Make Back-to-School Better with Healthy and Fun Bento Boxes

Bento boxes are great, no matter what. Common in Japan, and now popular around the globe, ‘bento’ is a single portion takeout meal, perfect for school lunches or for the office. Traditionally a bento contains rice, meat or fish, and vegetables. Some people turn a bento into an art form by arranging food in such a way that it looks like a popular character from Japanese anime, manga, or video games. This style is called “kyaraben.” Another style, which Americans are more likely to be familiar with is called “oekakiben,” or picture bento. With oekakiben, food is arranged to look like animals, buildings, monuments, plants, people, and more. One of the best things about bento lunches are that they can make eating fun. What would normally be a simple sandwich can get turned into art that will make eating the sandwich a special, memorable, and shareable experience.

Here are instructions for making an easy cat and mouse bento using a sandwich, cheese, and crackers.

  1. Make a simple sandwich using healthy ingredients, such as a turkey breast and low-fat cheese sandwich. Cut the sandwich into a circle using the rim of a drinking glass or a round cookie cutter. This will be the cat’s head/face. Lay the sandwich inside the bento box. Using slivers of cheese and celery, make whiskers and eyes. Using a slice of cheese, cut a very small triangle for the nose.
  2. Use the corners of the leftover bread to make cat ears by cutting them into triangles. Rest the flat side against the top of the cat’s head/face. Using a slice of cheese, cut two triangles (smaller than the cat’s ears) and place on top of the bread ears. These represent the inside of the cat’s ear.
  3. Using a slice of turkey breast or other lunchmeat, place some carrot sticks and green beans (or other vegetables) atop the slice of meat. Roll up so that it resembles sushi. Place in the bento box so that it is standing up, carrot sticks and green beans visible.
  4. Stack some crackers in the bento box. Using a slice of cheese, cut a half moon shape big enough to fit on top of the top cracker, but not to cover the cracker. This will be the mouse’s body. Using slivers of celery and cheese, make some whiskers and a tail.
  5. If you have any additional room in the bento box, you can place grapes or other sliced fruit into a cupcake liner.

When you make fun bento lunches with healthy ingredients, you’ll rarely hear any pushback for not including sugary sweets or unhealthy snacks.