Rogers and Hammerstein’s, The King and I? I certainly do not. But, I can I can grab a bit of inspiration here, a dollop of creativity there– and at least throw them in my back pocket for a rainy day.

By just studying photos and books about Bento, we can pick a few elements and apply them to the typical brown bag.

1. The Box:

Bento uses a box as it’s foundation. Not only is this more eco friendly than throwing away a paper bag daily, (and multiple plastic baggies) it’s sturdy– and would survive the bottom of a backpack quite well. (Unlike my son’s poor squished sandwiches!)

2. Color:

We eat with our eyes first, right? Luckily fruits and veggies come in a vast array of colors. Think outside the box too, vibrant hard boiled egg yolks, pink lunch meat, dark brown rye bread, cheeses, and for the extra brave and dedicated– Nori, or dried seaweed.

3. Contrast:

Use a variety of dark and light colors, textures, and flavors.

4. Get Creative:

Radish flowers, carrot noses, sesame seed freckles, kabobs or toothpicks, dips or sauces, anything that sparks a bit of thought!

5. Think Cute:

The cuter the better in this case. Add faces to everything. Garnish, garnish, garnish! This is one of the true tokens of Bento. Go overboard!

Don’t be afraid and think outside the {Bento} box!


Want to see more?  Check out these links:

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Who's In Your {Food} Network?
Recipe Monday: Homemade Pretzels {with your kids!}


  1. says

    I’ve been wanting a bento box for a while now. The meals in the photos are amazing, but I probably couldn’t bring myself to eat them. They’re too pretty.

    • says

      Perfect! I’ve worked the word “bento” into some of my recent conversations lately and have noticed that a lot of people don’t know what it is. Isn’t it fun?! I love it!!

  2. says

    First of all: these photos are too adorable:) Secondly, I 2nd the love of bento boxes….that other people make for me…!Well done

    • says

      The cool thing about Bento is that you could choose just one element and jazz up a dull lunch! I cut my sons sandwich into a puzzle today and added a face to his banana– it was a hit!

  3. says

    Those are really cool. Too bad Bento falls under the category of “fiddly things” for me and I don’t have the patience (or the dexterity) for fiddly things. I usually throw whatever I can grab into a container, slap on a lid and call it lunch.

  4. says

    So inspiring! I shared a link on my FB fan page.

    I found some wonderful little bento boxes up in San Francisco last summer and my girls have enjoyed using them in their school lunches all year!

  5. says

    These are fantastic pictures and great ideas. I was just thinking the other day about how my grandma used to make me a salad that looked like a face when I was little. I ate every bite. It had carrots for hair and olives or raisins for eyes. I’ve been trying to remember the other elements so I could make fun to eat healthy stuff for my grandchildren.

    • says

      It’s amazing what a little extra will do to make something like salad appeal to kids! I love the memory of your grandmothers salads!

  6. says

    i have always loved bentos and looking at the pics of the artistry. unfortunately, i’m not patient enough to do the work :o/

  7. says

    i am a huge bento box fan.. did a few posts on it.. and I love doing things for kids and adults that are food displayed beautifully or fun.

  8. says

    I have been following a bento box blogger in Paris and I am addicted, I am thrilled there is someone else to read as I find this to be so incredibly creative!

  9. says

    Completely adorable! I so want to make one of these now. Maybe eating/making lunch would be a lot more enjoyable if I did this. Thanks for sharing!

  10. says

    I think that putting anything into a bento box makes it look more cool! Love these boxes! I wonder what my husband would think if he opened his box to find a woman staring back at him? :-)

    • says

      I was thinking the same thing.

      What if I made my face out of lunchmeat and rice, with a speech bubble that gave a new task on my “honey-do” list. Hmmmmmm… tempting. 😀

  11. says

    Thanks for posting on this, I love the Bento Box idea but at first seemed so overwhelming! Thanks for giving some “easy” tips on how to still create the basic ideas of the lunch!!!!

    • says

      Stephanie, you are so welcome! I am busy enough to know that I don’t have a whole 5 free hours to dedicate to Bento, but by taking a few of the elements, a lot can be done! Let me know what you come up with!

  12. says

    I’ve always been wanting to do the Bento Box thing (ever since Sailor Moon!) but I’ve never gotten around to it. I think I need like a book or to research it an find out what I can do with it 😀

    LOVE this post 😀

  13. says

    These bento boxes are AMAZING! Edible works of art! I could certainly use some tips on how to make my 3.5 year old’s lunch more appealing to him.

  14. says

    I LOVE bento box lunches! I need some inspiration- my lunches are tending to be the same thing lately….very uninspiring. I can’t imagine spending the hours it takes to make the cute bento box lunches in the photos but maybe I can take some elements of them to use in my lunches. (I like drawing cute faces on my daughter’s sandwiches with edible ink)

  15. says

    Those are adorable. You can definitely take inspiration from them without spending hours on something your kids will eat in a few minutes.