Essential equipment and supplies for making bento lunches

This is a list of kitchen equipment that I find useful in prepping my bento lunches as fast and as efficiently as possible. This is not about bento accessories such as cute picks and sauce bottles, which are nice to have but not essential.

For information about how to select a bento box that’s right for you, see Selecting the right bento lunch box.

Basic cooking equipment

  • Two small non-stick frying pans
  • One large (28cm diameter or about 11 inches) non-stick frying pan
  • One or two small to mid-size saucepans

I use the small frying pans for quick frying, sautéing, and more. I use the large frying pan for boiling and steaming tasks as well as sautéing.

  • An electric water kettle

How many minutes do you waste waiting for a pot of water to come to a boil? An electric water kettle does this essential task in the shortest time possible. One of the first things I do when making bento in the morning is to fill up my electric kettle and switch it on. If you are in the market for one, get the largest capacity model you can find.

  • A cast iron grill pan

A grill pan is one of the best ways to quickly cook a piece of fish or meat, but it can be used for vegetables, tofu and more too. (I actually use a Le Creuset grill pan, which is enamel coated on the outside and uncoated on the inside.)

  • Salad spinner

Use a salad spinner to wash all the leafy vegetables you get and try to get into the habit of washing them as soon as you get them home. If you can’t manage that, at least try to wash them the night before you need them.

  • Rice cooker with timer function

A rice cooker is the best tool for cooking white rice. The ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ convenience of a rice cooker with a timer function just can’t be beat. Many modern rice cookers can handle brown rice as well as white rice, and can cook other kinds of whole grains as well. People even make soups and breads in a rice cooker! See Answering some rice cooker questions for more.

  • Pressure cooker

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, or interested in introducing more whole grains and pulses (dried beans and legumes) to your diet, a pressure cooker is a must. A pressure cooker is great for brown rice, whole grains that need longer cooking (like barley), and dried beans. Dried beans are so much cheaper and better tasting than canned, and cook up in a short time in a pressure cooker. I often make a batch of beans, portion them and freeze them. See Pressure Cooker Love.

The rest of the items should be self-explanatory.

  • Plastic zip bags
  • Bowls and plates for laying out ingredients
  • Sharp knives (a general purpose chopping knife and a small peeling knife)
  • Microwave safe plastic wrap (saran wrap)
  • Sealable, freezer safe glass or plastic containers for storing bits and pieces of food

Three tools that make cutting tasks easier

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Vegetable slicer or mandoline. I use a cheap “cassette” type from Japan, rather than my big, scary French mandoline, especially in the morning when I’m not too sharp but the mandoline blade is.

cassettegrater.jpg

  • A Microplane grater. I use this when I need to grate something because it’s dead easy to clean up. It’s the perfect tool for finely grating ginger, or zest, or something (not that I grate zest that much when I’m making bento.)
  • Food processor - if you’re in the market for a new one, try to get one that has a small ‘baby food’ bowl in addition to the regular big bowl. You’ll use the small bowl a lot more for small chopping tasks.

For packing bento boxes:

  • Long chopsticks (saibashi)

Saibashi are long, uncoated chopsticks (usually made of bamboo) meant for cooking. Often they are attached together with a string, which I just cut off. They are great for mixing things up, stir-frying, and so on, as well as for putting food in the bento box. 2 or 3 pairs (or 4 to 6 individual) saibashi held together act sort of like a whisk for rapidly stirring things, but are much easier to clean. Regular chopsticks will do fine too, though be careful not to use the lacquered kind in hot pans.

And finally, a couple of larger appliances that are nice to have:

  • microwave oven
  • toaster oven - A conventional oven takes far long to heat up, but a toaster oven is up in a jiffy.

Cute bento accessories are nice to have, but not essential

Essential bento making equipment to me is not about cute little egg formers or colorful plastic picks. It’s about tools that make bento assembly fast and easy. Using egg formers and the like is optional, not mandatory. There are several reviews of bento boxes and accessories on this site however - see the equipment and supplies category, as well as the kyaraben category for decorative bento supplies and ideas.

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Cast Iron Grill Pan

I understand that cast iron crockery needs extra care and therefore requires oiling after use. A cast iron grill pan is suggested above. Do you have time in the morning to cook, wash and oil it or do you leave it and wash/oil it at night?

Tks JK

grill pan

JK, I actually use a Le Creuset grill pan, which is made of cast iron and enamelled on the outside and left uncoated on the inside. I just wash it off and rinse and leave to dry on the dish rack, and I’ve never had any problems with it - I don’t oil it or anything like that, and it stays quite stick-resistant and has no rust spots on it or anything. You do bring up a great point about cleaning up after making bento! I should write about that :)

Cast iron

I use a cast iron pan all the time, and very rarely season (oil) it. Maybe a couple of times a year, unless I burn something, or leave it soaking for some reason. It’s really not as high maintenance as many people think!

cast iron

I agree, cast iron, once seasoned, is quite low maintenance provided it’s kept dry between uses. And even if it get a little rust spot it can be removed easily and re-seasoned. (the one thing that tend to get rust spots is a wok, but that’s easily de-rusted and re-seasoned; however I don’t use a wok for bentos and just stick to non-stick frying/sauté pans.)

What a great site!

My fellow blogging Mums have started a bento craze and as my toddler will start preschool soon, I wonder if I should do the same.

I like your practical approach to making bentos - will be back again when I make up my mind on whether to begin this or not. Sorry, I’m not an arts-and-crafts person and thus detest fiddling with little bits and pieces…

Your bento boxes look so appealing and healthful. Keep it up!

Spices/sauces needed?

This is a great list for what kind of hardware you need, but what about the 'software' - staple spices, sauces, mixes and things that would go -into- the food for the bento? Is there another post on this site that would include such items??
Thanks!
Jett

Re: Spices/sauces needed?

I don't have a list of bento ingredients per se, but I do have a list of Japanese ingredients. I guess one adapted just for bento making would be handy to have...(puts it on the to-do list).

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

I am moved by your website. It came right up when I googled bento recipes. Hooray for brown rice, and hooray for cooking healthy with lots of veggies. I am reading a Japanese Manga Comicbook that frequently shows cute bento lunches. And I want to see ideas for making my own. Thank you for your website. =)

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

I am looking to buy the heated bento box like they used in Japanese Beef Bowl Rice, where you just pull the string and 1 minute later, the meal is warmed up and ready to serve as a hot meal.
Please advice.
Thank you

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

That type of box is a disposable product meant for commercial use, and I have no idea where you might get them, since this site is about homemade bentos. Good luck with your search.

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

I just love my Le Creuset grill pan, even though i find it heavy to handle, it's weight stops it moving around the stove top. It also retains the heat fantastically well, the downside to this, the handle gets REALLY hot.

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

This is such a comprehensive list of equipment and supplies for making Bentos.
I really love Bentos and I think I should try making one myself.
Thank you for your post.

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

First off, I LOVE the idea on your book cover with the little heart divider! So cute!

I know that the kids in my extended family are getting more into healthy, international foods from the influences at school, so this is definitely a viable option for us.

Re: Essential equipment and supplies for making bento ...

This is great! I really find these bento lunch box to be really useful for my kids lunch during school days. I am so glad and grateful you shared this here in your site.

Re:bento class

Hi, I a keen to learn...hope I can afford the time ;p thk u for sharing and teaching! U r great!

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