In our own lifetimes in the U.S., we’ve seen bento boxes go from a dish we ordered at Japanese restaurants when we couldn’t decide what to get to a trendy Instagram obsession. Of course, bento boxes go back almost a 1,000 years in Japan, when people used them to carry rice on the go. That test of time is enough to make parents consider these convenient and cute-as-hell compartmentalized lunch boxes when considering how to pack food for our kids to take to school.
This school year, we anticipate that when we do send our kids to school, we’ll probably be sending them with their own lunches most of the time. Though school lunch will likely still be a thing, many of us will prefer this for our own piece of mind. Children may also prefer it for the same reasons they always do: Because moms and dads can pack the things they like to eat, not just the things the school district deems nutritious and expedient to serve. And if you wind up doing this, packing bento boxes for kids is one more way to turn a necessity into something fun.
Most of us are far too practical — see also: unskilled and busy — to be able to art-direct our children’s daily meals into Instagram-worthy works of food art. That does not rule out making their lunches aesthetically pleasing, however, thanks to the many bento boxes available to buy right now.
There are so many other advantages, other than sheer beauty, that bento boxes have over brown-bag lunches or traditional lunch boxes. For one thing, they’re reusable. In the place of brown bags and the many plastic sandwich and snack bags one normally packs into one, you have compartments built into the boxes as well as removable containers into which you can pack every element of a meal. In those compartments, the food is also protected from being smushed and from leaking all over your child’s backpack.
Usually, depending on the material you choose, bento boxes are also dishwasher safe. This avoids that dingy, slightly smelly quality cloth kids lunchboxes often acquire about three days into the school year.
Now that you’re convinced of bento box superiority, your only remaining task is a pleasurable one: choosing the right bento box for your child. Do you want an all-in-one box to avoid losing individual pieces? Or would you prefer the flexibility of interchangeable compartments? Do you like a traditional metal, a colorful plastic or silicone, or a combination? Should you spring for something slightly more expensive because it looks so darn cool? Or should you opt for a simpler bento box and get two or three, for meal-prep purposes? And do you get one with rocket ships or unicorns? Or solid classic colors, because these boxes will last for multiple schoolyears, well past your child’s current taste in decor? These are the kinds of dilemmas we actually enjoy pondering.
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Here are some of the chicest bento boxes for kids we could find.