Recessionista Bento Love

How to do bento on the cheap…

Recessionista = someone who turns the necessity or desire to be frugal into something cool.

There are ways to make bento highly economical for you and your finances (thus potentially freeing up funds to purchase totally adorable new bento goodies!).  Here are some that I’ve found:

Just make them.  Just the act of making a lunch for yourself or a loved one to enjoy will save money over purchasing one or skipping lunch and potentially DEVOURING ALL THE THINGS when you get home after a day of suffering the hungries.  I usually make bentos the night before I need them, when I’m in the kitchen making dinner.  I’m already in the kitchen, so for me, that’s when it makes sense for my routine.  If making one every day seems like too much initially, aim for one day a week of bentoing.  I promise you, you’ll enjoy it and want to make more.

Grains are your friend.  Using rice, pasta, bread, or quinoa as the basis for a bento will generally prove economical.  Think pasta salad, a sandwich, or a grain either in the small tier (plain rice or fried, quinoa salad, couscous) as the basis for building some epic noms.  For further recessionista fun, consider buying grains in big bags – if you have a few at a time on the go (and seal the container between openings), you’ll finish up the bag long before they start to lose their freshness.

Any old box will do.  Can’t believe I said it.  My husband’s favourite box is just a locking-style box.  It’s about 700mL in capacity, has no cute characters on it, no separate compartments/lids/dividers.  It’s boring.  But he loves it.  It cost me about $8.00.  Use your creativity and look around: I saw some lovely (colourful, sturdy, good height) Tupperware boxes discounted to $6.00 at a Farmers Market – would be perfect for bento.  $6.00 too steep?  Dollar stores also have plainer boxes, however, they may not last as long (and who knows what’s in the plastic?).  I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I have a margarine tub (for the purpose of making vegan cupcakes) that is rather pleasingly sized.  Cost?  Free, once the intended contents are eaten!

Use the veggies and fruits that are in the fridge already.  I know, there are so many bento blogs out there, making vegetables look so awesomely cute!  I have fallen into the trap of buying something because I saw it on a bento blog and had to make it.  However, there is something esthetic about all fresh foods, so try and use what’s around rather than making purchases specially for bento.

Grains really are your friend Pantry staples are awesome.  Further to what’s in the fridge, use what’s in your cupboards.  See a recipe that uses kidney beans, but you only have black beans on hand?  Chances are, you can make smart substitutions.  Red quinoa is awesome when it’s on sale, but the regular stuff will do… just maybe not as colourful.

Leftovers rule! I often use leftovers as the basis for tasty lunches.  I’m conflicted on this, as I sometimes have a hard time eating the same food on consecutive days (at least I’m being honest), but I usually find that compensating by dressing up the leftovers into something new or by including tasty side dishes helps with this (plain rice into fried rice, curry into curried noodles…).  Using leftovers can ensure that a balanced dinner turns into a balanced lunch with really no difficulty whatsoever.  If you’re like me, and bento while making dinner, it’s as easy as placing cooked and cooled goodness into your bento after you eat.  Simple.  Cheap.  Awesome.

Treat yourself to a food item that will encourage you to make bentos.  It’s okay to buy something you enjoy specifically for the purpose of making bentos, even after you consider the cost of it.  See my first point: just by making a lunch over purchasing one, you’re saving money.  My three or four trips per year to Vancouver give me an opportunity to ever-so-slowly browse Asian supermarkets and pick up all sorts of goodies!

You should probably read this, too, especially for his fresh approach to bentoing.  I was lucky enough to find this blog early on in my bento days, so have been able to incorporate the ideas: http://freakintastybento.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/bento-for-cheap-bastards/

Revised March 2013: http://www.katesshortandsweets.com/2013/04/eating-well-without-spending-fortune.html

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