If you're on a mission to make lunch more exciting for the kids, look no further than bento. The Japanese-style lunch features a single portion of food, often consisting of a main dish and sides. And while you can place food in a box and call it a day, bento offers a lot of opportunity for creating cute meals.
In fact, if you're new to bento, you might be surprised to learn that there are a plethora of tools available for making adorable bento. For example, you can find molds that turn rice into animals and tiny cutters that cut food into flowers and stars. There are even decorative food picks that can be inserted into fruits, vegetables, and more.
But even if you don't have any tools (yet), you can still make some seriously charming bento boxes. All you need is a reusable bento box and you're good to go. Need some inspo? Here are some cute bento box ideas that we're really loving.
1. Sleeping Rice Bear
Use sticky rice and a rice bear mold to create a bear. Alternatively, you can roll sticky rice into a ball to create the head, then add smaller balls for the hands and ears. Use nori to make the facial features and panda bear details. Finally, add a "blanket" of thinly sliced meat or veggies for a meal that's too cute to eat.
2. Wizard and Owl Sandwiches
Even if your little one isn't heading to Hogwarts this year, you can still send them off with a magical lunch. This darling bento box features mini Harry Potter and owl sandwiches, complete with tortilla chip wings. Also, can we just talk about the cheese ring glasses? Note that the cheese cut out from the glasses was used to make the owl eyes.
3. Nori Hearts
Sometimes, the best ideas are the simplest. Add tiny nori hearts to a bed of rice (or any meal, for that matter) and it will look a million times cuter. Or, if you're short on time, cut the nori into tiny triangles for a fun '80s look. Both elements will transform the box with minimal effort.
4. Omelet Bear
Who knew an omelet could look so adorable? Take a tip from this bento box and turn a standard omelet into a sweet bear. Consider going easy on the fillings to make sure the omelet stays flat and intact. Serve it on top of rice, veggies, and/or noodles, then add facial features with cheese and nori.
5. Rice Cows
For an easier take on the cute rice animal, try this simple idea. Fill a bento box halfway (or so) with white or brown rice, then add nori spots and cheese horns. Make a nose with deli meat like turkey or ham. Top it off with the entrée dish and you have a fun bento box lunch.
6. Spooky Halloween Scene
When in doubt, add edible eyeballs. Yes, really! Edible eyeballs — which are sold in the baking section of most craft stores — can instantly turn your next bento box into a spooky scene, just in time for Halloween. Another option is to use cartoon eye picks for fruits and vegetables.
7. Rice Bee and Flowers
This adorable bee bento box proves that you don't need special tools to make something cute. The bee's body consists of two balls of sticky rice, which you can dye yellow with a dash of turmeric. Serve the bee with green vegetables, like chopped broccoli, then use a mini flower cutter to cut veggie flowers.
8. Silly Sandwich
Edible eyeballs save the day yet again. But instead of special cutout sandwiches, you can serve a regular meat and vegetable sub. The key is to place deli meat, like a slice of pepperoni, in the center to look like a tongue. Once you add a pair of edible eyeballs, it will instantly look like a goofy sandwich. The kids will love it.
Kirsten Nunez is a journalist and author focusing on food, health, and DIY. In May 2014, she published a craft book, "Studs & Pearls: 30 Creative Projects for Customized Fashion." Her work has appeared on eHow, PopSugar, Shape, VegNews, and more. She lives in Beacon, New York.