conceptual tea 5:10am, 27 February 2007
I was thinking that it can be overwhelming for people new to bento (or just on a budget) to get into or maintain this hobby. So what are your best budget bento tips?

Here are a few of mine:
1) Use inexpensive ingredients: Eggs, tuna, rice, carrots, lettuce, apples, grapes, etc... You don't need to use exotic items to make a pretty bento.
2) Look around craft stores or even dollar stores! I found a dragon fly paper punch at the dollar store which would cost WAY more if I bought it as a "nori punch".
3) Bento are small - learn to only buy what you need. I actually have saved money on food because I just don't eat as much.
OMBF / Obiwan Bento 15 years ago
4) Start with leftovers (this assumes you like your own cooking).
5) You don't have to learn Japanese cooking unless you feel like it.
6) Remember, this is supposed to be fun!
Rainy_andrew 15 years ago
Anybody have any ideas on what to use for sauces if you don't have sauce containers???
KJF916 15 years ago
The .98 Cent Store is your friend. Both for interesting little snacks and crackers and cookies, and plastic ware, little bento cups, straws, clips, picks, etc. I find the most interesting little things here, usually never to be seen again. Resist the temptation to overbuy, as you suggest. You want every cute or mini or solo portion size thing you can find, and if you can't use it in 5 days worth of lunches, try to put it on the list for "next time."
amanky 15 years ago
also, being in a dorm... it's easy to nab all the extra little sauce packets from take-out, the cafeteria, etc. (when I was living poorly, and among many other students in the same boat, we did this often/always... even squirting the tiny ketchup packets into our bigger container!)

most sauce containers don't need to be kept cold, unless you prefer it that way, so you can simply stuff 'em in a drawer, throw them into your empty bento, or create a box/baggie for them. (you'ld be surprised how quickly they add up if you are dilligent!)
cchen7 15 years ago
Some fast food places have DIY ketchup/condiment stations and usually provide little plastic tubs w/ lids. Whenever I see that I grab a handful to squirrel away for bentos.

Otherwise I'll just pour the sauce/any liquid into a fold-over sandwich bag, tie it off ,and cut off any extra plastic. Not really pretty, but it'll do in a pinch.
Lovelyliza 15 years ago
Small travel bottles for shampoo/pills/etc that they sell at drugstores (and beauty supply stores) can be used as sauce containers.
KJF916 15 years ago
Visit your grocery store salad bar for "gap fillers." Load up your salad to go container with bits and pieces of all sorts of "firm and hard" things which hold up for a few days: Bocolli florets, olives, tomatoes. You may not want to buy a whole head of everything you may use to stuff a bento, particularly if you're only using one or two florets at the most. Skip the lettuce and things which wilt quickly, and let your salad bar do your chopping for you.
ysetiawa 15 years ago
O amanky.. you remind me of my old days too :) i know exactly what you mean. the cafetaria lady often gave me evil eyes when she saw me grabbing tiny ketchup packets.. hehehe..
keri_dvm Posted 15 years ago. Edited by keri_dvm (member) 15 years ago
I think I originally found this page from a link on, but here it is:
a way to make single serving packets from drinking straws. They show it with powdered spices, but it could probably work for liquids too.

KateFord: I love the salad bar idea! I often forgo certain veggies because I don't think I can use the whole head or whatever before it goes bad. Thanks!
OMBF / Obiwan Bento Posted 15 years ago. Edited by OMBF / Obiwan Bento (member) 15 years ago
Rubbermaid makes several storage containers that will do for respectably grown-up-looking bento. They're cheap and come in packages of two or three. They're also much closer to being watertight than real bento are.

Any Asian grocery will have cute-looking chopsticks, if you want to do that. If you don't mind paying a couple dollars a pair, try Everything Chopsticks.

keri_dvm, I'm not sure the straw trick would work for thin liquids like soy sauce, but it might do for pastes like ketchup, maybe.
FrenchBento 15 years ago
sauce containers/ small containers
think baby food! and re-use the containers... baby sections in stores can have interesting things to use for bento. i always check them out.
wash you facial cream containers?
asian take-outs usually sell individual plastic sauce containers. keep them and re-use them...
Sakurako Kitsa 15 years ago
I have a lot of success with pretty picks (like the rabbit ones on my last bento) at party supply stores like Factory Card Outlet or PartyAmerica. There are usually corresponding picks for every theme they have. These are usually around $1-2 a pack, much less expensive than ebay.
Rainy_andrew 15 years ago
Thanks for all those sauce cup ideas!!!

Budget wise, when I made my sisters bento set for christmas, I did all my shopping at the Dollar Store. I got a box of like 100 cute tooth picks, along with a basket for bento stuff storage. I also got this set of Little Mermaid stamps, figuring they'd be great for making designs on food with food coloring.
Dollar stores and such work great for finding DIY bento stuff.
Morgaine Swann Posted 15 years ago. Edited by Morgaine Swann (member) 15 years ago
Those containers that the mini m&ms come in can hold everything from thick sauces to a filled syringe for a diabetic.

I love the idea of using the salad bar at the store to get small quantities of ingredients!

If you look in some drugstores you can find small containers with screw tops intended to hold cosmetics. Some of them are as small as a pan of eyeshadow. Check areas where they have travel sizes, make up and hair accessories. You'd be surprised at the variety you can find if you look consistently for a few months.
Along the line of drugstore containers, has a large selection of plastic and glass bottles and jars from one dram vials to gallon jugs. I use their 2 oz and 4 oz glass jars around the kitchen when I'm playing with new spice mix recipes and stuff. Picked up various sizes of plastic stuff on the last order. No minimum order, they'll sell you one bottle if that's what you want. I always seem to find all kinds of stuff that I have no current need for but just have to buy one or two of just in case. I'm currently eying those little glass sauce bottles as an alternative to the plastic ones I got off ebay.
FrenchBento 15 years ago
the simplest way is to look around your house, and in every store you go to, and see stuff through a benyo-user filter: as a member osted (sorry, forgot who), a soap-dish can be used as a snack conatiner, or this other member who bougth chewing-gum in little bunny conatainers....
another used chopsticks bound together as an egg-shaper... how clever!
all it takes, is training your imagination and your eye. Use everthing!
OMBF / Obiwan Bento 15 years ago
moniki, the first two ideas you cited came from me - I'm so flattered that you remembered :)

And Rei Rei taught us how to make "flower eggs" with chopsticks and rubber bands.
ibii 15 years ago

I love my dollar store so much, haha.. especially being a college student and all! Stuff I've been able to find/use in bento at my local Dollar Tree store:

- sauce containers (12-pk of 2.5" squares)
- "tupperware" containers for use as "bento boxes" (3-pk of 850ml, 3-pk of 710ml, 2-pk of 946ml, 2-pk of 920ml)
- 120-pk multi-color heart toothpicks
- 8-pk candy-shaped candle toothpicks

Dollar store love ♥ !
bentobsessed 15 years ago
More Dollar Tree items to look for!! Candy isle - the little fruit shaped bottles of flavored powdered candy are just right for salad dressing and the shapes are colorful and cute in your box. Also found some lip gloss in small clear apple shapes with little leaves on top. Great for salt and pepper or small amounts of wasabi.
ficbot 15 years ago
My all-time fav bento trick is to use the plastic eggs from kinder eggs for sauces and dressings. They are watertight, washable, resuseable and can be had for $1 plus you get the chocolate and toy too :)
pinwyl 15 years ago
Thank you Conceptual Tea for starting this thread. I've found all these tips helpful. I'm on a very tight budget myself. The salad bar idea is great, Kate but none of the grocery stores in my town have one. I am, however, fortunate that I live near a few farms and have a great and cheap selection of produce. If you live in an area that has produce stands give them a look-see. I can buy very small quantiies like a handfull of beans or one or two strawberries for much less than my local grocery store without getting harrased for breaking apart the prepackaged food.
masaku_88 11 years ago
Hello! I am extremely new to bento, but as far as sauce containers go I'm all set : )

I used an empty tic-tac container after peeling off the wrapper it's an intresting shape and it didn't leak when I tested it with water.

I emptied a small travel size bottle of A1 sauce my grandmother in-law gave me which are complimentary at hotels and such, so if you know someone who travels ask them to pick a few up, because they come in very handy.

Now this one you have to clean VERY thoroghly. I went to bath & body works during their christmas sale and ended up buying those pocket sized hand sanitizers for $5 for 5, and they have a lid with a squeeze top, which is perfect for any thick sauces you may have, just be certain you soak it or you may get a tummy ache.....

As for the bento box itself I raided my mother in laws collection of barely used tupperware and found one with a divider and one rectangular one which was to my liking, so u may actually have things like this lying around without even realizing!

Cupcake papers are also a good way to divide food and add color in a cheap manner...

Thats all I have for now if I come up with anything else I'll post it.
roomy shop [deleted] 11 years ago
The newest and most innovative bento box is the two level The New Generation Lunch Box by BrightBin. It can be used on its own like a lunch box (comes with a handle) or it can fit right into a child's (or adult's) favorite existing insulated lunch bag to replace plastic bags and small food storage containers. It is one unit, no lids to get lost or mismatched. The top level is a sandwich/entree compartment that is somewhat "leak-resistant" and the bottom level has three divided compartments. It is super cute, totally "green", a huge money and time saver... and it is totally non-toxic free of BPA, phthalates, lead, and PVC. Check out You will love it!
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