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These Build-Your-Own Lunch Boxes Are Almost as Fun as Recess

updated Aug 21, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Welcome to Snapshot Cooking, the home of Kitchn’s easiest recipes. These mini recipes are so simple you can practically cook from the before-and-after snapshot itself.

My kids are more likely to eat their packed lunches if there’s some sort of DIY component involved — and frankly I am too. It’s much more fun to get to assemble a pepperoni pizza or a shredded chicken taco than open up a lunch box to find a sad and soggy sandwich.

This summer, my kids and I set out to make a few nutritious build-your-own bento boxes that everyone in the family (including myself and my husband) would be excited to dig into. This snapshot will walk you through what to buy and how to prep it.

3 Easy Build-Your-Own Bento Boxes

  • What to buy: The shopping lists below will set you up with enough ingredients to build 4 to 5 boxes of the same variety, with as little leftover ingredients as possible (at most, you’ll be left with one extra sandwich thin or a few extra apple slices). Because there’s some overlap between boxes, you’ll still be able to switch things up a bit even if you only shop for 1 or 2.
  • Weekend prep: Wherever possible, we pulled out any prep that can be done during your weekend meal prep session.
  • While your coffee brews: Five minutes of morning packing is required for most of these lunch boxes. This step will walk you through preparing just one lunch box for the day.
  • Complete nutrition: We had our resident Registered Dietician Sheela Prakash review these lunch boxes to ensure each one is nutritionally balanced, with enough protein and fiber to keeps you and your kids fueled and focused through the afternoon.

A note on pricing: Our costs were calculated based on grocery prices sourced from Instacart, so your local prices may vary.

Build-Your-Own Cracker Stacks

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn
  • Yield: 5 servings 
  • Estimated cost: $24.91 or $5 a box

What to buy for Build-Your-Own Cracker Stacks

  • 10 ounces turkey slices 
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese slices 
  • 1 (6-ounce) box whole grain crackers, such as Triscuits 
  • 8 ounces red or green grapes, 3 apples, or 1 quart mixed berries 
  • 1 (6-ounce) box fruit gummies, such as Motts, Welch’s, Yoyo Bear, or Yummy Earth  
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Weekend prep: Slice the turkey and cheese if needed, and store in an airtight container. Wash grapes or apples, if using. 

While your coffee is brewing: Wash and dry berries, if using. Portion 2 ounces turkey slices, 1 1/2 ounces cheese, 6 crackers, and 12 to 16 grapes, half a sliced apple, or 1/2 cup mixed berries into a lunch box. 

Build-Your-Own Pepperoni Pizza

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn
  • Yield: 5 servings 
  • Estimated cost: $14.96 or $3 a box

What to buy for Build-Your-Own Pepperoni Pizza

  • 1 (6-count) package whole wheat sandwich thins 
  • 1 (8-ounce) bag shredded pizza cheese 
  • 1 (6-ounce) bag sliced pepperoni 
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) jar or can pizza sauce 
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag sugar snap peas  
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

While your coffee is brewing: Pull apart one sandwich thin to create 2 round “crusts”, then portion out about 1 ounce cheese, 1 ounce pepperoni (about 6 slices), and 1/2 cup snap peas. Portion 2 tablespoons pizza sauce into a small, lidded container. Pack everything into a lunch box, and don’t forget to add a spreader or spoon for the pizza sauce. 

Build-Your-Own Soft Taco

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn
  • Yield: 5 servings 
  • Estimated cost: $27.94 or about $6 a box

What to buy for Build-Your-Own Soft Tacos

  • 1 pound shredded, cooked chicken (from 1 (3 1/2 lb.) roast chicken, or purchased from the store’s deli) 
  • 1 (7-ounce) can salsa 
  • 8 ounces mini sweet peppers 
  • 10 to 12 small, whole wheat flour tortillas  
  • 1 (8-ounce) bag shredded Mexican cheese
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries (6 ounces)
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Weekend prep: Shred the chicken if needed, slice the peppers, and toss both together with 2 ounces of the salsa. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to pack. 

While your coffee brews: Portion about 3 ounces of the chicken and pepper mixture, 2 tortillas, 1 ounce cheese, and 1/4 cup blueberries into a lunch box. Put 2 tablespoons salsa in a small lidded container, and add it and a spoon to the lunch box.