When planning out bento box ideas for the week, I’m typically focused on the main “dish.” I hope the sides fall into place with what we have in the fridge and pantry.
And for the most part? They do.
But sometimes, you want to switch it up! So I went on a mission to develop many unique bento box side ideas to keep things fresh.
Whether you’re packing for a toddler, a Kindergartener, a teenager, or yourself, here are many fun side ideas to keep your bento box lunches exciting.
Check out the companion post: 62 Brilliant Bento Box Lunch Ideas for Kids (Picky Eater Friendly)
Fruit Side Ideas
Our go-to sides are typically fresh fruit. It’s healthy, packed with vitamins, and it’s almost always a sure bet that my kiddos will eat it.
- Freeze-dried fruit crisps (mango, strawberry, pear, apple)
- Plantain strips
- Apple slices and peanut butter or caramel dip
- That’s it. Crunchables Fruit Snacks
- Guacamole and chips
- Salsa and chips
- Cherry tomatoes
- Mandarin orange (peeled)
- Grapes (halved longways)
- Cherries (pitted – this is the best cherry-pitting tool)
- Pears, plums, and peaches (I usually avoid these as they turn brown, but you can squeeze lemon juice on the slices to stop the browning)
- Pomegranate arils
- Coconut chunks
Vegetable Side Ideas
Vegetables are tricky, especially with picky eaters. That said, it’s not a bad idea to dedicate one compartment to a food you know your child won’t eat.
Consistent exposure to new foods is the best way for your kiddo to try it. Looking at it will lead to touching it, which could lead to tasting it and eventually enjoying it.
Some kids need to be exposed to food up to 15 times before they accept it. I’ve even read a report that said some kids take 60+ attempts, so do not give up!
So don’t be afraid to throw in a vegetable, even if you know it’s going to be there when your child gets home. That’s the beauty of a Bentgo box – there are plenty of compartments!
- Sliced cucumbers
- Baby carrots with ranch
- Celery with ranch
- Celery with peanut butter (add raisins on top for ants on a log)
- Off the Eaten Path veggie crisps
- Very small broccoli florets with ranch (or steamed)
- Sliced bell peppers
- Baked pea snack (we like Harvest Snaps)
- Sweet potato chips (we like Terra)
- Sweet potato fries
- Seaweed sheets (gimMe is an option if your grocery store doesn’t have it; my kids hated this, but I think it’s worth trying)
- Zucchini fritters
- Kale chips (you can make these in an air fryer, or you can buy them)
- Carrot zucchini apple mini muffins
- Spinach muffins
- Zucchini avocado dip
- Applesauce with the red blend Easy Peasie veggie powder mixed in
Note: I used to put veggie straws in my kid’s lunches, but I’ve since learned that these are not really vegetables despite “veggie” being in the name. They are mostly processed potato and vegetable powders. You can add them, but I wouldn’t consider it a vegetable.
You can also incorporate your veggies in your main dish, such as adding peas to mac and cheese or doing kid-friendly sushi with cucumber strips inside (check out #38 in this post to see the sushi idea in action!).
But rest assured, even if your child doesn’t eat their veggies, they can get the same vitamins and minerals they need from fruit.
Dairy Side Ideas
Dairy is a great way to get some extra protein into your kiddo’s school lunch. Cheese sticks are definitely a favorite around here, but you can get creative with things like parmesan crisps or yogurt-covered raisins.
- Parmesan crisps (we like ParmCrisps)
- Baked cheese squares (Cheez-its, Annie’s cheddar bunnies, or you can make them from scratch very easily)
- Yogurt cup or squeeze yogurt tubes
- String cheese
- Yogurt covered raisins
- Greek yogurt with toppings (maple syrup, honey, berries, candy eyes for fun!)
- Cubed cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella pearls, basil, balsamic glaze)
Beans, Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds Side Ideas
Adding beans and legumes to your child’s school lunch provides a great source of fiber, and most legumes are also packed with folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium.
And nuts and seeds are a great source of protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The best part is most of the side ideas in this category require absolutely zero prep. Just add the item to your bento box, and you’re done!
- Hummus and pita chips
- Chocolate hummus and graham crackers
- Trail mix
- Pistachios (shelled)
- Almonds (my kids love the cinnamon roasted almonds)
- Hippeas Chickpea Puffs
- Baked lentil snacks (these Tomato Basil ones are addicting)
- Baked chickpeas
- Energy ball with nut butter
- Peanut butter and crackers
- Hazlenut spread and graham crackers
- The Only Bean Crunchy Roasted Edamame
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seed pudding
- Black beans (great for a taco-themed bento box)
Misc. Side Ideas
Some sides didn’t neatly fit into a category – where exactly would you place jello?
But I didn’t want to exclude ideas like rice cakes and pretzels, so here’s a quick look at some miscellaneous side ideas.
- Rice cakes
- Pirate’s Booty White Cheddar Cheese Puffs
- Hard-boiled egg
- Ritz crackers
- Pita chips
- Popcorn (careful if the child is under 4 – popcorn can be a choking hazard)
- Potato salad
- Cottage cheese cookie dough (I use this recipe)
Special Treat Side Ideas
We generally avoid sweet treats in our kid’s lunches. But sometimes, we sneak a little treat in there to make them more excited about lunch.
I think it also teaches our kiddos that no foods are off limits as long as you enjoy them in moderation.
- Small cookies (Oreos, ginger snaps, Nilla wafers, etc.)
- Chocolate chips (perfect for the small center compartment)
- Fruit snacks
- Fruit leather/fruit roll-ups
- Granola bar
- Nutri-grain bar
- Fig newtons
- Chocolate-covered strawberries
- Annie’s bunny grahams
- Rice Krispies treats
- Animal crackers
- Teddy Grahams
Bento Box Sides FAQs
Can you put yogurt in a bento box?
We love putting yogurt in our Bentgo lunch boxes. The Bentgo Kids lunchbox is leakproof, so you don’t have to worry about mixing yogurt with everything else.
Plus, the Bentgo Deluxe lunch bag allows the lunchbox to lay flat, so it’s even less of a concern.
What are good sides for kids?
Good sides for kids include fruits like strawberries, halved grapes, mandarin oranges, and blueberries; vegetables like baby carrots, celery with peanut butter, cucumber sticks, or baked pea snacks; dairy like yogurt, cheese sticks, cottage cheese, and parmesan crisps; legumes, nuts, and seeds like hummus with pita chips, trail mix, and pumpkin seeds; and special treats like marshmallows, animal crackers, and fruit snacks.
What’s the difference between bento and Bentgo?
Bentgo is a brand that makes high-quality bento lunch boxes featuring several different compartments for different types of food. Bento is a Japanese-style packed lunch featuring a little bit of everything.
Bento box sides don’t have to be a huge deal – we usually rely on whatever we have in our fridge and pantry. Fruit, cheese, and nuts are regulars around here, but sometimes, you want to switch things up.
I hope this exhaustive list of side ideas inspires you to try something new in your child’s school lunch.
Comment below: what bento box side ideas am I missing here?