Now that you’ve decided that you want to start packing your children’s lunches bento-style and you’ve collected the basic equipment, it’s time to get down to business and start putting food in boxes. This is the fun part!
Make It Tight
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re filling a bento box is that the food should be packed in snugly. You will want to completely fill the box with food – right up to the top rim – to keep the contents from shifting around on the way to school. I usually start off by packing the main components of the lunch into the box and then look around for any empty spots. If I have a hole here and there I can usually fill it with a few grapes, berries, fish crackers or cherry tomatoes.
Make It Neat
The easiest way to make a lunch look attractive is to pack the foods inside in an orderly way. Stack crackers or line up snap peas in a neat pile rather than just tossing them in the box. You can also fill silicone baking cups with foods to divide the box into smaller areas. This automatically creates order when you’re looking at the box, which in turn makes it more appealing to the eye.
Make It Colorful
Try to get as many colors into your bento box as you can. The first place to start with color is the food, of course. My rule of thumb is that a bento box should have at least three differently colored foods in it, but I shoot for five different colors (only one of those colors can be brown or white, by the way). Add other smaller splashes of color with baking cups and decorative picks.
Make It Mini
Many children – mine included – are more likely to eat foods when they are cut into bite-sized pieces. If I hand my son a whole apple, I’m lucky if he eats more than a bite or two. If I cut that same apple into thin slices, he will often eat the whole thing. You can take this a step further and pack foods that are made in smaller sizes too. Children are delighted by mini bagels, mini muffins and mini sandwiches on mini buns.
Make It Cute
If you want to go all the way with bento lunches, you can take a few extra steps to make the food inside cute. Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches or thin slices of red bell pepper into fun shapes. Buy food-safe markers (yes, such things exist) and use them to draw a smiley face on a hard-boiled egg or write a little message on a banana. Your kids will be delighted to open their lunch boxes and find adorable little surprises waiting for them inside.
Wendy Copley writes about cooking, crafts, parenting and her obsession with lunch boxes at Wendolonia.