I decided long ago I was not going to be one of those people that let my kids eat the cafeteria food. It's salty, greasy, and bland. I've been sending them to school with a packed lunch since they started going. Yay, me. I love bentos. I don't love the cost and time that goes into them. So after a while, I stopped. Shame on me :(
Well, I'm back at home with more time than I care to. So I started cooking, baking, making again. AND I'm back in the bento mode. Only now I have limited funds. I'm forced to think outside the box. Now days we're all recycling, repurposing, reusing, upcycling, reducing or whatever other term being used for being greener. So why spend a mini fortune on bento supplies if you don't need to or can't afford to? I read an article on Pinterest about saving money on bento supplies by using stuff you already have. (once I find it again, I'll properly credit the author) I also saw the tutorial on http://www.aboyandhislunch.com/ where +Beth Winfield showed step by step how to make your own bento picks! KAWAII! Then my wheels started turning and I had to jot down my thoughts.
WAIT FOR IT. If you wait for end of season or end of holiday clearance you can get some of the cutest things to top your picks for 50-80% off! Valentines was two days ago. I scored the cupcake wraps with the food picks for 40 cents! The stretchy heart frogs were 48 cents and the hopper frogs were also 48 cents. The picks with the cupcake wrappers are plastic so I'll be able to remove the paper and add something more permanent later. Total spent $1.36. I paid $3.99 for just 8 of the cupcake wraps few years ago. (sucking teeth)
BENT OUT OF SHAPE. Many people posted about using pancake, egg, and cake molds to shape the food. Some people even used cookie cutters. DUH! Why didn't I think of that? Again, I overpaid for rice molds that vaguely resemble bears. (face palm) Well, I'm glad to say I've redeemed myself. I own a Cricut machine. It occurred to me I could cut out a stencil and use a fresh exacto blade to shape food like cucumbers, cheese, and meats. GENIUS! Not to mention I have some of those pancake molds and they've been sitting in a drawer since our move because I got tired of the mix sticking on Darth Vader's eyes. Perfect for rice or sandwiches, ne! I also found these little gel clings for 50% off. It's a sweet little message for the children when they open their lunches or if you just want to do a furikake dusting with some sort of design in it.
PACKING IT ALL IN. Like many I have tons of plastic storage containers so I didn't bother buying specialty bento boxes. We also collect and reuse the plastic food containers from our favorite Chinese restaurant. I splurged on their lunchboxes for three reasons. 1-Insulation. 2-Almost guaranteed no one else in their class is running around with the same ThirtyOne insulated bag so I know it'll come home. 3-The bag is large enough to hold all their foodstuffs. But you don't have to go that route. I frequent local thrift stores often. I always see insulated lunch bags, thermoses, and plastic containers. Soak it all in vinegar, wash in hot soapy water, and *VOILA* you'll probably spend more on groceries for bento than its packaging. :)
I'm grateful to have stumbled upon those two articles and receiving my epiphany early enough in the year. St. Patrick's Day and Easter are both on the horizon. Beware, Leprechauns, duckies, and bunnies. Licensed Transformers, Hello Kitty and Spongebob with an Easter kick. I'm hunting you next for my DIY bento projects.