I told you everything I know about bento boxes a few days ago. Today I want to talk about the equipment you’ll need to make your lunches fun and creative. I think that you can make beautiful bento boxes without investing in a lot of “stuff” by packing lunches with beautifully colored fresh fruits and vegetables and arranging food attractively, but there’s no denying that all of the tools and accessories for bento are a big part of the fun. I love my bento stuff and sometimes I just sit and gaze fondly at it.
…Anyway, here is an overview of the equipment I use most often.
If you want to make your bento lunches look cute, the most valuable tool you can invest in is…a knife!
Yes — I know it’s boring. A regular old kitchen knife is not cute in any way.
But, but, but…it can do almost anything! I use my knives to cut food into bite-sized pieces, chop fruit, dice cheese, and slice vegetables into matchsticks. I’ve even hand-cut a Batman logo out of tofu with one! You can go a long way with a humble knife.
Cookie and Sandwich Cutters
Cookie cutters are another simple and inexpensive tool you can use to cute-ify your lunches. They’re available everywhere and you probably have at least a few tucked away in a drawer somewhere. I have an embarrassingly large collection of cutters (just a few are pictured above) but I find that I reach for the basic shapes — circles and stars — most often. I’m also very fond of my set of mini Noah’s Ark cutters and my Star Wars cutters. I use them to cut bread, cheese, deli meat, tofu, fruit leather and thin slices of fruits and vegetables.
There are many examples of lunches made with cookie cutters in the Bento Box Gallery.
Cups, Boxes and Containers
Cups, boxes or small containers appear in nearly every bento box I pack.
My favorite type of containers — no contest — are silicone baking cups. I bought a set of 12 in the first few weeks after I started making bentos and I’ve used them for practically every lunch I’ve packed since then. They’re great for separating dry items from juicy ones and for corralling small foods like peas or berries. They also add a nice spot of color to make your lunch prettier! I’ve tried using regular paper cupcake wrappers in the past, but I found they didn’t hold up very well, so I don’t recommend them.
Tiny boxes that fit inside your bento boxes can be hard to get your hands on, but I like to use them to add catsup, salsa and dips to lunches. The little monkey boxes are particular favorites. The bananas at the bottom are attached to a little spreader and I often fill them with butter or jam to spread on bread.
If you find yourself in a store that sells bento supplies, you may be tempted to buy some cute little bottles like the ones pictured at the bottom of the photo above (the pink bunny, the bear and the lion). I urge you to think twice before you buy them though. I’ve had mine for about four years now and I’ve used them three times — once for lemon juice and twice for soy sauce. If you eat lemon juice and soy sauce a lot, go crazy! But otherwise you might want to consider carefully.
Egg and Rice Molds
Egg and rice molds are another item that are fun, but they only get moderate use in my kitchen. One of my kids likes rice balls (called onigiri in Japanese), but the other doesn’t so I only use mine occasionally. Hard boiled egg molds are some of my favorite tools, but both my kids are iffy on them so I don’t use those as often as I’d like either.
Last, but certainly not least are various tools that can be used to bring extra fun to lunches. These are the big guns of creative lunch packing!
- Food Markers — Food markers are filled with food-safe ink and are great for writing or drawing on various parts of your lunches. I use mine most often to write notes or draw pictures on bread and crackers and to add details to tofu cut-outs. I use Foodoodler brand food markers but I’ve heard other brands work well too. To see some lunches decorated with food markers, check out the food marker tag in the Bento Box Gallery.
- Sauce pens — fill these giant pencil-looking thingies with catsup, soy sauce or jelly to draw details on your food with…uh…other kinds of food. I don’t use these very often because I prefer food markers, but they work OK.
- Punches — Punches are most often used to cut shapes out of nori (sushi wrappers). I typically add the punches to rice balls, but you can put them on pretty much anything you want. You can buy dedicated “bento” punches like the face punches pictured above, or you can use regular paper punches that you find at craft stores.
- Food dividers (called baran in Japanese) — Most people are familiar with baran or food dividers in the form of the green plastic grass that comes with take-out sushi, but you can buy baran decorated with all kinds of themes and illustrations. Slip some into a bento box to separate foods whose flavors don’t work together or just to add a pop of color.
- Lunch box notes — Lunch box notes aren’t really a bento-specific item, but they’re definitely a fun addition to kids’ lunches. Buy some pre-printed notes, download and print some or just write a message on any piece of paper and slip it in the lunch box.
- Decorative picks — Decorative picks are cute and functional! Thread chunks of fruit, veggies, meat or cheese onto them for an appealing presentation, or use them as mini-forks. You can buy some of the gazillion different picks designed specifically for bentos, or keep an eye out for
“cupcake” picks (often packaged with cupcake liners) particularly around the holidays. One thing to note: use common sense and don’t give these to kids who might use them to poke their neighbor at the lunch table.
- Jbox.com carries a good selection of bento accessories at prices that range from a few dollars for picks to $20+ dollars for stuff having to do with Hello Kitty.
- All Things For Sale — Lots of bento accessories at reasonable prices. I haven’t ordered from them myself, but I’ve heard good things.
- Amazon.com has a fair selection of bento box accessories, but it’s a bit hard to find stuff unless you know exactly what to search for.
- Daiso Japan is my favorite place to buy bento supplies because they are economical and of fairly high quality for the money. Daiso does not offer individual online orders, but you can make by-the-case, wholesale orders.
- Craft and cooking stores — I find a lot of my bento accessories in the cooking sections of stores like Michael’s, Joann Fabric, and Target. Keep an eye out and you never know what will turn up.