back to school | my favorite bento supplies. . .


Although I started collecting bento stuff sometime last year, this past week was the first time I got to use my stash for making school lunches! The idea of bento appeals to me for several reasons. We have to get up super early so it helps that making bento lunches is more fun than the usual brown bag lunch. Trying to make a lunch visually appealing also means that I'm packing a good variety of food. Another reason for going this route vs sending a lot of prepackaged foods is that I'd like for Sydney to be as independent as possible. Her lunch break at school is really short and I'd hate for he to have to spend most of her time trying to open multiple bags or containers or waiting for help. While I'm sure many kindergarteners still struggle with opening things like bags of chips or tupperware containers, this is definitely an issue for Sydney. She has weakness in her right hand due to cerebral palsy and some difficulty with motor planning / fine motor skills caused by autism spectrum disorder. Sending a lunch like the one above means she only has to open one container (or two if I include the small dipper container) and then she's ready to eat. So far it seems to be working out well!

Reasons I love bento:

  • waste free
  • easy for little fingers to open
  • visually appealing so food is more likely to be eaten
  • fun to pack
  • makes it easy to pack a healthy variety of food
  • good option for special needs kids

I've been posting daily photos of the lunches I pack on Instagram and on my personal Facebook page. A few people have asked how I'm able to find the time to make these lunches. Really, it doesn't take me long! I prep and pack most of the lunches at night after dinner and finish things up in the morning while the kiddo eats breakfast. When I buy groceries, I stock up on stuff like berries, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, and other healthy finger foods that don't require any prep aside from washing. I usually prewash all refrigerated fruits and veggies in a vinegar + water rinse, dry them, and then store them in plastic containers. Makes it easy to just grab what I need and toss it into the lunch container. If I'm sending a sandwich, I'll go ahead and cut or stamp the bread the night before and store it in a sandwich bag overnight so all I have to do in the morning is add the toppings.

Below are some of my favorite and most used bento supplies. . .


Boxes | To start with, you'll need a container of some sort. There are a ton of options out there and these are the ones I use and love most. I've found these to be the most practical for me to pack and the easiest for the kiddo to use. Also, they're all made from nontoxic materials which is really important to me. For this school year, I'm using the Lock & Lock box as well as the Planetbox Shuttle. These two are the absolute easiest boxes to open - especially the Shuttle. They're also a good size for younger kids or those with really short lunch breaks. The Lock & Lock is easier to pack since it is already divided up and the Shuttle is easiest to use - there is only one latch to open and close the container, the lid is attached so it can't be lost, and since it's stainless steel, it can go anywhere in the dishwasher.

Yes, the Planetbox containers are kinda pricey but I think they're totally worth the cost. They're virtually indestructible and will probably last forever!

*There are two different styles of this Lock & Lock box. Mine is the smaller one with 2 removable inner containers. The larger one had 4 removable inner containers.

I can see using the Planetbox Rover as Sydney gets a little older and can carry a larger/heavier lunch box. We use the Goodbyn for meals that will be eaten in the car - it fits perfectly on Syd's lap, the taller sides means less mess, and I feel more comfortable using a lightweight container in the car. (hello, projectiles!) The lid is a little tricky to open and close so it won't be going to school any time soon. Here's another post on the Goodbyn Bynto.

Where to buy | Links for online shopping are above under photo. If you don't want to order online, stores like TJ Maxx, Target, and even Old Navy are good places to look for inexpensive divided plastic containers. Target currently has the Goodbyn Bynto in their back to school section. Pottery Barn Kids carries the PlanetBox Rover in store and sometimes has them on sale/clearance.

1. fruit and veggies 2. muffin cups 3. jumbo muffin cups  4. butterfly + flower (TJ Maxx)

Silicone Cups | Want an easy way to add some color and cuteness to your lunches? Grab some silicone muffin cups or other decorative molds/cups. You can also use them to help keep foods separated. The jumbo cups are taller and work well in the Shuttle and Bynto. I think the veggie + fruit cups are adorable but they work best in a lunch box that is carried upright because they are only about an inch tall.

Where to buy | Links for online shopping above. I've also found various silicone muffin cups - regular and shaped at stores like Target, TJ Maxx, and Joann. Target currently has jumbo muffin cups 2 for $1 in the Dollar Spot.


Food Picks | It really doesn't get any easier than this! Add a few picks to a lunch and you've got instant cuteness. When I spotted the Pick Bus I couldn't resist it. SO cute. It came with a few regular picks but I really like the fork style picks I bought last year. I figure there is less chance of someone getting poked with those!

Where to buy | Links posted above under photo. I haven't found anything like these in my local shops but I have seen cute cupcake flags at TJ Maxx that could work. 



Food Cutters | These are probably my favorite part of making bento lunches. I've amassed quite the collection of various sandwich cutters, cookie cutters, veggie cutters, stamps, etc but these are are my favorite!

The Cute Z Cute set comes with 4 cute animal faces - cat, pig, panda, and frog, an outer frame cutter, and a handy pick to help remove the smaller bits of bread. I find these really simple to use as they are sturdy and do a good job cutting through bread, cheese, etc. 

I used the FunBites square shaped cutter to make the quesadilla bites below. All I did was melt some seasoned shredded cheese between two mini tortillas in a pan, let it cool a bit, and then used the FunBites cutter to quickly dice the quesadilla. The kind folks at FunBites sent this over to me to try out and it has really come in handy. I've used it to make grill cheese bites, cubed cheese, mini pb&j's, and more. The bottom of the cutter is curved to help create a clean cut through the food and there is a separate piece that helps to push the cut pieces out easily. They also have other cool shapes like triangles and hearts. Bite sized food is perfect for lunch boxes and this saves a ton of time!

Here's a coupon code for 20% off at FunBites! Just enter Backtoschoolfun at checkout.

Where to buy | Links above for online shopping. You can also find lots of cookie and sandwich cutters at Amazon.com and allthingsforsale.com. For in store shopping, check out Target (dollar spot!), TJ Maxx , Joann, and Michael's. 


How cute are the panda picks? I packed this lunch in a Planetbox Shuttle: quesadilla bites, black beans, grape tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber flowers, and a bit of cheese as a garnish.


Insulated Lunch Bag | I have a few lunch bags in my stash but am using this Crocodile Creek bag most often as it is the easiest for Sydney to unzip. I love that it's free of PVC/Lead/BPA, easy to wipe clean, and it roomy enough to fit all of our bento boxes with the exception of the PlanetBox Rover. It's also got a stretchy pocket on the back that can hold a snack container.

To keep up with my adventures in bento, follow along on on Instagram. For more bento inspiration, make sure to check out some of my favorite bento blogs:



8 comments:

  1. What a fun post! And thank you for the links to the metal bento boxes. I've searched for them in the past and not had much luck. We'll have to try these out soon.

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  2. This is great info, Vanessa. And I completely agree with all of your reasons for loving bento. We're using the small lock & lock box this school year. My daughter loves how easy it is to open, and I love that it doesn't leak :)

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  3. OMG thank you!! I have been wanting to do this, but had no idea the proper names for the silicone cups or the picks. My son is on the spectrum as well, has issues with his hands, so I afraid these boxes might be hard to open without him spilling it all over, or not asking for help and going hungry. He also has sensory issues and is VERY picky about textures and what he will eat. I was hoping if the lunch looked fun, he would try it! Im actually excited to try this! Will you be showing more lunch ideas in the future?

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    Replies
    1. Hey Terri -

      I do hope to do some more bento lunch posts in the future but in the meantime, definitely check out those blogs I liked...tons of great ideas there.

      The Planetbox containers are the simplest to open and close - hands down. We also practiced a good bit at home opening and closing various containers which helped a too!

      Luckily Sydney is not particularly picky since she's more of a sensory seeker but I think a fun, visually interesting lunch could definitely help picky eaters. :)

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  4. Oh my! Would you please come pack my daughter's lunches. I need to try some of these tricks. Though hand drawn dogs on her napkins have added a bit of interest so far this year...

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  5. Oh my! Would you please come pack my daughter's lunches. I need to try some of these tricks. Though hand drawn dogs on her napkins have added a bit of interest so far this year...

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  6. I looove bento lunches! I started collecting little bits and bobs off eBay when Vincent went to daycare one day a week when he was little, but then I had Eddie and had 0 time! I've started doing it again every now and then for him now she is older and he is in kindy (I think Kindy in Australia is younger than your kindy?)

    He loves it when he has the little baran monkeys in his lunch, or the little broccoli picks ^_^

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  7. This is so useful!!!! Azriella just started "regular" kindergarten (she's been in early intervention schools since she was barely three for autism and now at six is attending a local public school). I love that you went in to the supplies to get for bentos! We love them here but have only used them for picnics and such so far. That first day at school, I noticed a few things from Azy's lunch that didn't get eaten due to difficulty opening the packaging. I appreciate that you touched upon this point!! Thanks!!!

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