Need some lunch box inspiration—and fast? Look no further than these four smart ideas. 

Bento Box lunch from Little Bento cookbook
Michele Oliviern
| Credit: Michele Olivier

We all have those times when we forget (read: are too tired) to prep a lunch the night before, our early morning workout runs late, or we "forget" to set our alarm and only get up when we hear the kids in the bathroom and it is way too quiet in there for anything good to be happening. At these times, we don't stand a chance of putting together a composed bento box lunch, but we can still dash off a quick, easy, and nutritious main meal. Here are my four go-to recipes for days like these. If you're pressed for time and have some fresh fruit or chopped veggies on hand, pair them with these mains and you've made a balanced meal in just 5 or 10 minutes.

1. Bits + Pieces Lunch

Here's what to do when you have absolutely nothing in your fridge. The inspiration is a delicious charcuterie platter with meats, cheese, bites of fruit, and maybe even some chocolate. The reality is you are just taking anything you have left in the kitchen and transforming it into a lunch. I love packing each item in a baby food purée container (since I have a million lying around), but you can use small jars or cupcake holders for each item.

Items that I have used include sliced lunch meat or salami, leftover chicken or beef, slices or hunks of any kind of cheese, edamame, red pepper slices, pomegranate seeds, grapes, blackberries, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, crackers, chocolate-covered raisins, and even granola.

2. Pancake + Jam Sandwich

I make double batches of pancakes on the weekends so I always have some in the freezer for easy morning breakfasts. This means that making a sweet pancake sandwich is a fun and fast way to turn breakfast into lunch. If you don't have homemade pancakes at your beck and call, you can easily use store-bought frozen pancakes or waffles—just make sure to toast or microwave them before assembling.

Spread 2 teaspoons cream cheese onto a 6-inch pancake and 1 teaspoon of your favorite jam on another pancake (roughly the same shape). Press the pancakes together to make a sandwich and serve whole or cut into wedges. You can also use a cookie cutter and cut it into your kid's favorite shape.

3. Graham Cracker + Blueberry Goat Cheese Sandwiches

Trader Joe's sells a blueberry goat cheese log I can't buy because my family will sit on the kitchen floor like a pack of wild animals and devour the entire thing in 5 minutes flat. It's that good. So instead, I make it one sandwich at a time. It helps with portion control and our dining manners.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine 2 tablespoons goat cheese (cream cheese or any other spreadable cheese will also work) and 1 tablespoon blueberry jam (or any other jam your kids like). Microwave for 10 seconds—just until the goat cheese is soft enough to spread. Mix the goat cheese and jam and spread the mixture onto two full graham cracker sheets. Top with two more graham cracker sheets and gently break them into eight pieces, following the graham cracker seams.

4. Banana + Peanut Butter Rollup With Cinnamon + Honey

Long name, simple recipe. I saw a cute recipe on Pinterest and knew I had to try it. It was good but needed a little something extra, so I added a pinch of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey to turn this into one of my girls' favorite rollups.

Spread 1 tablespoon peanut butter (or any nut or seed butter) over the entire surface of a medium or large tortilla. Make sure to spread all the way to the edges—this makes for a "glue" so the tortilla stays together when you roll it up. Sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and drizzle 2 teaspoons honey over the peanut butter. Peel a banana and place it in the middle of the tortilla. Tightly roll the tortilla around the banana. Cut into 1-inch-thick pinwheels.

Little Bento cookbook cover

Reprinted from LITTLE BENTO: 32 Irresistible Bento Box Lunches for Kids Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them by Michele Olivier. With permission of the publisher, Sonoma Press.

Michele Olivier is the author of Little Bento, a new cookbook with over 125 recipes for mains, sides, dips, snacks, and more. She is a mother of two and the voice behind the popular blog Baby FoodE