10 Non-Sandwich Bento Lunchbox Ideas For Back to School


Hey, gang, back with another glimpse into our lunchbox today — or more specifically, the lunchbox of my 7-year-old, Lana. If you missed it, I reviewed everything I use to pack her bento-style lunches, so I thought it might be helpful to share a more detailed peek into the actual lunches themselves.

If you follow me on Instagram (@thepigandquill), some of these will look pretty familiar (I share Lana’s lunch to Stories almost daily). As you’ll soon see, there are a few components that make repeat appearances quite often.

As always, if you have questions about certain items, I’m happy to chat more in the comments, or feel free to shoot me a DM for a speedy(-ish, haha) response. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post too, where I share a few of the accounts I love following for real-life lunchbox inspo.

Now, let’s get into it!

10 Kid-Approved Bento-Box Lunch Ideas That *Aren’t* Sandwiches

I have a love-hate relationship w/ packing lunches (for a picky 2nd-grader). I've landed on 10 tried-&-true kid bento-box meals that still have variety.

large pink Yumbox | large purple Yumbox | rice-ball molds | silicone divider cups | rainbow food pick

I have a love-hate relationship with lunch packing. As the mom of what we’ll call a particular second-grader, I’ve got enough experience with it now to manage my expectations, but not so much experience that we’ve fallen into a hard routine (and she’s most definitely not packing her own lunches yet).

I still optimistically pepper her lunch with a few new things here and there, but at this point, we’ve landed on a handful of tried-and-true non-sandwich lunches that we more or less rerun, swapping in different snacks and sides to maintain some semblance of variety.

My Lunch-Packing Strategy

Just to give a little perspective, here are a few things to know about my super-selective second-grader:

  • We’re quasi meat eaters in this household, but Lana doesn’t prefer room-temperature meats, like cold cuts — or room-temperature cheese, for that matter. In fact, she prefers both of those items to be fresh-from-the-fridge cold, so sometimes an ice pack doesn’t even get the job done. (Though this Bentgo slim ice pack gets us close.) She makes the occasional exception for salami or pepperoni, provided they remain chilled.
  • We’ve tried packing hot lunches (we own a couple of OmieBoxes for just such occasions), and for us, a hot entree just doesn’t get consumed as quickly as something a little…snackier. Add to that the fact that the insulated container can sometimes be tricky for tired hands to open — and that it adds a considerable amount of weight to her backpack — and it’s not our favorite option for school. We do, however, love packing OmieBox lunches for picnics or the beach (or any situation where we’re on the go but can afford to be a little more leisurely).
  • We’re working with a lunch period of about 20 minutes — and a 7-year-old kiddo who is a very pokey eater, easily distracted and as chatty as they come. The portions here are realistic for both her appetite and the amount of time she has to eat — with minimal waste.

From Sushi To Air-Fried Ravioli, 10 Bento-Box Lunches My Picky Kid Loves

1. Spinach-and-Cheese Tortellini (room temperature, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper) + green olives, reduced-sodium salami, edamame and a sugar cookie | sea-salt rice cakes, a dried fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

2. Silver-Dollar Pancakes (from scratch, or if I have it, I’ll make them with Kodiak Power Cakes mix — it’s legitimately delicious and has great protein content) + tiny tomatoes, Coco Rolls, dried mandarins, sliced nectarines, edamame and carrot sticks | pretzel rods, a dried-fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

3. Waffled Zucchini Fritters (we use this easy Zucchini Fritter recipe and just dollop tablespoonfuls of the batter into a mini waffle iron for four minutes) + baby carrots, red bell peppers, pepperoni, edamame, sliced strawberries and fruit gummies | Pringles, a dried-fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

4. Shortcut Spam Musubi (just griddled Spam wrapped with rice and nori) + dried mango, Coco Rolls, sliced peppers, beet chips and edamame | tempura nori crackers, a dried-fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

5. Rice Ball (this one is just plain medium-grain rice and a little furikake) and sliced peaches, Fritos, Coco Rolls, pepperoni, cucumbers + edamame | Goldfish, a dried fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

6. Avocado Maki (see note below) + edamame, Pringles, nectarine slices and a small marshmallow treat | Cheez-Its, a dried-fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

Note: Hmmm, maybe I’ll get around to making a video soon, but in the meantime, this beginner video shows how to form simple maki rolls. I’m a bit lazier and use a full sheet of nori, which is why you can see the nori pinwheeled a bit in my roll (figure a little extra seaweed can’t hurt from a nutritional standpoint, either). I used to make seasoned sushi rice ahead of time early in the week, refrigerate it, and then warm just what I need each morning prior to making the rolls (I let it cool to room temp first), but since my new rice cooker allows me to have hot rice at the ready a couple mornings in a row, I now just season as much as I need the morning of. We season ours with a splash of rice vinegar, a bit of sugar (or brown-rice syrup, if I have it, which mixes into the rice really well) and a pinch of salt. This sushi-rice recipe from Just One Cookbook is great if you appreciate more-formal measurements.

7. Air-Fried Ravioli (shoutout to TME’s social media maven Angela for this inspo! I just toss frozen ravioli with a little olive oil and put it straight into our Ninja Foodi air fryer at 400F for six to eight minutes, or until it’s golden brown) + tiny tomatoes, red peppers, sliced mango and M&M’s | kettle chips, a dried-fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

8. Snack Lunch of pepperoni, kettle chips, edamame, cucumber, Coco Rolls, a homemade cereal treat and orange slices | Cheetos, dried nectarines and vitamins for morning snack

9. Brown-Rice Spam Sushi (just griddled Spam with unseasoned brown rice) + edamame, Oreo Thins and red peppers | Fritos, cherries and vitamins for morning snack

10. Sushi-Rice Ball (sushi rice seasoned as described in the avocado maki note, above, with furikake) + grape tomatoes, baby carrots, sliced mango, strawberries and half a mochi muffin (we adore these! Unfortunately the recipe is no longer online, but feel free to DM me, and I can shoot it over to you) | Cheez-Its, a dried-fruit bar and vitamins for morning snack

Want more lunchbox inspiration? Here are a handful of accounts that I’ve enjoyed following for a while now:

  • @eattherainbow_kids | color-inspired kiddo eats
  • @white.blank.space | inspired family-meal ideas from a Korean Mexican household (I love that Heejee’s candid about what her kids actually eat too)
  • @mydiaryofus | super-reliable, family-friendly meals with big flavors (Leigh Ann frequently shares her son’s lunches in Stories)
  • @lunchboxmafia | creative lunch ideas and tips for kiddos
  • @kenjilopezalt | My favorite Serious Eats contributor and one of my favorite cookbook authors. He’s recently been sharing his daughter’s (admittedly somewhat gourmet but super-drool-worthy) bento lunches.

Happy lunch packing, friends!

Friends! Follow me on Instagram for accessible, easily adaptable recipes; sneak peeks of The Mom Edit content (and sales!); and more snippets of our life on the Northern California coast. And if you feel so inclined, pop over to my personal food + lifestyle blog, The Pig & Quill, where I share salty scribblings from my kitchen and home life. Byeeeeee.

Pinners, this is just for you…

I have a love-hate relationship w/ packing lunches (for a picky 2nd-grader). I've landed on 10 tried-&-true kid bento-box meals that still have variety.