Bento: the basics by jen geigley

harry potter mario bento.JPG

If you've been following me on Instagram, you might already know the bento is back! This year I'm back to packing school lunches for my two kids (after a short hiatus.) And I'm having so much fun. Last week, I made these Harry Potter and Mario-themed lunches for their first day. And after I posted this pic on social media, I got a TON of questions!

So, I'd like to share my favorite, most-used bento supplies right here ... and a few things that I bought over the years and haven't used very often. Let's take a look.

(Disclaimer: The links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link. All opinions are my own.)


First up! Silicone baking cups. I use these for every single lunch I pack! They make perfect containers for fruits, veggies, small crackers, slices of cheese ... practically anything. And the flat silicone shapes are baran food dividers. I use these to divide a lunchbox section into two parts, especially if I have a wet food next to a dry food. (Find the cups here and here. Find the star/moon set here. Find the baran/dividers here.)


The most adorable and irresistible bento accessory in the world are these little plastic food picks. Use them to decorate sandwiches, fruits, cheese, veggies ... they are adorable and inexpensive and are so fun to use.  (Find these here.)


I bought a few new food picks to use this year because I couldn't help myself. Some of these are too 'cute' for my sixth grade daughter but my son is in first grade and is STOKED about these. (Find these and more here.)


Sandwich cutters! This pic does not show what these do very well at all, but basically the outer shape cuts an outline into the bread, like a cookie cutter. Then you take off the top shape and 'stamp' a more detailed, 3D image onto the top piece of your sandwich. I have used these a million times over the years for Lo's lunches. Tiny bunny sandwiches!


And that's why I bought one more set this year that was a little bit more boy-themed for my son. Pop a few of these little sandwiches into a lunch box and you're set! Sometimes these fit better inside bento boxes than a regular square sandwich too. (FInd them here.)


Here's a supply I bet you already have! I use cookie cutters and metal fruit/veggie cutters constantly. They are easy and fast and make your food look super cool. I use them to cut sandwiches, cucumbers, carrots, cheese, deli meat, fruit leather ... the possibilities are endless. (Find my favorite IKEA metal animal cookie cutters here.)


If you happen to have a hard-boiled egg lover in your house, egg shapers are extremely fun. I have one kid who loves eggs and one kid who won't touch them. (Of course!) These molds definitely work best on small to medium-sized eggs. If your eggs is too large, egg white will smush out the sides and your shape won't turn out very well. (Find these here.)


To use these, you just boil an egg like you would normally. Then peel it while it's still hot. (Not so hot that you burn your fingers, but you want it to be pretty warm.) Put the peeled egg inside the mold and clip the sides shut for about five minutes or so. I make about six at a time and store them in the fridge for a week. (Find Star Wars egg shapers here!)


I like to avoid using zip-lock bags if I can and these reusable snack bags are the perfect replacement. They aren't totally waterproof though, so they are best for sandwiches and crackers or other dry foods. I love throwing these in my purse, too. (Find the blue/orange set here and the Mario bags here.)


Hold me closer, tiny boxes! You can pretty much find these anywhere or just use your smallest kitchen containers with lids. I use these all the time when I want to throw in some extra carrots or grapes or strawberries ... sometimes it's nice to keep the wet things separate in a leak-proof container and these little guys do the trick. (Find tons of them here.)


Okay ... now on to my least-used supplies. (This part is kind of sad, because these boxes are ADORABLE and some of the first lunch boxes I ever bought.) Boxes like these are tricky for a few reasons. They are very shallow, can be more difficult to pack because foods have to stay very flat, and the sections have to be stacked perfectly to keep the food from falling out. (The sections of these boxes don't really snap together at all ... they just sit on top of each other.) These boxes come with a strap (which has been misplaced) but even that didn't always keep the three sections from falling apart. The cute top section is meant for silverware and is very shallow, so there's not a whole lot of space in the compartments below for kids with an appetite. BUT they are adorable, so if you love these, go for it! (You can find similar boxes here.)


Here's another adorable type of box! But beware of any boxes with these tiny clips on the sides. They break really easily.


Now THESE boxes have stood the test of time. They might be 6+ years old and still are probably my favorites. Sistema lunch boxes come in a ton of sizes and shapes, and they all have these awesome heavy-duty clips that keep the box sealed really nicely, but they are still easy for kids to open. I have never had one of these clips break. These boxes also hold a nice amount of food. (Find a huge selection of Sistema here.)


This super sweet random box is another favorite of mine! Again, it has the strong side clips (on all four sides.) And that blue divider inside slides back and forth so you can move it wherever you want, which is awesome. I love Star Wars and I love this box! (I'm not sure this box is available anymore, but there are similar ones here and here.)


More lunch boxes! This year, Cat and Jack for Target came out with bento boxes (yay) and lunch bags (double yay) and I have been LOVING them so far. These are the perfect size for elementary kids, have sturdy clips on all four sides of the lid and the boxes fit perfectly in their bags with enough room for ice packs and a juice box. The bags also have an outer sleeve to hold a water bottle. They are just fantastic.


Another fave of mine are these rad boxes from Bentology. If you really don't want your lunch to spill all over the place, these containers will do the job. (Sometimes I only use a couple of the lids, depending on what I'm packing.) I love these colors so much too. I got the raspberry/blue set and the night/pear set. So modern and cool. These also have a nice narrow space on the side for silverware or a napkin. These outer boxes can be a bit tricky for kids to open, but if you practice at home first they will get the hang of it.


These fit perfectly in the Bentology lunch bags, which I also love (and like the Cat and Jack bags, they too have a side compartment for a water bottle, which is so smart.) These boxes and bags are almost the same size as the Cat and Jack ones, so you could put a Bentology box inside a Cat and Jack lunch bag.


If you're wondering where I learned all of this, check out the book 'Everyday Bento' by my friend Wendy Copley of Wendolonia. I've followed her and her lunches online for years and everything I know I learned from her. (Get this book.) Another favorite? Bento USA. (But beware ... you'll want everything you see there. Don't say I didn't warn you.)


And there you have it – some of my favorite and most-used bento boxes and supplies that I have collected over the years. Do you need all this stuff? Absolutely not. You can totally start with what you have – all you really need is a knife, containers with with plastic lids, maybe a few cookies cutters and your imagination! Can't wait to share more throughout the school year – let me know if you have any questions!

(Want to see more? Read my other bento posts.)

Everyday Bento winner! by jen geigley

It's Monday and the sun is shining and it's time to choose a winner of the Everyday Bento giveaway. picked #26, which means Martha Bonneau is the lucky lady who will be receiving her own copy of this fantastic book!

Congrats, Martha! Please be sure to send me your contact info so I can pass it along to Wendy from Wendolonia. Thank you to everyone who took time to enter this awesome giveaway!

Everyday Bento + a giveaway! by jen geigley

A few years ago, I found myself trying to feed a picky toddler. Oh, what fun that is! My little girl was super choosy and in an attempt to help her branch out and try new foods, I turned to bento. I did the usual Googling (this was pre-Pinterest) and found lots of complex bento box ideas ... mostly containing foods she would be hesitant to try. Many of them were extremely detailed, with teeny tiny bits of egg yolk cut into intricate flowers and faces made out of single grains of rice. It looked fun, but yikes. And that was when I stumbled upon Wendolonia. Aha! Approachable, doable bento for people like me! Her ideas were adorable and creative. She had compiled lists of foods to try and supplies to buy. Magic. Every bento lunch I've made ever since has been inspired by Wendy. 

Through the magic of blogging and the internet, Wendy and I became long-distance pals and I was thrilled to find out that she was writing a book! It's available right now and it's called: Everyday Bento: 50 Cute and Yummy Lunches to Go. If you make lunches, you definitely need a copy. If you have picky eaters, you need this book. If you just like to play with food and make cool things for your kids, you should probably check it out as well. I'd love to share a little bit of what's inside, along with a few lunches I made last week that were inspired by this book. (If I can do it, you can too!)

Right off the bat, Wendy has included bento box basics, techniques, supplies and tools you may need. If you're a total bento rookie (or if you've been packing bento boxes for years) you are bound to learn a thing or two. There are lots of fun, tiny things to play with as you start to embark on your bento journey, and Wendy breaks it down for you with thorough descriptions and photos. Next are invaluable bento box idea lists and food ideas, grouped by color. She's really thought of everything. I often find myself getting stuck in a rut when I make school lunches, and this book is going to be such a handy resource when I go grocery shopping.

Wendy provides lots of step-by-step instructions with fantastic photos to help you make ordinary foods into something totally fun. She includes bento ideas for busy mornings, super fun themes for mornings that aren't as busy, seasonal and holiday bentos, and even bentos for adults.

All in all, there are 50 bento box ideas inside ... plus tips and ideas for so many more. You'll be inspired to create. Everyday Bento puts the fun back into packing lunches. I swear. The chore I used to dread has become something I daydream about and look forward to. My daughter loves opening her lunch box at school every day. (And ... she's not quite as picky anymore!)

Anyway, here are a few school lunch bentos I made for Lo last week.

All of these lunches were inspired by Everyday Bento!

Totally fun and totally doable. 

So. Would you like to win your own copy of Everyday Bento? I know you would.

To enter, just leave a comment below telling me how you'd use this book. (U.S./Canada only, please.) Do you have a picky preschooler? Are you stuck in a rut with your school-aged kid's lunches? Do you need some cool new ideas for lunches that you can pack for yourself for your work day? Really, any reason is a good reason to play with your food.

A winner will be chosen at random on Saturday, March 8th at 12:00 a.m. CST.

Thanks for reading and good luck! 

(P.S. If you'd like to see more of my blog posts about bento (and see pics of tiny Lotus) click here.)

egg shapes by jen geigley

School lunch days are coming up, which means back to bento! Over the summer, Lo has taken a liking to hard-boiled eggs. This is after she started begging for me to make eggs 'that are white with the yellow in the middle.' And I was like, 'Yes honey. Eggs are always white with yellow in the middle unless they're scrambled.' And I kept making fried eggs for her until she finally said, 'No, the kind we had at Easter.' Ahh! I was excited because I love having hard-boiled eggs on hand. And hard-boiled eggs give me a super good excuse to put my egg shapers to use.

If you're into the bento thing, you can find inexpensive egg shapers here. And if you've never given these a try or wondered how in the heck they actually work, the whole process is pretty easy. Just boil your eggs as you normally would, and then rinse them in a bit of cold water or put them in a bowl filled with cold water. Don't let them cool off completely, because you'll want to peel them while they're still hot. Peeling the shells off of hot eggs can be a bit painful, but it's not too bad.

So, yes. Peel the hot hard-boiled egg. Try to get the shell off while leaving the surface of the egg white as smooth as possible. And then place the egg (firmly) in the shaper and close it with the tabs.

Put the shaper in the freezer for a couple of minutes or until the plastic mold feels cool, and then pop your egg out. That's it.

Beware that if your egg isn't exactly the right size, you may end up with something like this. A bear with no ears. But no biggie – it's still pretty cute. Also, if your eggs are super big, you'll end up with a ring of smushed egg white around the little face, but you can just trim it off with a knife. I've been boiling six eggs at a time to keep in a covered bowl in the fridge and they're great at lunchtime, on a salad or for a snack. I'll definitely be boiling a few each week during the school year for Lo's lunches. Now that I've finally figured out which kind of eggs she wanted.  :)

** Want to read more bento posts? Click here to see my attempts at Phineas and Ferb/Hello Kitty bentos from last year, or here for all my other bento posts ... including some pics of teeny-tiny preschool Lo eating bentos on a plate. **

Lo's lunches by jen geigley

I haven't posted lunch/bento pics in awhile, but this is what they're looking like lately. I've been having fun carving jack o'lanterns, ghosts and bats out of slices of cheese. Isn't Halloween the best? Also, I've been loving Trader Joe's Cinnamon Schoolbook alphabet cookies to go along with Lo's letter of the week. She has been begging for apple slices each day (eeek, kind of in a rut with that) but I've been packing them in separate small containers to ensure that the lemon juice that I put on them doesn't make everything else soggy. I still need to do some work on convincing this kid to eat a bigger variety of foods, but we'll get there. (I'm honestly just happy that she's eating her lunches!)

my first Kindergarten bentos by jen geigley

This week Lo started Kindergarten, which means that this was my first week packing real, actual school lunches! She went to school four days this week and has been lucky to have a 'transitional' schedule (which means she starts off with shorter school days) so this was a good chance to test out my portions and packing skills. I decided to kind of go big this first week and make a Phineas and Ferb character each day. I definitely don't plan on doing these fancy lunches every single day, but I thought this first week was special so I went with it. However, I am telling Lo not to expect cartoon characters in her lunch every time. Although now I'm sure she does. Anyway! Above, we have Phineas: a sandwich, salami, two kinds of cheese, tiny fruit leather pieces for eyes, with crackers and a strawberry.
And Ferb! Again, a sandwich, two kinds of cheese, raisin eyes, cut-up fruit leather rolls, edamame and baby carrots.
This is supposed to be Isabella. (Whatcha do-in'?) I wasn't as happy with how she turned out, but whatever. Cheese, sandwich, fruit leather and a layer of carrots and Nilla wafers underneath that you can't see here.
And finally, Candace! She's my favorite. Her head is a quesadilla, with cheese for facial features and hair.  And edamame, crackers under her head, more cut-up fruit leather rolls and a strawberry. This was a ton of fun but I'm ready to move on to something different (and more basic) for next week. I also felt like I was repeating a lot of the same foods this week so my goal is to branch out more next time.

**If you want ideas for your own Phineas and Ferb lunches, check here and here.

7 days of bento on a plate by jen geigley

This past week, I've been practicing with my bento supplies. Little Lo starts Kindergarten in the fall, and I've been wanting to get faster at packing lunches. It's an acquired skill. No lunchboxes yet, but soon enough. So here we go again ... bento on a plate. (You can see more lunches like this here and check out the supplies I use here.)

fun with bento by jen geigley

Along with back-to-school time comes lunch time, and I love lunch time. Our kitchen is still in mid-demolition stage, but that has given me the chance to go through everything that was in our cabinets so I can sort and reorganize. Which reminded me that while I've posted some of my past bento-ish lunch plates in the past, I've never really shared what was in my bento stash. Like, the tools. If you're curious about bento, here are the supplies I've stocked up on.
First, the little things. In the upper left corner are some small ocean-themed cutters (for cheese or meat or what-have-you) and hotdog shapers. (I'll get to those in a minute.) In the upper right are various food picks. Lower left has tiny sauce/condiment containers, as does the lower right (with one more wiener shaper.)
If you've never seen hotdog shapers, this should tell you everything you need to know. They're the newest addition to my bento supplies, and Lo just recently started eating hotdogs so I can't wait to try them out. This pack has a crab, a fish and penguins. Super cool or kind of gross? I can't decide.  :)
Here we have some sandwich punches, egg shapers for hard-boiled eggs and baran sheets. (Which are little plastic-y dividers used to separate different foods in your box.) I ordered some of these new supplies last week with my pal Sarah from this website.
 Here are several food cups in various sizes, some given to me by my sweet friend Morgan!
I stocked up on some new silicone baran sheets and dividers, which you can wash and use over and over again, unlike the paper kind.
This is my most favorite Hello Kitty rice mold set with punches, also from my friend Morgan. My niece has dared me to make one of those really elaborate Hello Kitty bentos, like these. Umm, someday?
And finally, two new bento boxes – the first one is 3-tiered (the top tier is for silverware) and the second box has just one compartment. These are really inexpensive and so cute ... each one was only $3.50. I promise to share some lunches soon so you can see what can be made with these lovelies. In the meantime, you should definitely check out two of my favorite bento blogs ... Wendolonia and Adventures in Bentomaking. (Wendy at Wendolonia just did an awesome post about bento box basics/tools. Check it.)