Research suggests that 80 percent of Americans buy lunch at least once a week, while more than 40 percent buy lunch three or more times a week. But all of this spending adds up. One report by Visa, released in 2021, suggested that Americans spend more than $2,746 each on lunch annually. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a tasty meal out. But if you’re looking for ways to make a more budget-friendly packed lunch more exciting, a bento box might be the answer.

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What is a bento box?

A bento box is a Japanese-style meal container that consists of several compartments, each of which holds a different portion of food. The centuries-old invention, which dates back to the 1100s, is still popular throughout Japan and usually consists of rice or noodles in one section, protein in another, and vegetables in another. 

“Each food type is organized neatly into the box, typically using small dividers or cups to separate each food or ingredient, especially those with strong flavors, to avoid them mixing or affecting the taste of the overall meal,” explains cooking brand Enso.

They can be made from a wide variety of materials, including bamboo, aluminum, and plastic. They often have between one and four compartments, and some have extra room for dipping sauces, dressings, and utensils, too.

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RELATED: 35 Tofu Recipes: From Sushi to Caprese to Meaty Vegan Chicken

What goes inside a bento box?

Japanese bento boxes often contain foods like rice, noodles, tofu, meat, pickled vegetables, cooked vegetables, sushi, and salads. But as they increase in popularity in the US, many consumers are choosing to fill them with lunchtime favorites like pasta, wraps, sandwiches, burrito bowls, and even sweet treats like brownies and cookies.

They are incredibly customizable, so when it comes to filling up your bento box, you can be as creative as you like. In Japan, some people even enjoy making character bentos, known as kyaraben, which contain recipes inspired by characters from video games, anime, and manga comics. Another type, ekakiben, is modeled after a picture or a scene.

8 vegan recipes for your bento box lunch

If you want to create a delicious, vegan-friendly bento box that will be the envy of the office, we’re here to help. Below, we’ve compiled eight delicious, vegan bento-friendly recipe options.

VegNews.BhajiWrapsKaty Beskow

1 Vegan Spiced Bhaji Naan Wraps With Mango Chutney

These spiced naan wraps can be easily adapted for a bento box, just pack each element separately to maintain freshness. Place the pillowy naan in one compartment, the spiced onion bhajis in another, and the minty yogurt and mango chutney in smaller containers or compartments.
Get the recipe

VegNews.RainbowRollsLianna Tarantin

2 Vegan Rainbow Wraps With Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce

If you pre-roll these deliciously wholesome and vegetable-packed wraps at home, they will take up just one section of your bento box, leaving your other compartments free for noodles, rice, and sweet treats.
Get the recipe

Screen Shot 2023-06-26 at 9.06.22 AMKylie Perrotti

3 Vegan Summer Nectarine and Chickpea Salad

This juicy salad—which features a delightful blend of juicy nectarines, tomatoes, creamy chickpeas, and a kick of jalapeño heat—is the perfect tasty and nutritious lunchtime treat.
Get the recipe

VegNews.StickyOrangeTofuPatricia Granek

4 Vegan Sticky Orange Sesame Tofu

This flavor-packed tofu is a great bento box choice. Pack the tofu in one compartment, and leave the others free for cooked rice or noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and maybe an extra helping of sauce.
Get the recipe

VegNews.PinkSushiSpork Foods

5 Pink Rice Sushi Roll With Creamy Ginger-Tamari Sauce

These pink rice sushi rolls are the perfect choice for a Japanese-inspired bento box. Pop the sushi rolls on one side and the creamy ginger-tamari sauce on another for a delicious lunchtime treat.
Get the recipe

VegNews.MexiBowl

6 Vegan Mexican-Style Black Bean Bowl

To maintain freshness, place the corn, tomatoes, black beans, romaine lettuce, red bell pepper, scallion, and pumpkin seeds in a separate bento box compartment to the creamy dressing and base of brown rice or quinoa.
Get the recipe

Screenshot 2022-04-29 110415Micah Siva

7 Vegan Copycat Starbucks Chickpea Protein Bites

These crispy, plant-based air fryer bites are perfect in wraps, salads, or as a satisfying standalone snack. Pack them in your bento box with complementary ingredients like guacamole, hummus, crudites, or roasted nuts.
Get the recipe

VegNews.MatchaChocolateVegan Chocolate Treats

8 Vegan Matcha Chocolate Coconut Balls

Load up your bento box with fruit slices, nuts, vegan yogurt, and these delicious, energy-packed, sweet chocolate balls for the ultimate lunchtime indulgence.
Get the recipe

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