When the kids start back at school, there’s always the dilemma of what to put in their lunch boxes. Growing kids need healthy food, but they’re also notoriously picky eaters, and all too often that healthy lunch you packed this morning comes back half eaten. Perhaps you take your own packed lunch to work, and you’re looking for something more interesting than that same old flavour of store-bought sandwich.
Packed lunches should be a delight to eat, not a chore, but most of us don’t have long to spend on prep. Luckily, if you think beyond the usual sandwiches and salads, there are plenty of tasty recipes that take very little time to prepare, and brighten up any lunchbox. These yummy Back to School Vegetarian Recipe Ideas are a great way to level up your lunch, and all with just a few minutes hands-on prep time.
It’s little wonder that the Japanese bento box has been taking the world by storm. Beautifully presented, healthy and delicious, they're nothing short of a lunchtime revolution. Bento boxes from top Japanese restaurants can be real works of art - check out our rundown of the best bento boxes in LA, and you’ll see what we mean - but you can use the same principles at home to make a simple, eye-catching version with plenty of kid appeal.
What is a bento box?
A bento box is essentially a Japanese lunch box, but instead of holding sandwiches, it is made to hold a single portion of a home cooked meal, with dividers and different compartments to separate your main from your sides. Traditional bento boxes are made with Japanese cuisine, but the idea of taking a well-presented, balanced meal to school or work has been inspiring the rest of the world too, and these days you will find bento boxes filled with many different types of world cuisine.
Bento boxes are reusable, and the different compartments mean that you don’t need to use plastic wrap to separate your food. This makes them an environmentally friendly choice, and making lunch yourself is better for your bank balance, too. The compartment sizes help maintain portion control, and above all, they look and taste great.
How to make a bento box
To make your bento, you first need a box. It doesn’t have to be Japanese, but many of the best ones are. You can buy cute and colourful character boxes, or a classical wooden style. Compartments are useful, but you can buy brightly coloured dividers online, or even use a natural divider like a lettuce leaf.
Bento boxes are meant to be eaten at room temperature, so take some tips from the Japanese and choose your food accordingly. Well-seasoned food tastes good at room temperature, as do deep-fried items such as tempura or wings. Avoid bland food or anything with oily sauces that might separate or solidify.
Keep your bento box neat and tidy by packing it well. Place bulky items in first, then larger, but more flexible items, and finally fill the gaps with colourful treats like cherry tomatoes. A tightly-packed bento will keep everything in place so it still looks great when you open it at lunch time. You can include items with sauces, but make sure you pack the sauce in a sealed bottle inside your bento and add it before eating to avoid spillages.
Protein Bistro Lunch Box: this simple, healthy lunch from Eating Well is packed with protein to help you feel satisfied and full of energy for the rest of the day.
Mediterranean Bento Lunch: this perfectly-proportioned Mediterranean treat from Eating Well takes just 15 minutes to make and adds a little bit of sunshine to your lunchtime.
Picnic Bento Lunch: this bright and cheerful picnic lunch from Eating Well is full of tasty treats to delight your taste buds.
Easy Vegetarian Bento Box for Kids: this colourful vegetarian lunch from 40 Aprons makes eating your fruit and vegetables fun, with lots of different textures and flavours to keep things interesting.
Mini pizzas: kids will love these bite-sized pizzas from Eat This, and they’re easy to make in batches and stash in the fridge for those mornings when you’re short on time.
Pancakes: just because you’re working doesn’t mean you can’t do brunch. These cute build-your-own pancakes from Eat This come with a smear of peanut butter and plenty of fresh fruit for a healthy but delicious breakfast-meets-lunch.
Slow-Cooker Burrito Bowls: let your slow cooker do all the hard work with these perfectly seasoned pork burrito bowls from Pure Wow.
Greek Healthy: who said healthy had to be boring? This box of delights from 40 Aprons is bursting with big Greek flavours, and can be made suitable for Whole30 and Paleo diets with a simple substitution.
Turkey Meatballs with Zucchini Noodles: this healthy take on spaghetti meatballs from Pure Wow is made with lean turkey meat in a rich marinara sauce, served with fresh, crunchy zucchini noodles.
Honey Lemon Chicken: this flavourful chicken dish from Gimme Some Oven is packed with crunchy veggies and lean protein, and takes just 30 minutes to make.
Grilled Veggie & Black Bean: this quick and healthy vegetarian option from Sweet Peas and Saffron is made with a rainbow of roasted vegetables, creamy black beans and a spicy honey and lime vinaigrette.
Should the Michelin Guide continue to award stars to Singapore's hawker stalls? Do Singaporeans really care what the Red Guide says about their favourite street food? Singaporean food writer Evelyn Chen shares her point of view.
Korean corn dogs, also known as Korean hot dogs, are made with sausage, mozzarella, encased in batter and panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried until crispy. Follow our simple, step-by-step recipe to make your own Korean corn dogs at home.