Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

Welcome to Week 1 of the 5 week Getting Started Bento Challenge! If you’re new to the site, see the overall objectives of this Challenge.

The Challenge officially commences on Monday January 12th (Joining in later is fine too - just catch up where you can!)


Before we kick off Week 1, here’s a quick outline of this and upcoming Challenge weeks.

  • Each week, we’ll be focusing on a particular aspect of making tasty, healthy and cost conscious bento lunches as efficiently as possible.
  • There will be three task and goal levels: Basic, Going Deeper, and Weight Loss. Basic is what you should try to do at a minimum. Going Deeper is for people who are very motivated and want to take on more. Finally, Weight Loss is specifically for people who want to use the Challenge to kick start, or enhance, a weight loss plan.

So, on to Week 1!

Week 1 Focus: Getting Organized

My aim is to make most of my everyday bentos in under 30 minutes, with under 20 being ideal. While there are a lot of things we can do to make this happen, I’ve found that the most important aspect is to be organized. This means the following:

  • Planning my bento lunches ahead. The difference in time spent when I know what I’m going to make for my bento when I get going on it in the morning vs. when I don’t have a clue is pretty big. Besides, I can’t think too clearly early in the day, so I really waste time waffling around between the freezer, refrigerator and the pantry, trying to come up with something. More often than not I’d get too discouraged by my indecision and decide to forget about making a bento altogether.
  • Have the equipment and supplies ready to go. A well run restaurant, not to mention an efficient chef, always practices mise en place a term that means having the tools of their trade and the ingredients at hand before starting to cook. That’s how these restaurants can manage to make dishes on order in such a short time.

    Here’s a photo of a recent mise en place I did, with bento boxes for The Guy and me, a small pan and a small frying pan. (I also use an electric water pot, but that’s always out on the counter anyway.)


This may sound rather complicated, but it really isn’t once it becomes a habit. It only takes me about 10-15 minutes to roughly plan my bentos for the upcoming week. And getting the equipment ready only takes a couple of minutes, once you know what you need.

Your tasks and goals for this week

Reminder: The week stars on Monday/Tuesday.

Whatever level you decide to tackle, you should do the following:

  • Photo. At lunchtime, take a photo of your bento, and upload it either to flickr (and add to the Just Bento pool) or to your preferred photo hosting service. A record of your first bento steps!
  • Report. At the end of the week, report back here in the dedicated forum and tell us how it went for you. (Or link to your blog post with your report.)


  • Make one bento. If you’re just starting out, aim to make at least one bento this week. Yep, just one - we’re starting out slow and easy. If you don’t have a bento box yet, just use a nice plastic container with a tight fitting lid. We won’t even quibble about the contents for this week. Your aim is to just do it!
  • Mise en Place. The night before every day that you plan to make bento, make your supplies ready. Have your bento box out with your eating utensils, plus the pots and pans you’ll need. In addition, if possible have the food item you’ll either be cooking or just packing into your bento box at the front of your refrigerator, freezer or pantry shelf so that you can just grab them.

Going deeper

In addition to the Basic tasks:

  • Pre-plan. Plan out your bentos for the week. You can use the simple Weekly Bento Planner, or the more comprehensive Weekly Menu Planner, or whatever works for you. Try to plan for bentos with at least 1 protein, 1 vegetable and 1 non-sweet carb. (For people who tackle this level, it will be interesting to compare what you planned to make and what you actually ended up doing. It will help you pinpoint any problems.)

Weight Loss

If one of your goals for this Challenge is losing weight, consider these additional tasks:

  • Figure out how many calories you really need. There are several studies that show that eating too few calories can actually sabotage weight loss efforts. So you want to make sure that your daily calorie goal is appropriate to your height, current weight and activity level. There are lots of online tools where you can figure this out. Here is one I like.
  • Measure your bento box’s (or boxes’) capacity in mililiters (ml). As a general rule of thumb, if you pack a bento box tightly, the capacity in ml gives you the capacity in calories. You may not always have a tightly packed bento though, so you may want to have a bigger one for loose food like salads. In any case, it’s good to know just how much your bento boxes can hold.

    For this task you’ll need a measuring cup with ml markings for maximum accuracy. Take out your bento box. Fill each up with water, and empty out that water into the measuring cup. Read the ml. amount, and write it down somewhere. If you don’t have a ml. measuring cup, you can use regular U.S. measuring cups; 1 cup is 236 ml. It won’t be as accurate but you’ll get a general idea. (You may want to read Easy Diet Bento Rules if you haven’t already.)
  • Move? This is not strictly bento related, but this is a good time to start or re-start a good exercise program.

(And of course, before starting any kind of weight loss plan check with your doctor or other trusted medical professional, especially if you have an existing medical condition.)

So, to sum up:

Basic: Mise en place, at least 1 bento, photo, report.

Going Deeper: Pre-plan, mise en place, 1 more bento than you’re making now, photo, report.

Weight Loss: Caloric needs, measure bento, pre-plan, mise en place, 1 more bento, photo, report.

Just tackle the level you feel capable of. And I’ll see you at the end of week! (I’ll be around during the week too, doing the challenge along with you and hanging out of course.)

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Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

You can also use a scale to determine the ml capacity of your bento box. 1 ml of water = 1 gram, so just stick your bento box on the scale use the tare feature (weigh the bento box separately and subtract that from the total, if your scale doesn't do tare weights) and fill it with water and your weight in grams is your ml capacity.

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

That's a good point! Thanks Philip!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

Thanks for all of your guidance Maki! I can't wait to really start making bentos for my husband and me. I'm a stay at home mom but I think making a bento for myself will give me the structure I need!
I don't mean to sound like an advertisement (sorry if mentioning a specific product is a no no), but lock and lock containers give a milliliter measurement right on the bottom of the container. They have some that are a really nice size for bentos, too. Thanks again for all of your efforts!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1


I am really excited for this challenge. I am looking forward to using your weekly meal planner with the bento lunch portions. However for someone like me who has been doing bento for quite some time would you be able to add a calorie box/ insert in each meal plus the end of the day total? I love the weekly planner but this addition might help those who are taking the next step! THANKS

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

Hi Maki, I don't know how to download photos in flick. Can you help me? (mac user)


Sure! There are two ways I do it. First is good for uploading single photos.

Just go to your flickr page. (By the way, you can switch the user language - there's a row of links at the bottom with different languages) Select the You tab at top and you'll see Upload Photos. The next page should be self-explanatory.
The direct link to the Upload page is here.

Do you use iPhoto? If so - here is what you do to upload a lot of photos at once: download a tool called Flickr Uploadr (it's free). Once you have it set up, you can drag photos from iPhoto directly into the Flickr Uploader window. There you can tag and describe them en masse or individually, and so on, and when you are done just upload! Very easy.

You can also email your photos to Flickr, though I never do this. See here.

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

I am so excited for this challenge!! I just finished making my first bento and it was sooo much fun!! I'm using that awesome weekly meal planner you made and its so easy!!

Thanks for organizing this awesome challenge Maki!! <3

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

I am so excited for this challenge!! I just finished making my first bento and it was sooo much fun!! I'm using that awesome weekly meal planner you made and its so easy!!

Thanks for organizing this awesome challenge Maki!! <3

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

I'm usually a 'silent' reader of this wonderful website but I'd like to join the bento challenge and take it as an occasion to be a little bit less shy :-) (but I have to figure out how to use flickr!!) thank you so much!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

Thank you Maki for the explaination, I now have to do it... No EXCUSE!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

Not going to join the challenge because I'm in the early stages of pregnancy (yup morning sickness) but just wanted to say that the running onigiri is adorable!!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

I'm in! Kind of late but I just got my tamagoyaki pan in the mail. Can't wait to cook tomorrow. I'm trying to loose some of the pounds I gained in college (I just graduated). I was on bento hiatus for a while so it'll be like starting from scratch for me.

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

I am so excited for this challenge!, Thanks for very good information.

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

I am very excited about starting the "Bento Challenge". I am actually going to plan out my bento for tomorrow... and possibly for this week, right away!

Re: Get Started Bento Challenge: Week 1

When is the next Bento Challenge.....

Best - Mike

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