The bento box is a staple in Japanese culture and cuisine – and a symbol of love. Its design is perfect for packing a variety of lunch foods, after-school snacks or even a weekend picnic.
For my children, I use little bento boxes and separate food items with cupcake wrappers. I typically include onigiri or rice balls, scrambled egg, blanched chicken, fruit and vegetables.
There are no rules for preparing a bento box, but the goal is to create a balanced meal with various colors, textures and flavors — and an element of surprise! I always wrap my bento boxes in furoshiki; it makes the presentation extra special — and doubles as a placemat. Watch how I make a bento box with love above, then read our KonMari guide to packing the perfect bento box.
What is a Bento Box?
In Japanese, the word bento means “lunch box,” although today, bento boxes are used for all types of meals and snacks. Filled with home-cooked food, a bento box provides comfort and nourishment on the go. For this reason, they’re ideal for packing school lunches or carrying meals on long work or travel days.
Each bento box varies but usually includes a range of tastes — sweet, savory, salty, umami — and always feels thoughtfully arranged. Half the bento box is traditionally filled with rice, while the smaller compartments hold fruit, vegetables and a light protein to create a complete meal. Each dish is stored separately to keep flavors from mixing and to create a tidy, beautiful presentation.
How to Pack a Bento Box
When packing a bento box, whether for adults or children, it can help to follow a set of general guidelines based on traditional Japanese bento boxes. Doing so ensures that each meal is nutritionally balanced and delicious.
01. Plan first.
When deciding what to pack in your bento box, consider your recipient. What is their ideal meal? What foods spark the most joy? Do they have a favorite treat? Doing a little planning will make packing each bento box feel effortless.
Tip: Marie also likes to prepare food the night before, so she can quickly assemble each bento box in the morning.
02. Think about balance.
Plan for a mix of sweet and savory items, including at least one surprise! We like including a bright mandarin orange or a small square of chocolate to finish the meal.
03. Start with a base (usually rice).
For most bento boxes, you’ll want to start by filling about half of your container with rice. While this is the traditional approach, you can also experiment with filling that space with another type of carbohydrate, such as quinoa or cold soba noodles.
04. Organize the KonMari Method™️ way — by category!
Place like with like, organizing items by color, texture or food type. This tidy visual arrangement will delight the recipient when they lift the lid. Using dividers inside the bento box also keeps unique flavors from mixing.
Tip: Make your own bento box dividers with paper muffin cups. Even better if you pick a set in joy-sparking colors!
05. Wrap the box in furoshiki.
This traditional cloth serves as both a tote bag and a placemat for the treats inside. To wrap your bento box with ease, read our guide to folding and tying furoshiki.
Joy-Sparking Bento Box Ideas
Bento boxes are for everyone and countless uses. Here are just a few of our favorites beyond the traditional bento box lunch.
Fill a bento box for the whole family to take to the park, on your next road trip or for a day at the beach. Wrap the box in a larger furoshiki, which you can lay out as a picnic cloth.
After-School Snack Packs
If your kids go straight from school to soccer practice or music lessons, pack a small bento box filled with nutritious snacks to ward off hunger until dinner. Carrots and snap peas or a segmented orange make for great additions.
Welcome a new neighbor with a housewarming bento box filled with homemade treats or locally-made goods. Or give a bento box as a birthday gift, filling each compartment with your loved one’s favorite snacks. Wrap them in a special furoshiki that they can reuse again and again!
Bento box lunches are for adults, too! If you struggle to make time for lunch during busy workweeks, pack a bento box for a quick and healthy meal even on the go.
Meet a friend for coffee and breakfast in the park. If you’re both passionate about packing bento boxes, split up the meal by agreeing on who will bring a savory box and who will bring a sweet one!
When it comes to making the perfect bento box, the only requirement is that you put love into it! As long as you create each bento box with your recipient in mind, you’re sure to spark joy — and stimulate their taste buds — every time.