Easy Bento Box Ideas for When You Literally Can’t Eat Another Salad

Photo: Anett Velsberg-Tiedemann
Lunchboxes aren't just for kids. Just ask anyone who meal preps on the reg and swears by BYOL (bring your own lunch): brown bagging it can help save some cash and keep healthy eating goals in check. One way to take your lunch game to the next level is assembling a bento box, aka the perfect solution for nailing healthy portion sizes for to-go meals.

Bento boxes are a traditional Japanese lunchtime meal, with little sectioned spaces for rice or noodles, a protein like chicken, fish, or tofu, and veggies (usually fermented). The set-up is perfect for helping track your macros or portioning out your food, which is a wellness win when your eyes get bigger than your stomach. Think of bento boxes as the Marie Kondo of food: making room only for what sparks joy—in this case, the most nutritious, filling foods.

If you're ready to get creative but aren't sure where to start, Japanese Cooking 101 creators Yuko and Noriko have you covered. The YouTube cooking duo is coming out with a book this month called Simply Bento with over 140 ideas—everything from low-carb recipes and sandwich bentos to bentos that can be compiled in ten minutes flat. Here, they give a sneak peek of four ideas straight from their book.

Keep reading for four ideas for creating your own healthy bento boxes.

Healthy bento box ideas
Photo: Anett Velsberg-Tiedemann

1. Cauliflower Fried Rice Bento

Veggies? Check. Healthy carbs? Protein? Fruit? It's all here. This healthier take on fried rice is made with cauliflower rice that's sauteed with ground pork, but feel free to saute it with other types of protein or even go meatless if you want. Another great perk of bento boxes is that they're super easy to customize to different diets.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Makes 2 servings

1/2 large head cauliflower (or 1 bag/8 oz cauliflower crumbles)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
5 oz ground pork
1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch white pepper
2 tsp soy sauce
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Benishoga (pickled red ginger), for garnish

For the fried cauliflower rice
1. Chop the cauliflower into very small pieces, enough for two cups.

2. Heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat.

3. Add the ground pork and cook until browned.

3. Add the cauliflower and stir-fry for a couple minutes, until tender. Add the mixed vegetables and cook for one minute, then add the beaten eggs. Keep stir-frying until the eggs are cooked. Season with the salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Finally, add the green onions and stir for a few seconds.

4. Top with the benishoga.

Healthy bento box ideas
Photo: Anett Velsberg-Tiedemann

2. Chicken Teriyaki Bento

Instead of opting for the sodium-heavy, take-out variety of chicken teriyaki, make your own and add your fave type of rice, like basmati, brown, or even cauliflower. Add your choice of sauteed and fresh veggies on the side and lunch is done.

Makes 2 servings

1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sake
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
4 to 6 shishito peppers

1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sake, sugar, and mirin. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for four to five minutes. Flip the chicken, reduce the heat to medium, and continue cooking on the other side. Add the peppers to the same pan and cook and stir for three to four minutes.

3. When the chicken is cooked through, add the teriyaki sauce to the pan and cook until the sauce is reduced and the chicken is coated in the sauce.

4. Cut the cooked chicken into half-inch-thick slices.

Healthy bento box lunch ideas
Photo: Anett Velsberg-Tiedemann

3. Quinoa Salad Bento

As it turns out, cranberries taste really great on top of quinoa, giving a little sweetness and complexity to the grain. Get your protein fix with rotisserie chicken (or tofu, if that's your jam). A side of fruit will finish your lunch off on a sweet note.

Makes 2 servings

1/2 cup dried quinoa
3/4 cup chicken broth
10 green beans
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp pistachios, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp dried cranberries

1. Wash the quinoa in a large bowl, changing the water three times.

2. Add the quinoa and broth to a medium saucepan, and heat until boiling. Cover and cook over medium heat for ten to twelve minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, blanch the green beans for two minutes and cut into half-inch pieces.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper.

5. Combine the cooked quinoa, green beans, pistachios, and cranberries, along with the vinaigrette.

Healthy bento box lunch ideas
Photo: Simply Bento/Anett Velsberg-Tiedemann

4. Yakisoba Bento

Don't be intimidated by the name—yakisoba is just a type of stir-fried noodles. Traditionally, this Japanese dish is stir-fried with a sauce similar to Worcestershire, but you could always substitute that for something like coconut aminos or any other sauce you like. Trying to keep the carbs to a minimum? Sub the noodles for zucchini noodles.

Makes 2 servings

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 lb ground pork
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 cup bean sprouts
3 green onions, cut into 2-inch long pieces
2 packages (5.3 oz each) yakisoba noodles
1/4 cup water
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup yakisoba sauce
Aonori (dried green seaweed flakes), for topping
Benishoga (pickled red ginger), for topping

1. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the ground pork and cook for one minute, stirring a couple times.

2. Add the carrot, bean sprouts, and green onions, and stir for a few seconds. Add the noodles and water, cover, and steam for one minute.

3. Loosen the noodles, season them with a little salt and pepper, and stir in the yakisoba sauce. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until any remaining liquid is gone. Remove from the heat.

4. Top with the aonori and benishoga.

Recipes excerpted from the book Simply Bento by Yuko and Noriko. Copyright 2018 by Yuko and Noriko. Reprinted with permission of The Quarto Group. All rights reserved.

Now that you've got healthy lunch ideas down, don't forget to upgrade your lunch bag. And here are more lunch recipes—all of which can be made in ten minutes or less.

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