Step 2: Assemble hardware
The first thing you need is a bento box. This will influence your portions, your shapes, and even what types of food you use. There are several types. Cute shapes like the bullet train and Pandapple boxes are most popular for kids. Tiered boxes, like the shamrock bento, are more often used for adult lunches. Lock & Lock boxes are fantastic for two reasons. One, they come with individual removable dividers. And two, they lock completely air tight. I've recently started seeing Fit & Fresh brand in stores. The orange one pictured below has a separate ice ring you can freeze as well as a folding spoon. If you want to get started right away and don't have any of these types of boxes there you can also use a standard container. The actual shape of your box will have a lot to do with the final design of your box but we'll talk about that in the design step.
Cupcake forms and dividers are very handy when keeping flavors from mingling. Mini forms fit well in bentos. There are also silicone forms out now that are great if you have something really wet or messy (like spaghetti). The most common divider is the green plastic grass but there are lots of other specialty designs.
Regular shrimp forks are small in size, easy to find in stores, and fit in many boxes. Many colors, shapes, and sizes of specialty forks designed especially for bento boxes are available. Skewers or toothpicks can be cut to size and decorated should you be so inclined. A nice pair of chopsticks will round off your bento set. I like the ones that come with a matching box.
Many of the fancy patterns you see in bentos are made with some form of cutter. A cutter can be a cookie cutter, craft punch, or craft blade. I think I use my craft blade more than any other bento tool! Cutters are especially handy for cutting nori (seaweed/sushi paper), vegetables, or sliced tofu/meat. Who doesn't want little carrot stars on their salad?
Probably one of the more difficult specialty items to substitute for is a sauce bottle. Barring proper bottling, you can also put sauce into a ziplock bag (towards one corner) and secure the sauce with a rubber band. This would be something like a pastry frosting bag only very small. At lunch you can clip the tip off and squeeze the sauce out. I have also folded tinfoil into a little cup shape. If you go that route just be sure you use it for a thicker substance (like peanut butter) rather than something liquidy (like soy sauce) as it will probably leak.
Once you have your supplies together you're ready for some serious bento making!