Bento lunches find their roots in Japanese cuisine. They are commonly found not only as take-out meals from restaurants or convenience stores but are also very common homemade lunches by mothers and wives. I even know some fathers/husbands that make bento meals for their loved ones.
Bento a typical bento contains rice, a protein source (meat or tofu), and either a pickled or cook vegetable.
The "box" in a bento box is an important component. The box should be small and compact. When I received my first bento box I was sure my daughter would starve to death if took up this style of lunch making. Our smallest box measures just under 6" long and about 2 3/4" tall.
This is a two compartment box with each compartment being just about 1 1/4 deep and the top compartment has a sealed lid. I love this box for the complete multicultural aspect - it is an authentic Japanese box, with Russian stacking dolls on it, used to feed my Chinese daughter. But you can see it is small. However even using this small box you will find you are able to pack plenty of food for a typical child.
You can purchase a real bento box from many on-line retailers and on e-bay. They do tend to be more expensive than typical American style lunch boxes but bargains can be found. If you don't want to invest in an authentic style bento box a small compact plastic container (made by Glad or Rubbermaid) will work well also.
Bento can be very elaborately decorated in the kyaraben style - kyaraben is generally designed to look like Japanese cartoon characters, comic book characters or even characters from video games - or as in this lunch:
American cartoon characters. Another popular style is "oekakiben" or bentos decorated to look like people, animals, flowers, plants or even buildings.
Many countries share the bento style of composed lunches, Philippines (Baon), Korea (Dosirak), Taiwan (Biandang), India (Tiffin). Also, bento box lunches are hugely popular in Hawaii after over a century of Japanese influence.