How to keep bento and cute lunches neat until lunchtime

Around Halloween, when I posted an amazing collection of Halloween-themed lunches, the first comment I got was from long-time reader Alison who had been dying to ask her burning question:

What do they look like by the time your kids open the boxes? We homeschool, but once per week I pack my ELB for them to take to their arts classes. And with my boys, almost every one of those lunches would be a jumbled mess. The skeleton veggies would be in a pile, the yogurt spider webs would be all mixed in, the parts of the eyeball pasta would be swirled into the mixture and unidentifiable, the little bat thingees would be smooshed into the exposed jam on the vampire sandwich (which would be stuck to the lid).”

So how DO you keep those lunches looking as nice as when you packed them??

Leave it to my bento blogging mama friends to share their secrets!

Bobbi of Bobbi’s Bentos:  “Packing EasyLunchboxes in a bag that keeps the container upright makes all the difference in the world. Kelly’s Easylunchboxes cooler bag works great along with many others.”

Michelle of Creative Food: “If I have a design that has a lot of extra pieces I “glue” them down with honey or soy nut butter (PB alternative since my daughter is allergic) so that they stay in place during travel and being moved around. And if I don’t want her sandwich to move around I can “glue” it down to the ELB too :)”

Lise of Veggie-Bento: “Another fun trick is to hold pieces together with raw spaghetti. It softens by lunch time so it’s not dangerous like toothpicks can be.”

Shannon of Molly’s Lunch Box: “I agree with Bobbi, the carrying case is the biggest part of keeping things steady. My Kindergartner is very “spirited” but her lunches stay pretty much in place…The lunches aren’t always the same as when we made them, but if you put things together so that they don’t move, use picks to keep things in place or even put a napkin on top of dry things, you’ll find that they look pretty close to what you started with.”

Alex of Lunch with Eyeness: “My boys’ lunch carriers are set up to hold the ELBs vertically. I use a napkin to hold things in place – open it and spread it out over the biggest compartment and let it crinkle up a bit so it gets pushed down onto the food when you close the lid. They are pretty rough on their lunches, but they say they are always intact when they get to them.”

Wendy of Wendolonia shares her two secrets (these are pretty key):

1. pack the food into the box tightly  

2. pack the food right up to the rim of the box

Cristi of Bent on Better Lunches almost always uses the cloth napkin trick to keep everything in place. “With the napkin holding everything in place, I can turn it sideways, the way it will be carried in the lunchbox and nothing moves. Well, not much…. Yay!” Read more about how she does it HERE.

Ana of Becoming a Bentoholic: “The most important is the bag to carry the box upright. I usually carry my daughter’s lunch and place it in the fridge at preschool so it does not usually get bounced around a lot. If my husband is taking her to preschool then I tend to pack more, as there is less room for shifting or use a “glue” like honey or peanut butter.”

Nina of Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love: “I agree that the best way to ensure that the lunch looks the same way is a cooler that carries the ELB flat, attaching the pieces with honey or picks and packing the ELBs tight so nothing can move. I like using salad leaves, cereal bars and cute cups or utensils to prevent food from sliding. Another great idea is to show the kids the design and then pack the pieces for example in the Mini Dippers and let them assemble their food at school. I have done that on occasion and my kids loved that! I also like to draw designs on the sandwiches with chocolate or peanut butter and those stay on for sure.”

Kendra of Biting the Hand That Feeds You: Right now I tend to be in charge of carrying her lunch, so I know when to be extra careful. But soon she’ll be in charge of carrying them into school, so I’ll work with her at home and we’ll practice first. And ultimately, motivating them to take care of their lunches leads to valuing and taking care of other things in their lives. If they want their cute stuff to stay put, they’ll put in the effort. If not, then who cares? Let them toss it around!

Yes, I make these for my daughter. But I also do it for ME. She’d eat the foods if I DIDN’T cut them into cute shapes or add faces. But I love doing it. And if she’s enchanted by her lunch, she is willing to try that broccoli again, or something else new I add in, to see if it’s fun too… And the folded napkin on top helps too. I use cloth napkins, so they don’t get too wet and dissolve! 

I also “pack” some lunches to eat at home (or at least begin eating at home.) The EasyLunchbox is no harder to clean than a plate, but is easier for my daughter to carry from the kitchen to her table without things spilling, because of the high sides. And I don’t need to add a bowl if I’m including something runny like yogurt. And I tend to include more healthy and balanced options with those compartments staring at me. On a plate, I tend to get lazy and only offer a protein and grain. And then if she’s not done before we have to head to preschool, it can come in the car with us for her to nibble on the drive!”

JeeJee of BentoUSA: “The most important thing for me is the little extra effort I put into preparing lunch which helps make my family happy and spend time together. You don’t need to do it for every meal but it’s always good to bring a little smile to your kids’ face every so often”

What are your tips? Please share them in a comment below.