Author: Fresh Thyme Farmers Market

Bento Box School Lunch

Customize healthful lunches, boost brain power, and fuel physical energy—with appetizing and nutritious foods served in fun and convenient bento boxes from Fresh Thyme

Treat kids to lunches they’ll dig into, in a style they understand well. We’re also talking Fresh Thyme style: delicious, nutritious lunches packed in bento boxes. Ever hear kids insist that no food on their plate touch? Voila! The bento box. It satisfies the wish to keep foods separated, along with your objective to include nutrition from across the recommended food groups.

Food divided in colorful compartments not only looks attractive and stays fresh, but the variety and small quantities appeal to kids—especially colorful, crisp, and crunchy finger foods. For packing lunches, bento box sections invite variety and an opportunity to teach kids about eating a healthful balance of fruits, veggies, breads and grains, proteins, and dairy.

The National School Lunch Program Meal Pattern Chart has a guide of recommendations, by grade levels, for student lunches—foods, as well as quantities. Although the chart is implemented specifically for schools that provide student lunches, the guide is also useful for parents in figuring out what and how much to pack.

An overview of the guide:
  • Grades K–8: Fruit–½ cup, vegetables–¾ cup, grains–1 ounce, proteins–1 ounce, dairy–1 cup.
  • Grades 9–12: Fruit–1 cup, vegetables–1 cup, grains–2 ounces, protein–2 ounces, dairy–1 cup.
The USDA ChooseMyPlate plan is a valuable resource to learn about the five food categories as well as specific recommendations by age groups. Learning not only which foods to eat, but also about variety and how much to eat, is vital to good health.

“Portion control is key to a balanced diet, and it’s a good tactic for kids to learn, too,” Sedivy adds. “If you need to know specific nutritional content for your child, check out the USDA FoodData Central. It has information on many foods, including packaged products.”

Count on Fresh Thyme for a bountiful variety of wholesome foods to fill bento boxes; then rest assured that your students have been provided healthful, nutritious, appetizing lunches.


As a caring parent who shops at Fresh Thyme, you are likely aware of which foods are most wholesome and nutritious. Because kids’ activities vary day to day, it’s good to know how to build lunches that will provide kids with balanced nutrition to fit specific days. The following four Bento Box suggestions from Fresh Thyme, categorized by age and activity, serves as a guide to pack student lunches. Because you know your kids, you’ll have a clue (and they’ll likely help) how to modify ingredients to suit them best. Foods and portions are based on ChooseMyPlate recommendations; nutritional information is from FoodData Central. Packing shelf-stable foods and an ice pack to keep foods chilled, makes the process simple and safe; and easy because no microwave oven is required for re-heating.

Everyday Bento

For ordinary school days—this balanced combination of foods satisfies appetites and provides excellent nutrition. This lunch is tailor-made for a typical 12-year-old 7th-grader.

Everyday Bento, Grades K–8
Fruit: ½ cup seedless grapes (cut in half, especially for kindergarteners) or 1 mandarin or ½ small apple (cored and sliced)
Vegetables: ½ cup broccoli florets + 3 baby carrots
Grains: 1 mini bagel
Proteins: 1 hard-cooked egg or 12 almonds or 1 tablespoon peanut butter
Dairy: 1 single-serve shelf-stable 1% milk (plain, chocolate, or strawberry) or 1 single-serve calcium-fortified soy milk

Game Day Bento

Designed for active days—such as football, volleyball, wrestling, or any competitive sport—this bento box packs extra protein along with a balanced assortment of carbs and fats to aid in energy and recovery. This protein-forward lunch will suit a 16-year-old 11th-grader who plans to compete in a swim meet after school.

Game Day Bento, Grades 9–12
Fruit: 1 cup chopped guava or 1 medium avocado or 1 kiwifruit + ½ cup blackberries (each about 4 g protein)
Vegetables: 1 cup sweet corn kernels or 1 cup green peas or 1 cup broccoli
Grains: ⅓ cup cooked quinoa or 1 medium piece cornbread
Proteins: 2 ounces lean cooked chicken or 2 ounces canned tuna, drained or 2 hard-cooked eggs or ¼ cup firm tofu + 12 almonds
Dairy: 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Test Day Bento

For top performance on finals and days that are essential to maintain focus, this lunch features “brain foods”. Composed for a 17-year-old 12th-grade Honors student in the midst of taking finals, this lunch provides ideal nutrition for cognitive concentration.

Test Day Bento, Grades 9–12
Fruit: 1 cup blueberries or ½ cup prunes + ½ small apple or 1 medium avocado
Vegetables: ½ cup red, black, or pinto beans or 1 cup broccoli
Grains: ½ cup cooked steel-cut oats + 5 whole-wheat crackers
Proteins: 2 ounces cooked salmon or 28 English walnut halves or 2 hard-boiled eggs or 12 almonds + 18 cashews
Dairy: 1 cup low-fat yogurt

Race Day Bento

With a goal for big boosts of energy, such as making it first across the finish line, this lunch is heavy on good carbs. This lunch ensures that a 10-year-old 5th-grader can count on that last burst of necessary speed.

Race Day Bento, Grades K–8
Fruit: ½ large banana or ½ cup diced cantaloupe or ½ cup diced pear
Vegetables: 8 baby carrots or 1 cup green peas or ½ cup sweet corn + ¼ cup green or red pepper
Grains: 1 biscuit or 1 slice whole-grain bread or 1 small muffin
Proteins: 1 sandwich slice of turkey or ½ ounce pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds or ¼ cup refried beans
Dairy: 1 single-serve shelf-stable 1% milk (plain, chocolate, or strawberry) or 1 single-serve calcium-fortified soy milk


Find all these foods and more at your local Fresh Thyme. “Feel free to include readymade options in your child’s bento box,” Sedivy notes. “Fresh Thyme is here to ensure that kids get the best health and nutrition possible to learn and remain active.