Packing lunches for your kids can be one more hasty chore on busy mornings. Instead of letting that happen, take a cue from the Japanese bento box. It’s a way to turn lunch into a labor of love that your children can pass along eventually to their own families.

Packing lunches for your kids can be one more hasty chore on busy mornings. Instead of letting that happen, take a cue from the Japanese bento box. It’s a way to turn lunch into a labor of love that your children can pass along eventually to their own families.

Everyday bento includes rice, meat or fish, prepared as a single meal. More elaborate styles make food resemble flowers, cartoon characters and animals. It’s small, portable, culinary art.

What? You don’t have time to be so fancy? It’s easier than you think to put together an American-style bento box. Think nutritious and cute. Plan lunch as a main course with a few side dishes and a dessert, all in bright colors.

The main course could be a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but make it shine by using a cookie cutter to reshape the bread. We chose a heart, but a truck sandwich delivers PB&J or turkey and cheese with tasty flair. The truck’s cab is a small square, and the trailer is a bigger square. We used olives for tires, but round crackers would work, too.

Side dishes come in all colors and sizes. Scoop the flesh from half of a roasted red potato, and fill the pocket with chicken or tuna salad. Make a tomato cup by hollowing out half of a Roma, then fill it with corn kernels and green peas. Cups and contents are edible.

Flowers? Sure. We arranged broccoli with carrot sticks and baby asparagus in a tiny bouquet wrapped in cheese. You might decide to add celery sticks or green beans. Another green possibility is cheese and thin-sliced turkey rolled in a spinach tortilla. Accent these with dabs of your child’s favorite condiments. Or try spearing a few sweet pickles.

As a change from veggies, honeydew and cantaloupe balls arrive on fancy toothpicks. If your child prefers grapes, combine green and red seedless varieties.   

For dessert, a mix of strawberries, blueberries and Mandarin oranges look very tempting beside a bite of fudgecake shaped like a butterfly.

This lunchtime treat is sure to tickle your offspring. And a private note would be a perfect finishing touch.

American bento box

Whether you use our menu or create one of your own, it’s a good idea to prepare as many
ingredients as possible the night before you pack this lunch.

• Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on heart-shaped white bread
• Corn and peas (we used canned) in a Roma tomato cup
• Chicken or tuna salad in a potato cup
• Bouquet of baby asparagus, broccoli and carrot sticks wrapped in cheese