How to pack Healthy Lunch Boxes in 15-min
As working parents, we have limited time each morning to prepare and pack healthy lunch boxes for the entire family. Beyond the time constraints, another ongoing challenge is keeping our children excited about eating healthy food every day. After numerous trials and errors, we eventually adapted the Japanese Bento Box to suit our family’s needs. Here’s how we did it.
What is a Bento Box?
A Bento Box is a single-portion takeout meal that contains a balanced assortment of foods—rice, fish, and one or more types of vegetables, often pickled.
The Japanese Bento Box is relatable to Indians because of its many similarities with the Indian Thali.
- Both offer an assortment of different foods—vegetables, protein, carbs, pickles, and dessert—each portioned out in separate compartments. This arrangement allows diners to enjoy a balanced meal, complete with a variety of flavors, textures, and nutrients.
- Most importantly, these formats offer the flexibility to tailor each family member’s meal to their individual preferences and nutritional needs, using essentially the same set of ingredients. For example, a child’s meal can be balanced, while an adult’s meal can be low-carb.
However, the Japanese Bento Box and the Indian Thali differ in their form and focus.
- Form: The Indian Thali is designed to be eaten at a dinner table, whereas the Bento Box is intended for takeout. Bento Boxes naturally lend themselves to portion control—you can have a little of everything, but within limits. This is not necessarily the case with Thalis, which can be refilled.
- Focus: Restaurants that serve Indian Thalis typically focus on the richness and variety of the food, often providing all-you-can-eat buffets to emphasize quality. In contrast, the Bento Box celebrates the Japanese cultural emphasis on aesthetics and balance. Each Bento is meticulously arranged to provide visual appeal, incorporating a vibrant array of colors and often even thematic elements, such as food crafted to look like animals or characters.
Finally, Bento Boxes are also a good way to start introducing new palettes to children. For example, we started adding a little bit of millets in their Bento so they start developing a taste for it.
How It Saves Us Time
A fixed plan has never worked for us. As entrepreneurs and parents of young children, our lives are simply too dynamic. Every time we make a plan, some unexpected event upends it. In contrast, Bento Boxes provide us with a system that we can adjust daily to meet our specific needs.
On weekends, we prepare sides that will generally last us for the week. Then, every morning, based on that day’s mood, we assemble our boxes.
We skip store-bought granola bars, cookies, gummies, and rollups. Instead, we prepare nutrient-dense real food at home and keep it ready for the week. Below are some of the sides that we prepare:
Protein is important because it will provide longer-lasting energy for the day. We always ask ourselves, “What protein will we be adding to these bento boxes?” Once we know the protein source, we build the boxes around it.
Some days, we make rolls either from rice paper or cabbage leaves. Other days, we have noodles. Or maybe we have neither of these.
These are so important for vitamins and minerals. Giving kids natural fruit and vegetables versus pre-packaged rollups and gummy snacks is the best way to ensure proper nutrition. We always try to add more vegetables than fruit. Some of our children’s favorites are carrots, cucumber with sea salt, and pickles. We can add a variety of vegetables including cucumber slices, carrots, bell pepper, celery, radishes, red onion, sprouts, pickles, olives, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. Each of these can be washed, sliced, and added to the bento box raw, making life a little bit easier for us.
It is recommended to blot vegetables with a paper towel to remove excess moisture before adding them to the bento box (for example, pickles).
Sauces and Dips for health fats
Healthy fats are also an important energy source. We can get these from both hummus (from the chickpeas) and guacamole (from avocado). We can also add a handful of nuts or seeds for healthy fats. Alternatively, we could add sliced avocado, chickpeas, nuts, or seeds.
Assemble your healthy lunch boxes
Below are some of the Bento Boxes that we’ve made for ourselves.
Fusilli pasta sautéed in tomato with lots of veggies 🫒 🥦 🥕 and little cheese
Hummus with 🥒, Beet Root, 🫒, 🍒 🍅, and 🌿.