7 Ways to Build a Better Bento Box

Get our secrets on how to build a better bento box (they're not just for kids, you know!), plus recipes to get you started.

Feeling stuck in a sad desk lunch rut? Bento box lunches are easy to prep ahead and customize with your favorite flavorful ingredients. We turned to Whole Foods Market culinary expert Allison Thomas and Gena Hemshaw, author of the blog, "The Full Helping opens in a new tab," and creator of the Instagram account @thefullhelping opens in a new tab. Read on for seven secrets on how to build a better bento box, plus recipes to get you started.

1. Mix up your midday meal routine.
With their tray layout, bentos naturally encourage variety. Think of the separate sections as opportunities to diversify each container. Satisfy all your cravings by selecting an ingredient or recipe that checks these taste bud–tempting boxes:

  • Something savory

  • Something sweet

  • Something crunchy

2. Taste the rainbow.
The best bento boxes look as good as they taste. Vibrant and varied colors will inspire you to look forward to lunch even more. If things are visually a little one-note, an easy fix is to fill one tray with crudités or fresh fruit. Or build your bento around a naturally colorful entrée such as a vegetable-studded grain salad opens in a new tab, a wrap sandwich sliced into pinwheels opens in a new tab or a fresh pasta primavera opens in a new tab.

3. Host a roast.
On Sunday afternoon, or as you’re cooking dinner during the week, roast a big sheet pan of vegetables to incorporate into bento boxes throughout the week. This cooking method brings out the natural sugars and intensifies the flavor of vegetables all at once. Plus, it’s almost totally hands-off: Simply toss evenly sized cubes or wedges of any of the produce picks below with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and roast on a sheet pan at 425°F until golden.

  • Beets

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Carrots

  • Cauliflower

  • Peppers

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Tomatoes

4. Opt for store-bought shortcuts
Just as a good outfit is elevated to rave-worthy territory with a great pair of shoes, a good bento box lunch gets even better when you add the right accessories. To save time, stock up on these finds for an almost-instant flavor boost:

5. Learn to love leftovers — and plan for them.
Transform yesterday’s dinner into something completely different for your bento lunch. Instead of heating up leftover salmon in the office microwave — don’t be that person! — keep it cold and turn it into a niçoise salad opens in a new tab. Serve over greens alongside slices of hard-boiled egg, blanched green beans and boiled (or roasted) baby potatoes. Add capers to a citrusy vinaigrette for a bright and flavorful lunch.

6. Sneak in a snack.
A pretty — and pretty delicious — lunch isn’t all you can look forward to with your adult bento box. Reserve a corner to pack an afternoon snack to keep the fun fuel coming. Nuts, cubes of cheese, fruit (dried or fresh), jerky and roasted chickpeas are all packable and poppable options that fit well inside the trays.

7. When it doubt, throw everything in a bowl.
Unsure of what dish to serve as your entrée? Combine all of the sides and the main into one bountiful bowl opens in a new tab — essentially a one-dish meal of vegetables, proteins, grains and sauces. Whether you start from scratch or employ leftovers from the week, this is a quick and easy solution to piece together a perfect lunch.

DIY Bento Box Ideas

By now you know that bento boxes can be fun, fresh and filling for adults. Feeling inspired after all the tips and tricks above? Here are four super-easy (and super-tasty) recipes to get you into the grab-and-go groove.

Sunday Dinner Bento Box

Tray 1: chopped Whole Foods Market Rotisserie Chicken (you could also go for grilled tofu) + roasted acorn squash + green beans all drizzled with a sauce of tahini + lemon juice + extra-virgin olive oil + garlic powder
Tray 2: roasted almonds + fruit leather

Kebab Platter Bento Box

Tray 1: leftover grilled kebabs + cucumber-tomato salad with cubed feta
Tray 2: pita triangles + Whole Foods Market Original Hummus + grapes (the latter two in silicone cupcake liners as dividers)

Grain-Free Pinwheel Bento Box

Tray 1: Siete Grain free Tortillas + 365 by Whole Foods Market Refried Black Beans + roasted sweet potato cubes + baby spinach + tomato slices (roll and slice so pinwheel shape shows like this)
Tray 2: mini bell peppers + kiwifruit quarters

Chicken Salad-Salad Bento Box

Tray 1: Whole Foods Market Chicken Salad or Vegan Chick'n Salad (find it in our Prepared Foods department) over baby kale and shredded cabbage + thinly sliced cucumbers + gimMe Seaweed Snacks for crumbling on top of the salad
Tray 2: mini bell peppers + kiwifruit quarters

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