Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Building the American Bento (Part 2)

on August 19, 2012

Click here for Part 1.

Last time, we covered “What is a bento?” as well as food containers. Today, we’ll continue our journey starting with the smaller “snack” container.

Assorted Collection

This is a small sample of my current collection of food containers.
No making fun of my cute stuff!

Of course, there’s always the small zip-bag, but where’s the fun in that? You can use smaller storage containers, flip-top lid containers, even cute cartoon character containers. Both Cheerios and Goldfish come to mind for shaped, branded containers. I also repurpose various containers. Tomato and lemon savers become snack containers. Those little snack cups full of mini cookies? Washed and label removed, they become snack cups full of nuts, trail mix, whatever. The round, red-lidded containers above are from KFC. (They’re meant to be reusable!) Also, don’t forget to check out the baby product section. There are lots of small containers and other things that can be used.

Then, there are sauce containers. Often, I use things like BBQ & Ranch cups as well as ketchup and soy sauce packets from restaurants. However, sometimes you need a sauce holder for dip, mayo, dressings, etc. or you run out of those packets.  Here’s where it gets tricky. The Japanese love their sauce containers, but American companies aren’t as quite up to the task of offering small containers for sauces/food.

Small containers

Just some of my sauce containers.

What do I do? Repurpose. Pill containers, empty candy packs, even (empty) travel lotion jars get converted for sauce use. That carrot? It was from Easter and originally had nasty powdered candy in it. The bunny was an Easter egg.


For a child’s lunch, call them “mini cups”.

Don’t need a lid? then consider plastic shot glasses (also known as mini party cups) or silicone baking cups. If your town has a restaurant supply store, look for the disposable sauce cups that come with/without lids.

Accessories: Food dividers, skewers, straws, etc. Technically, sauce cups go here.

The Japanese can sometimes get a bit zealous about their food separation. Restaurant bento boxes have compartments for strict food segregation. Homemade lunches can use food cups, foil, and separators called baran. What is baran? If you’ve ever seen those little fake grass bits in a sushi container, that’s baran. The purpose is twofold.  It is decorative and also separates flavors. (That wad of wasabi stays on one side while your sushi stays on the other.)


From grass and leaves to cute characters, there are many different pre-cut styles available.

Sometimes food separation is necessary: pickled foods versus fresh, sauced items vs. unsauced, sweet vs. savory. Other than saving those little bits of plastic grass or ordering some dividers off the web, there are options. Like I mentioned before, foil works as a good divider. Paper and silicone cups also work. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage can also be used. Any kind of thin, food safe plastic or silicone can be cut to be used as a food divider.


Colorful food picks and forks.


Along with food separation comes keeping it from rolling around. Skewers/food picks are great for berries, grapes, tomatoes, anything that could roll around in your lunch box. Small grilled meat skewers are also a possibility. Toothpicks are the easy choice here, but cocktail/party picks are a fun and colorful way to skewer your food. They can even help you share. Also consider those little party flags that usually go in cupcakes.

Don’t forget a straw for your drink, salt or pepper packets (they can be made from straws), and the eating utensils.

There are neat types of forks/knives out there, but metal or disposable will do, depending on your preference.


The boxed lunch collection is almost complete!

(The next section is longer than expected, so it gets an installment all to itself.)

Next Time: Bags, cloth wrappers and napkins/washcloth.


One response to “Building the American Bento (Part 2)

  1. Mmmm… bento!! *happy sigh*

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