Budget Bento

Have you been thinking about making bento lunches but aren't sure it will fit into your budget? Well guess what? You don't need to spend a lot! You might not even need to spend any more than you are already spending on lunches - in fact you'll likely end up spending less if you are currently buying things like Lunchables or single serving packages of snacks! Here are some examples:

Your containers don't need to be "bento" containers - anything with a good seal will do! And even if it doesn't have a good seal, you can use a large rubber band or hair elastic around it to keep it closed, a lot of authentic bento boxes use elastic straps for that purpose. It doesn't need to have sections either, you can make your own dividers.

Rubber band bento strap, foil muffin cup divider

Check your cupboards - you may already have some suitable containers. Do you have any Tupperware, Glad or Ziploc containers, plastic sandwich boxes, divided baby dishes with covers, or single serving plastic baby food containers? Many of those would be great for making bento lunches.

And look in your fridge - I've seen several brands of lunch meats being sold in reusable plastic containers that would work perfectly for bento lunches. The containers are sturdy, seal well, and are microwaveable and top rack dishwasher safe. I reuse the ones our lunch meats come in for Sailor Boy's lunches. If the containers don't make it home, I'm not out anything. If you're going to be buying lunch meat anyways, why not reuse the containers rather than just recycle them!

Deli meat containers = bento boxes

Divided sections are handy, but not necessary. In fact, not having sections gives you a lot of flexibility :) You may already have things you could use for dividers - silicone baking cups, take out condiment containers, little baby food dishes ... you can even use some foods as dividers between 2 others - string cheese, a wall of crackers, melba toast ... you get the picture.

String cheese & paper muffin cups as dividers

Your kids will love their bento lunches even without embellishments. But they ARE fun to do, especially if you have a theme for the day. You don't need to buy special stamps or cutters though - look in the baking drawer, and your kids' art supplies! Cookie cutters, Jell-o Jigglers molds, Play-doh stamps and accessories, swizzle stick skewers... you could even try cutting out little paper embellishments ... there are a lot of ways to decorate your bentos without spending any money - use your imagination!

Play-doh cutters and mini Play-doh tub = cheese shapes and dip cup

Ice cube trays = rice molds

One thing I've noticed about bento,  is there doesn't really seem to be a strict set of rules to follow... so you're free to think outside the box!


  1. Christina2/20/2012

    i totally love this. maybe i will try it. and feel less like a horrible mom! LOL

  2. I totally agree with you! I can't wait til my daughter get to kindergarten so I can start jazzing up lunches and my blog as well. I love the way you're sending your bentos to school. Awesome!!

  3. We have a huge bin of neglected playdough tools... I am DEFINITELY going to raid that tonight! Thanks for the great idea! :)

  4. Great ideas, thanks for sharing your budget tips!

  5. Anonymous4/23/2012

    I love this great for on the go moms or stay at homes make everyones lunch night b4even mine

  6. Amkelly744/23/2012

    Excited to use these ideas for my picky 2 yr old starting preschool in a couple weeks, especially the play-do cut outs ;).

  7. Some really fun and great tips here!

  8. Anonymous8/15/2012

    Thank you for these ideas. I just found out that my kindergartener will be eating lunches at school, so now I don't have to run out to buy new containers!

  9. Thank you so much for the tips. My little girl started Kindergarten last week and I needed lunch ideas and these bento boxes seem to be the best idea ever.

  10. Anonymous1/31/2013

    I have been using your idea of cupcake liners in regular containers. (I got two free sandwich boxes from a facebook offer by Rudy's) It's like a lunchable, but I control the indredients. And, the cupcake holders are the perfect size for little appetites. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous5/03/2013

    Some easy ideas:
    - Cute stickers and decals are a great way to spruce up the exterior of a plain container. Let your child decorate it!
    - Use inexpensive elastic bands from the fabric store (cut to size), and sew on cute buttons to make an elastic box strap that will hold two containers together.

    Daiso, if you have one in your area, is the Japanese dollar store equivalent. They sell cute plastic bento box sets for $1.50.

  12. Anonymous6/05/2013

    OMG - using a mini play-doh tub for a dip container is brilliant! That's the one thing I've been really struggling with, cuz none of my sealable containers fit in what I have! Thank you! That right there was worth the price of admission.

  13. I'm glad you posted this. I adore making bento and hate the idea that people think it has to be expensive. You are so right that cheap containers of somewhere between 500-700ml in capacity work very well. I make lots of bento in the flat Gladware containers and am pleased with how they come out.

    One thing I do suggest is a set of very small cookie cutters to make stars or hearts or other shapes from carrot rounds and things like that. It can spice up something boring looking without any real trouble. I know King Arthur Flour sells a great set and I think you can order it online, but you'd have to look. I know they were less than five bucks.

  14. Great Ideas! Thanks.


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