AP5 A Japanese Lunch Box

A lunch box in Japan is called a bento. It is divided into little sections for different parts of the meal. A traditional bento includes a healthy lunch of rice, cooked fish or meat, vegetables, pickles, and fruit.

Usually the mother packs the children’s bento with leftovers from the last night’s dinner. Some mothers are very creative. They arrange the food to look like flowers, dolls, animals and other objects. That makes them fun to eat. Many working adults also bring their lunch to work in bento boxes.

Imagine you are a child in Japan. Draw a picture of what you might find in your bento.

What foods did you put in the bento?

Lesson Plan: A Japanese Lunch Box

Target Grade: 2

Standards of Learning

Oral Language 2.2

Social Science 2.5


Students learn that bento, Japanese lunchboxes, are packed with healthy foods that mothers arrange in artistic ways. The students draw Japanese foods inside a drawing of a bento. They also draw pictures of a lunch they typically pack in their American lunchbox.

Essential Question

How is the food we eat a reflection of our culture?


  • Students will learn that there are cultural differences in the foods we eat.
  • They will compare and contrast lunch foods in Japan and the United States.
  • They will appreciate the Japanese aesthetic, which extends to the artistic arrangement of food in a child’s lunchbox.
  • They will compare healthy lunch foods and “junk” food.


  • 45 minutes

  • Classroom activity

  • Individual work


  • Picture books that compare food ways in Japan and the United States (see Resources below)

  • Unlined paper

  • Crayons or colored pencils


Find examples of Japanese children’s bento online and save for overhead projection.

Photocopy A Japanese Lunchbox (AP #4) for each student.


  1. Pass out the unlined paper. Ask children to open their lunchboxes and draw and label what is inside. (Those who did not bring lunch can draw what is usually inside.)

  2. Discuss the differences in the lunchbox contents. Are some lunches vegetarian, others meat? What kinds of breads do children eat? Does anyone have food that is “different,” for example, spicy noodles or a bagel? Where did these foods come from?

  3. Read aloud Yoko by Rosemary Wells or another picture book story that compares the food ways of people living in Japan and the United States. Discuss the inherent message of the book—that “different” is interesting and good, and helps us to appreciate another culture.

  4. Project images of Japanese children’s lunchboxes, called bento. Help the children identify the different foods. They may realize that these foods are often leftovers from dinner. Help them also observe how the foods are often artistically placed inside the bento by Japanese mothers to make them more appealing to eat.

  5. Pass out copies of A Japanese Lunchbox. Have children draw and label pictures of Japanese lunch foods inside the little compartments of the bento.

  6. Compare the contents of the Japanese bento and the children’s own lunchboxes. What do they have in common? For example, do they both include something with protein, something starchy, something sweet? What is different? Do Japanese children have a “main dish,” or many small dishes?

  7. Discuss what is healthy and what is not inside both kinds of lunchboxes.


Student illustrations should reveal differences in the contents of a traditional American lunchbox and a

traditional Japanese bento.


  • Older children can research differences in the foods that are served and the manner in which they are eaten in Japan and the U.S., or more broadly, in East Asian and Western countries. Younger children can focus on utensils (or lack of them) that people use to eat in different countries around the world.

  • Provide menus from Japanese and American restaurants. Have the children design a menu for a Japanese-American restaurant. Or invite children to design menus for a restaurant reflecting cultural meals eaten at home by their own families.

  • Younger children can create foods made out of play dough and arrange them on the paper bento. Older students can construct a cardboard bento for their sculpted sushi.

  • Have a food festival. Ask families to send in foods they eat that come from different places in the world, and let children sample foods from these other cultures.


Picture books and links about food in Japan:

Grades K-2: Yoko by Rosemary Wells

Grades K-2: The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima

Grades K-2: Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley

(also by this author: Everybody Serves Soup and Everybody Brings Noodles)

Grades 2-3: How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

Grades 3-5: Tea with Milk by Allen Say


This link brings you to pages about bento on the Kids Web Japan site. There is a virtual bento box in which kids can arrange items by clicking and dragging them into the bento.

Printable forms of these documents: AP5 A Japanese Lunch Box and Lesson Plan: A Japanese Lunch Box

Tea in a Box© 2007, Washington and Lee University