I've been packing school lunches for less than a year and a half, and my daughter has already eaten more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than I can count. Sure, the bread is whole grain, and the peanut butter is the natural kind without all the sugar and hydrogenated oils, but still, even PB&J gets boring after a while.

It's easy to fall into a rut when packing school lunches, making the same old sandwiches and relying on prepackaged convenience foods that hold little nutritional value. And even if you manage to prepare fresh, healthy lunches, it can be hard to find the right containers to hold the food you want to pack.

This is where the bento box comes in.

What Is a Bento Box?

Bento boxes originated in Japan, where the word "bento" (or "obento") describes a Japanese meal that is packed in a partitioned box. A traditional Japanese bento box usually consists of small portions of foods like rice, noodles, fish, or sushi that are packed in their own separate partitions or containers. Obento is considered an art form, so the meal is meant to be not only nutritionally balanced, but also visually pleasing. Some bento boxes truly are works of art.

The Benefits of Bento Boxes

Most of us probably won't be packing sushi or creating artistic masterpieces for school lunches, but you've got to admit that when it comes to kids, visual appeal can make all the difference. Children are more likely to eat a colorful and creatively designed lunch that is neatly packed with small portions of food in easy-to-open containers than a sandwich that's gotten mashed inside of a Ziploc. And if you have an easy-to-use lunch system where you can easily pack healthy items like yogurt or hummus or leftovers from last night's dinner, you're less likely to toss in that bag of Doritos.

Another benefit of using a bento box is the fact that your child's food won't get squished or soggy by lunchtime because everything will be packed separately in its own compartment or container. And because all parts of a bento box are reusable, they're environmentally friendly. No more guilt over throwing away all those plastic bags every day!

Learn More About Bento Boxes

The popularity of bento-style lunch boxes has exploded in the United States in the last few years, so if you decide you want to give bento a try, you'll find lots of helpful resources. To learn more about the types of bento boxes you can buy and to get more ideas about what to pack in bento-style lunches, check out the following articles and websites:

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