Bake A Better Boxed Lunch: Tips for Lunch Box Friendly Baking

As many of us watch the seasons changing, it’s a harbinger of changes not only to wind and weather but to schedules as well.

Back to school, back to work, back to backpacks and briefcases and boxed lunch.*sigh*

Boring old boxed lunch.

A slab or two of deli meat between the last two crusts of bread, and maybe a granola bar tossed together in a flash. Sure, your stomach will stay fed but your soul will be hungry for more flavor, more beauty, more home-baked goodness.

Oh, did I say “you”? Believe me, I’ve made some pretty poor lunchbox choices in my day. I mean, milk chocolate chips count as dairy, right?

Happily, you and I are better bakers now and have an arsenal of terrific recipes for filling up our tummies, hearts, and souls. Let’s check out the recipes in the photo above, and chat a bit about how a few little changes can really elevate your noontime nosh.

Boxed lunches are an excellent way to add small portions of nutritious and delicious items in your diet. By cutting down on the size of your servings, you not only eat less but you can eat a greater variety of items. This keeps your taste buds awake and excited about what’s coming next.

Lunch box bento via@kingarthurflour

I use a standard stackable bento box to make my lunch today. Bento boxes have become wildly popular and widely available in the States over the last few years. More on this later.

On the left we have some Cabot cheddar cheese and turkey salami on a bed of lettuce, cradled with a few gherkin pickles. Add some homemade crackers for stacking: Gluten-Free Almond Flour Crackers.

I have to say, I’m completely addicted to this cracker recipe. It’s so customizable: you can make cheese crackers, chili pepper crackers, French herb, anything that tickles your fancy. With a grand total of five ingredients, you can whip up a batch in the evening after dinner and they’ll be done and cooling before an episode of NCIS is over.

Now, let’s take a look at the right-hand side of our luscious lunch…

Lunch box bento via@kingarthurflour

First, you’ll see that a good portion of this side is fruits and veggies. As much as we love baked goods, don’t forget your “5 a Day.”

Notice the colorful ruffled papers? To help control portion sizes, you can use cupcake/muffin liners, silicone cups, or even tasty greens as a wrapper. I’ve found that paper liners also help control moisture, so that your freshly washed grapes don’t turn your cookies soggy.

Speaking of cookies, a little baked sweet is nice to finish off your meal. Try baking drop cookies using our teaspoon cookie scoop, to get smaller cookies. You can easily pack two instead of one, making your boxed lunch fuller and more satisfying. Joy’s Brown Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Pecans certainly satisfies my lunchtime sweet tooth.

Breakfast Bento via @kingarthurflour.com

Of course, your lunchbox doesn’t have to be filled with lunch items, now does it? Breakfast for lunch or dinner is a big hit around our house, so why not pack yourself a hearty meal using your early morning favorites?

The boxed lunch above happens to be gluten free as well as pleasing to the eye and taste buds. A few silver dollar-sized pancakes, some fresh Vermont maple syrup, and healthy whole almonds give you sweetness and crunch. Our No Bake Energy Bites provide protein and whole grains; add some sweet red grapes for a refreshing finish.

Notice the pretty little white dish of syrup? While you can pack your boxed lunch with plastic containers (and I do so, too, to prevent spills), why not pack an extra container for serving? A little bit of beauty from a dish, spoon, napkin, or straw can really make the difference between having a dull dinner or a magnificent meal.

I mentioned at the beginning of the post that I was using my bento box for packing my lunches. “Bento” has become rather synonymous with fancy lunch in the past few years. However, true bento eating is quite specific in regards to proteins, rice, fruits, etc.

To learn more about authentic Japanese bento and to see some more lunch ideas, one of my favorite sites is Happy Little Bento. Just like the title says, it’s all about making lunchtime happy!

We hope you’re inspired with our boxed lunches. Please share your ideas, tips, and tricks for baking a better boxed lunch in the comments. Oh, and if anyone has successfully packed a cream puff for lunch, I NEED to know!

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Carolyn @ Cabot

    You really took the traditional boxed lunch to the next level! Thank you for inspiring my lunch box this year!~Carolyn @ Cabot

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins , post author

      With Cabot, it’s always easy to create a fun lunch and snack. Grapes, crackers and cheese = heaven! ~ MJ

  2. Karen

    I bought a LapTop Lunchbox for my kindergardener in 2004, he is in 6th grade now and we recently replaced the insulated tote when we ordered his brother one as well. Some days a turkey sandwich is it, but today he got to take his thermos with whole grain Mac and cheese along with peppers, cucumbers, oranges and an apple. Crackers with cheese and meat are one of his favorite things to take.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins , post author

      Holy cow, I’m so jealous! My son could barely keep the same box for one year in school, let alone 6! Glad we could help inspire. ~ MJ

  3. Ana

    Loved this article. I’m not in school but I’m a diabetic and this is perfect for snacks on the go. Great ideas! Thank you so much for posting!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins , post author

      Hi Ana,
      My DH is now learning to modify his diet as a pre-diabetic. This type of small portion, fruit and veg rich lunch as been a mainstay for him. Stay well, and happy baking! ~ MJ

  4. quinn

    I always enjoy these themed round-ups, because I usually see something I’ve missed from previous posts! This time it was the little energy bites that caught my eye…will be trying my hand at those soon – thanks 🙂

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins , post author

      I love those little bites myself. This time I made them with almond butter. Yum, yum! ~ MJ

  5. Tiara

    I used to make a huge pot of soup on my weekends off and freeze single portions in freezer friendly ziploc bags. They make great ice packs when I pack lunch and thaw in time for my own lunch. I keep a big mug at work so I can just dump and heat. Now I’ve become obsessed with mason jars and freeze chilis and soups in the mason jars. Then I take those to work, glass jars are great for the microwave. Great ideas on the bento boxes, too.

    Reply
  6. Kalisa

    Hm, I have been teetering on the edge of getting a bento-style lunch box for the last few weeks. I don’t eat properly when it comes to lunches so a way to organize some fruits, vegetables w/ hummus, and proper portions would be a step in the right direction.

    And why didn’t I think of a thermos! I’ve never really used one but it’d be great for taking homemade chicken noodle soup or chili to work. Those are pretty healthy and I can eat them for days on end without getting tired of them. Thanks for the ideas!

    Reply
  7. hddonna

    I haven’t tried this, but if I wanted to pack a cream puff for lunch, I’d put the whipped cream (probably a version stabilized with a bit of gelatin, sour cream, or cream cheese) in a zippered plastic bag, then snip the corner and pipe into the cream puff when ready to eat. And now that you’ve put the idea in my head, I will definitely try this next time I make cream puffs!

    Reply
  8. Darbie

    Great ideas, thanks. Where did you purchase the black oblong bento pictured above?

    Hi Darbie. I think this particular one came from Amazon. It was a Christmas present so I’m not 100% sure. 🙂 ~ MJ

    Reply
  9. Kristen Cooley

    I just invested in two Planet Boxes for my kids. They are pricey, but reviews have shown that they last years. What I like are the compartments that will encourage me to get their lunches more balanced.

    Reply
  10. Frans

    I often take a variation of an English plough man’s lunch to work. A hunk of leftover bread or crackers; cheese of some sort; meat of some sort, cold sausage or lunch meat slices or cubes; some sort of salad, fruit or vegetable. Since I am not able to get away from my desk finger foods are very convenient. I love leftovers for many of these items.

    Reply
  11. Lynne

    This is my favorite bento site:

    http://justbento.com

    She hasn’t posted for a while, but there are many, many bento ideas and recipes there. I must confess, in the interests of full disclosure, that I haven’t done much bento-ing, but if I ever leave the ranks of the unemployed I look forward to bento lunches!!!

    I also have a copy of her book.

    Reply

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