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Meal Prep Bento Recipes Ideas: 3 Dollar Bento Challenge

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    These 3 easy and budget-friendly meal prep ideas for bento prove that eating healthy can be delicious and fun! A little prep work on Sunday will set you up to eat healthier, save money, and reduce your stress through the week.

    meal prep recipe ideas for bento box lunch for school and work

    Many of us including myself struggle to prepare our children’s lunch. We want them to eat healthy homemade lunch at school, but how do we do that when our morning is hectic as it is?

    A few hours on meal prepping for bento lunch box on a Sunday might be a solution to consider. Today I’ll show you an example of meal prepping and how I pack 3 days of bento using the ingredients I meal prep on a Sunday morning. As a bonus, I made it a challenge to make each bento box under $3.

    How to Meal Prep Bento: $3 Bento Challenge

    These 3 easy and budget-friendly meal prep ideas for bento prove that eating healthy can be delicious and fun! A little prep work on Sunday will set you up to eat healthier, save money, and reduce your stress through the week.


    Plan Your Bento Schedule

    Before the week start, plan your bento schedule and visualize what each bento should look like. If you’re new to bento making, you can even draw the bento box and write down each dish or ingredients in the section of bento. Eventually, you’ll be able to do this process in your head.

    Planning ahead will help you check on the colors of ingredients so your bento won’t look dull with all the same color. It also helps cut down on frequent trips to grocery stores and save money by using the same ingredients for each bento.

    Here’s my plan:

    • Saturday – Shopping Day
    • Sunday – the Meal Prep Day
    • Monday – Bento #1: Karaage Bento
    • Tuesday – Sandwich Day
    • Wednesday – Bento #2: Soboro Bento
    • Thursday – Sandwich Day
    • Friday – Bento #3: Onigirazu Bento

    3 easy bento boxes filled with delicious meals for your meal prep

    On Sandwich Day, you can make your children’s favorite sandwiches (my kids love grilled cheese sandwich). I have some sandwich recipes here:

    3 easy bento boxes filled with delicious meals.

    Sunday – The Meal Prep Day

    This is the most important day. I set aside 2-3 hours for meal prepping as you will need to make several dishes at the same time.

    For the meal prep recipes and ideas I share on Just One Cookbook, I make sure they have a minimal/simplified ingredient list and cooking process (but it doesn’t mean less tasty!).

    Here is the list of dishes I need for the week:

    Other food to prepare:

    • Wash vegetables (carrot, snow peas, spinach, green leaf lettuce, cherry tomato)
    • Blanch snow peas
    • Cook steamed rice (and freeze individual portions)

    A Quick Breakdown of The Meal Prep Process

    In general, I prepare EVERYTHING ahead of time, and this means the food that keeps well in the refrigerator. I cook and wash everything, and place each dish or ingredient in an airtight container (I use this brand) and put in the refrigerator. I even cook rice ahead of time and freeze the individual portions of the rice in a container.

    In the morning of the day I pack bento, I reheat everything and let cool before I pack each dish into the bento box (Please read my Food Safety Tips for Bento).

    Japanese meal prep in the fridge.

    To get everything ready in the most efficient way, I first separate my tasks into working stations and then tackle the tasks that require marinating/cooking or take the longest first, and I work backward from there.

    *If you prefer to go through the process based on steps instead of working stations, please re-arrange the list I provided below to work best for you.

    Washing Stations

    1. Rinse rice and soak for 20 minutes << Step 1
    2. Wash carrot, lettuce, tomatoes, snow peas, and spinach << Step 2

    Cutting Stations

    1. Cut carrots into julienned pieces << Step 4
    2. Cut spinach after blanching << Step 9
    3. Cut chicken before marinating << Step 12

    Cooking Stations

    1. Bring water to boil and boil eggs << Step 3
    2. Cook rice in rice cooker or over stovetop << Step 6
    3. Bring water to boil and blanch snow peas << Step 7
    4. Blanch spinach << Step 8
    5. Cook ground chicken for Soboro << Step 16
    6. Cook scrambled eggs << Step 17
    7. Deep (shallow) fry the Karaage << Step 18

    Work Stations

    1. Make the Ajitsuke Tamago marinade and marinate eggs << Step 5
    2. Make the Carrot Salad marinade and mix with julienned carrots << Step 10
    3. Make the Spinach Namul marinade and mix with blanched spinach << Step 11
    4. Make the Karaage marinade and marinate the chicken for 30 minutes << Step 13
    5. Measure the seasonings for Soboro << Step 14
    6. Measure the seasonings for scrambled eggs and beat eggs << Step 15
    7. Make the tuna salad << Step 19

    3 easy bento boxes filled with delicious meals.

    Meal Prep Check List (9 containers)

    Pack each dish and ingredients in a separate container and refrigerate/freeze. << Step 20

    • Ajitsuke Tamago (Ramen Egg)
    • Grated Carrot Salad
    • Spinach Namul (Korean Spinach Side Dish)
    • Chicken Karaage
    • Chicken Soboro
    • Scrambled Egg
    • Tuna Salad
    • Washed vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, blanched snow peas)
    • Steamed rice (How to Store Rice in the Freezer)

    3 easy bento boxes filled with delicious meals.

    Monday – Karaage Bento (#1) = $2.32

    You will need the following item to pack in Karaage Bento:

    1. Rice ($.30)
    2. Sesame seeds ($0.02)
    3. Lettuce ($.10)
    4. Chicken Karaage ($1)
    5. Grated Carrot Salad ($.10)
    6. Spinach Namul (Korean Spinach Side Dish) ($.12)
    7. Ramen Egg ($.30)
    8. Cherry tomato ($.13)
    9. Blanched snow peas ($.25)

    Wednesday – Soboro Bento (#2) = $2.50

    You will need the following item to pack in Soboro Bento:

    1. Rice ($.30)
    2. Chicken Soboro ($1)
    3. Scrambled egg ($.30)
    4. Blanched snow peas ($.75)
    5. Red pickled ginger ($.15)

    Friday – Onigirazu Bento (#3) = $2.20

    Onigirazu (おにぎらず) is a rice sandwich that has been popular for the past decade in Japan. Similar to rice balls, it consists of rice, nori seaweed, and filling. The only difference is that you can stuff more fillings in Onigirazu. Here are 3 kinds of Onigirazu I packed in the bento lunch box on Friday.

    For each onigirazu, you will need a half sheet of nori seaweed, rice, and lettuce.

    1. Karaage Onigirazu ($.85)
      • Grated Carrot Salad
      • Spinach Namul (Korean Spinach Side Dish)
      • Chicken Karaage
    2. Soboro Onigirazu ($.65)
    3. Tuna Onigirazu ($.70)
      • Tuna salad (a mixture of drained canned tuna, Japanese mayonnaise, salt, and pepper)

    To learn how to make Onigirazu, please watch the video above or check out one of the following onigirazu posts for detail instructions. If you like the idea of Onigirazu, here are other onigirazu recipes you can try on Just One Cookbook.

    I hope this meal prep plan is helpful to you. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer you.

    More Recipes for Japanese Meal Prep (Jobisai 常備菜):

    3 easy bento boxes filled with delicious meals.

    Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.

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