Bring More Fun to Sack Lunches + 5 Bento Lunch Combos

Kids cannot live on PB&J alone, which is why we’ve come up with 6 tips to make lunchtime fun and tasty, without too much effort on your part. Plus, we’ve got a new video showing you how to turn 12 basic ingredients into a week’s worth of colorful bento box lunches your kids will love.

  • By Jess Smith
  • October 17, 2016

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, crackers, fruit. Repeat.

With the new school year well underway, packing lunches becomes routine for most of us. For kids and adults alike, it’s easy to fall into a lunchtime rut.

With our 6 lunchtime strategies, you can easily breathe some new life into those packed lunches.

Get out of the PB&J rut and add some fun to your sack lunches!

6 Healthy Ways to Make Sack Lunches More Fun

1. mix things up

You don’t have to spend a lot of money or buy unusual ingredients to keep those lunches interesting, but everyone likes a little variety. Buy apples this week, grapes the next week, and clementines the week after. See mangos on sale? Grab one and incorporate it into a fruit salad or serve wedges to dip in yogurt.

Check out our Fruits by Month chart below to see what seasonal fruits you can incorporate into the lunchbox. In-season fruits are at their best-tasting, so for a truly enjoyable lunch, buy them at their peak!


Fruits by Month (US)

Enjoy fruits at their peak every month with this Fruits by Month Chart


Fruits by Month (Australia)

Buy fruits at their most delicious and least expensive with this Fruits by Month Chart.

2. chop, slice, dice

Keeping a sense of variety in lunches isn’t just about the foods you use, but the way you present them. (If you’ve ever met a toddler who will eat apples cut in slices but not in . . . say . . . cubes, you know how important the visual cues are for kids!)

Chop a few vegetables into a small salad one day, and serve them as sticks with hummus the next.

3. chase the rainbow

One of the easiest strategies to make sure a dinner is packed with nutrition is to create a rainbow on the plate. Varying colors in fresh produce often indicate that they contain different nutrients, so pack lunches with color in mind. Bonus: Colorful lunches are more pleasant to look at!

For more ideas on what veggies to use, and the different colors of veggies there are, download our free Guide to Enjoying Veggies below. This infographic also shows you the best ways to prep veggies, so you’ll never be short on ways to #eatmoreveggies.


Guide to Enjoying Vegetables

Here's your guide on how you can fill your diet with a whole variety of vegetables.

4. think outside the protein box

For most of us, a boost of protein can help ward off the late-afternoon slump, but there are many great sources of protein that often get overlooked at lunch. Edamame, hard boiled eggs, deli meat, hummus, cheese and yogurt all make great lunch additions. If you’re looking for more #meatless options that are still packed with lots of protein, you can learn more with our Guide to Vegetarian Protein Sources here.

5. repurpose leftovers

Here at Cook Smarts, we love breathing new life into leftovers. Creative leftovers make great lunches. Chop proteins and vegetables and toss them in a frittata (these are great served warm or at room temperature), fold into a tortilla to serve as a wrap, saute with cooked rice for a quick fried rice, or serve alongside crackers and cheese just to present the items in a different way. Get more creative ideas on repurposing leftovers with this infographic:


Guide to Using Leftovers & Leftover Ingredients

Get more life out of your leftovers, so that you can reduce food waste and save more money.

6. Have fun with it!

Having a little fun with lunches can turn an ordinary lunch into one that kids will be excited to dig into. You don’t have to have special knife skills to cut squares and triangles out of cheese to make a house, or cut slices out of carrots to make “stars”. A few little touches can add a lot of fun!

Need more lunchtime inspiration?

Check out the video below to see how we turn 12 basic ingredients into a week’s worth of lunches in no time at all!


5 Bento Box Lunch Ideas

Turn 12 ingredients into 5 bento-style lunches for healthy, delicious meals your kids will love!

5 Bento Lunch Combos

We chose the 12 ingredients below because that’s what we had on hand, so feel free to use whatever you have as well. By applying the 6 tips above, you’ll be able to use any kind of ingredient in a variety of ways. Proteins, veggies, fruits and grains round out our ingredient list so that no matter how we mix and match, there will always be a balanced meal!

12 basic ingredients:

  1. Deli meat
  2. Cheese
  3. Carrots
  4. Celery
  5. Cherry tomatoes
  6. Watermelon
  7. Other fruit (we used clementines and pears)
  8. Edamame
  9. Eggs
  10. Rice, cooked
  11. Crackers (preferably whole grain)
  12. Sweets (optional – we included yogurt cookies and fig cookie bars for a little treat!)

Bento 1:

  • Crackers
  • Deli meat, rolled-up
  • Sliced cheese
  • Cherry tomato and edamame mix
  • 2 clementines

Bento 2

  • Fried rice with scrambled egg, deli meat, edamame and carrot “stars”
  • 1 whole pear
  • A couple of cookies, such as fig cookie bars or yogurt cookies

Bento 3

  • 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced in half
  • Crackers
  • Cheese stick with a slice of deli meat wrapped around it
  • Instead of the standard carrot and celery sticks, chop carrots into coins and celery into bite-sized pieces
  • Quartered or halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 clementines, peeled and sliced into rounds

Bento 4:

  • Egg salad and crackers
  • Fruit salad of diced pears, clementine slices and cubed watermelon

Bento 5:

  • Decorate a bed of rice with a little cheese house! Cut out a triangle piece of cheese and a square piece. Top the square with two pieces of diced celery and a diced carrot. Finish with a rectangular piece of carrot for the house’s chimney.
  • Quartered or halved cherry tomatoes
  • Carrot, celery, and watermelon sticks

We’d love to hear of all the bento-style lunches you come up with. Leave a comment below to share your bento lunch combos, because all the parents who read this will love all the extra ideas!

Have you been keeping up with our #KidsWhoEat series? We’ve covered a fun way for kids to learn more about food and healthy eating, 12 practical habits for raising adventurous eaters, and some of our Kitchen Heroes offered some smart tips on overcoming picky eating.

Our last part of the series is coming up next week, and it’s about making dinnertime a family bonding experience. A free download will be coming with it, so don’t miss out! Sign up for our newsletter below to make sure you receive this awesome, new resource in your inbox first.

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