19 Apr 2024 Article

In this article you will learn how to make a perfect vegan/vegetarian bento box.

Today we are going to talk about the bento box. There are several reasons to bring your own lunch to work (school). First of all, it’s healthy (at least, that’s the intention). Secondly, it is much cheaper than always buying food out. And sometimes, as is the case in primary school, there is no other option: you MUST bring your own lunch. Today we’re going to talk about how to make your lunch attractive for your kid, partner or yourself. And we will learn this from the Japanese, because the Japanese are real champions in making cute Bento boxes.

What is bento?

The word “Bento” means lunch box. As early as the fifth century, the Japanese carried compact meals, the so-called bento, with them when fishing and hunting.

The basis of a traditional Bento is rice (in earlier times, depending on the region, it could be pure rice, or a mixture of rice and millet, or potatoes). The rice is supplemented with vegetables (often pickled) and meat, fish or tofu as a protein component.

In Japan, it is common for mothers to make bento for their children to take to school. Because making bento can be a time-consuming task, some moms prepare the ingredients the night before and assemble everything the next morning. Japanese mothers see it as a personal challenge to create a bento for their children that is both nutritious and aesthetic. Just search the Internet for creations by Japanese mothers.

Basically, bento is a lunch packed in a box. But we can expand the definition a little further. It’s safe to say that a Bento-style lunch includes a variety of foods: carbohydrates (grain or bread), protein, vegetables, fruit, and sometimes even a small treat. The foods have been selected to provide a balance of colors, flavors and textures. As a dietitian, I want to add: a balance of macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) is also important!

Bentos are actually supposed to be cute. And they have to make children (and adults) happy. You can make your bento as simple or as complicated as you want.

What do you need to make a vega(n) bento?

Of course, the most important thing you need to pack bento lunches is a box to put the food in. You can buy a special bento box with compartments, or you can use any lunch box. Use small lunch boxes for young children. For larger eaters, use larger boxes. For those who regularly forget their lunch box at the office (like my husband), it is wise to have several bento boxes.

If you don’t have enough compartments in your lunch box, use silicone baking molds. Silicone baking cups are great for keeping moist food away from dry food and to store small fragile foods such as raspberries or strawberries. They also add a bit of color for a more cheerful presentation.

By investing in some versatile cookie cutters, you can easily add a little cuteness to your lunch. A guaranteed success if the lunch is intended for small children. Personally, I don’t use cutters much as I don’t always know what to do with the edges.

Pack well

The most important thing to remember when packing a bento is to fill the box completely. If you don’t pack the food properly and up to the top of the box, everything will fall together. And then the extra time you spent making lunch cute is wasted. If there is no empty space in the box, the food has nowhere to go, and everything stays where it belongs.

What can you put in your Bento?


Use grainy, crumbly grains such as: bulgur, millet, quinoa, pearl barley, brown rice or wild rice. These grains are delicious both hot and cold.

Note: regular white rice is not tasty when it has cooled. So, avoid using it in cold dishes (except for sushi).

You can of course use bread instead of grains. (Very important in the Netherlands!).

Protein component

You can use whatever you fancy as a (vegetarian) protein component: cheese, edamame, tofu cubes, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), seeds and nuts. You can cook legumes yourself, but for convenience you can also use legumes from a can.

Vegetables and fruit

If you’re cutting vegetables for your bento box in the morning, think about what the cut vegetables will look like when it is actually lunchtime. Not all vegetables remain beautiful for a long time once they are cut. The same applies to fruit: an apple turns brown quickly.

Use fruits and vegetables of different colors to make lunch colorful and attractive.

In addition to aesthetics, you should also consider hygiene and convenience. Almost everyone likes a mandarin or orange. But if you have to peel it yourself before you can eat it, you will end up with sticky fingers, which can sometimes be an inconvenience.