Bento 101

Tutorial: Bento 101

Bento 101 - A Step by Step Photo Tutorial with no fancy tools or gadgets.  Cool!

 I will start by clarifying that I don’t do Traditional Japanese Bento. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and a pickled or cooked vegetable. What I do is what is often referred to as Western Bento or American Bento. It follows the same ‘spirit’ of the traditional bento, but with something of a ‘western’ spin.

In the US, or at least the parts I grew up in, packed lunches often separate food into individual packaging or baggies. Here I put together a Worst Case Scenario of a Packed School Lunch.

Worst Case ScenarioLook familiar?

The basic idea of the Bento is very simple. Food in a Box.

As far as what kind of food you put in is still entirely up to you. Personally, I try to divide the contents of my meals in quarters. I like to have: 1 Protein, 1 Carbohydrate, 1 Fruit, and 1 vegetable. This is a guideline of course, not a rule. But it works for me most the time. For this tutorial I’ll be making a peanut butter & jelly sandwich with carrot sticks, dressing, wheat crackers, grapes, and a bit of cheese to try to sneak in a little more protein and calcium.

You don’t need fancy cutters, picks, and other doo-dahs. And truth be told, all the extras are TOYS. Yup, Toys for Mom! There, I said it. I love my Toys, and I have plenty, but you don’t need them. They are not required. And this tutorial will demonstrate how it can be done.

In this example, I use a typical food storage box, a pair of scissors, butter knife, kitchen knife, small cup and a cutting board. Things you probably already have in your home.

So lets get started…


I lined my box with two pieces of lettuce. This is mostly for decorative reasons, but my son did eat some of the ‘salad’. I think the leafy green really pulls the look together in the end.
Make your favorite sandwich. PB&J, bologna… whatever floats your boat.
Cut the sandwich into ‘sticks’. This makes it easier to pack in the box, and adds the ‘fun’ without using any fancy cutters. Crust is optional. Mommy likes the crust. I call it my Mommy Tax.
Stack them in the corner like so. Putting the edges up uses the space better and makes it ‘pretty’.
Grab a hunk of carrot. I cut off a length approximately the same height as the box. Cut the carrot into sticks.
Place the sticks in the corner of the box standing on their ends. Again, this is a good use of space and is pretty at the same time.
Take a small cup and add your dressing. I used a recycled medicine cup (well washed of course). This could also be a cap from a can of shaving cream or bottle of hairspray. Take the cap before you use the product, or wash it out thoroughly with hot soapy water. Look around your house. Think outside the box. (so to speak) If you intend for the box to travel, you’ll want a cup that seals.  Alternatively you can cover it with plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band.
Place the cup of dressing in the box and surround it with wheat crackers. Hide the broken ones underneath and turn imperfect sides down so they don’t show.
Fill the remaining space with grapes. Whenever possible, I like to use fruit that I don’t need to cut. They stay fresh, and the juice doesn’t travel to the surrounding food. Good examples are grapes and berries.
Grab a slice of cheese and your scissors.
Freehand a fun shape. Hearts, triangles, strips. Save the scraps for salads and cooking. Place the cheese on top for a last decorative touch.

And there you have it. An adorable bento without any fancy tools. Enjoy!

Bento 101 - A Step by Step Photo Tutorial with no fancy tools or gadgets.  Cool!

  1. Thanks for this. Cute idea. I’m always out of lunch box ideas by the 3rd month of school. Now if you could just come up with a way to actually get them to eat the carrots!

    • Thanks Wendy. I had fun doing it. I love my toys, but I wanted to make sure beginners know they don’t need toys to make great bentos for their kids.

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