Sick of your giant lunch box or bringing tons of separate containers to work for lunch? A bento box can make your lunch break more enjoyable and efficient! These Japanese-style food containers offer a way to separate your meal into compartments without having to bring a ton of Tupperware to work (and if you can't stand the thought of foods touching each other, we see you, and we hear you). They're also a great way to practice portion control!
There are a lot for sale online, but how can you tell if they're for kids or grown-ups? How can you find one that's appropriate for your adult life? Whether you want a typical Japanese lunch box, something for last night's leftovers, or one for soup or salads, we've found your perfect bento box. We even found one just for sandwiches, too! Check out our 10 list and buying guide reviewed by a professional chef for tips on how to choose and prepare your bento.
Jim Quast (JQ) is a lifelong professional restaurant and corporate R&D chef that loves everything food-related and the tools both big and small to make those great food memories. He's a super huge BBQ, grill, and kitchen gadget fanatic. JQ has spent the last 30+ years trying to figure out what works to make your kitchen life easier and fun. If you can use it to slice it, dice it, cook it, smoke it or store it, he's been there checking it out. Food = Life! https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-quast-59769011/
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Table of Contents
One thing many people are worried about when choosing a bento is the size. You may also want to consider the shape, materials, care instructions, and if it's leakproof.
The size and shape will determine how much and what kind of food you can fit in your bento. The shape also affects how easy it is to carry.
You may want to get the length, width, and height measurements of a bento, particularly if you like to bring sandwiches for lunch. However, Japanese bento sizes are based on a volume-to-calories ratio. One milliliter of bento capacity equals one calorie of food. (The metric system is pretty cool sometimes, isn't it?)
The Japanese government's nutrition standards recommend about 600 milliliters for women and 900 for men for lunch, although they actually break it down further by height and BMI. Japanese portion sizes may be smaller than you're used to, but this can give you a guide to start with.
Of course, this formula assumes several things: that you are an averagely active adult, you're not trying to gain or lose weight, and you don't plan to stuff your bento with French fries and jellybeans. However, these guidelines can help you not only to choose your lunch box but assist you with portion control.
In addition to the amount of food, a typical Japanese bento has a 3:2:1 ratio of starch, vegetables, and protein. It's not uncommon to pair that with some instant soup on the side and a cup of green tea! That's likely why some of our choices include a separate cup.
Bento were originally boxes, and rectangular shapes are still common. However, a rectangular, single-layer tray is harder to fit in a bag and not the easiest to carry. They are fun to eat from and offer a nice presentation for your meal, so if you take a car to work or school they're a suitable option.
If you commute by public transportation, look for something narrow that stacks and either fits in your work bag or comes in its own. Bikers, walkers, and those who use a backpack may want to look for stacking bowls.
You may want to put it into your work fridge, too, so check that you'll be able to unstack the trays in that case. Some use compartment lids as extra food trays, but that would mean some of your food is exposed after unstacking.
Bento come in different materials, from durable and long-lasting to flimsy disposable ones. Even if you'll only use it occasionally, make sure it'll last!
Perhaps not surprisingly, most bento are made of plastic. Good ones are made of high-quality food-grade plastic that lasts a long time and doesn't get stained easily. Not all of them are dishwasher-, microwave-, or freezer-safe, so you may want to confirm those details before purchase.
The advantages of plastic bento are plentiful! They're lightweight, usually come with lids that seal tightly, and are available in a variety of sizes and designs.
Stainless steel bento are a good choice for those looking for something durable. They're not too heavy, and some come with gasket seals. Of course, they can't be microwaved. If you want to keep your food warm, or cold, you'd better make sure it's insulated.
Glass trays with compartments are oven, freezer, microwave, and dishwasher-safe. Their main disadvantages are their weight and the lid design, which usually has plastic clips that can be hard to use and prone to breakage. Some glass bento-type containers offer bamboo lids, which makes them a highly sustainable option.
Bento boxes have been made from wood since the Edo period in Japan. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, wood also helps to keep rice moist and delicious until you eat it!
When choosing a wood bento, make sure that any coating is properly cured and won't leach into your food. Obviously, wooden bento boxes can require extra care to maintain and may not be microwave- or dishwasher-safe.
You can find disposable plastic bento only suitable for one-time use. These are similar to the kind used for take-out foods in Japan. There are also more durable plastic trays with multiple compartments often called "meal-prep" containers.
Neither of these are especially good to use for a daily lunchbox; they're not very strongly made and are generally not pretty, but they can serve their purpose.
There is a wide variety of bento styles to choose from, and they offer different features and add-ons which may sway your decision.
Since bento are by design meant to carry a variety of foods of all textures, you'd expect them to be spill-proof. However, you'd be wrong! Most bento are not leakproof, either between the compartments or overall.
You may be wondering why on earth someone would get a lunch box with compartments that leak. Well, Japanese bento foods tend to not be super watery or saucy. You'd certainly never expect to put soup in a regular bento; you'd get a Thermos for liquids.
And indeed, some bento come in sets with Thermoses. Others have a mix of tight-sealing compartments and more open ones. If a leakproof bento is your top priority, scour the reviews from real users before buying!
Also keep in mind the style and care instructions for the lids. Many bento seal using flaps that snap into place. Aside from metal bento boxes, most of these are plastic. The plastic will eventually wear and break over extensive use. When that happens, your only solution is to replace the whole bento.
For lids that have gaskets or silicone lids that seal tightly, even if the manufacturer says a dishwasher is okay, it's not recommended. The high heat can deform them enough so they no longer seal properly.
We advise handwashing for all bento lids to maintain the best seal. You should also remove lids before microwaving.
Compartments are what makes it a bento box, right? Not necessarily! Compartments are great if you hate having your tuna salad touch your apple slices, but they make a bento harder to wash.
If you get one with fixed compartments, you're limited to what size foods you can fill it with. Some bento solve this by offering movable dividers, but these rarely provide a complete seal between areas.
Another option is to use portion cups. You can get reusable silicone ones or use muffin tin liners. These are not only versatile but can be decorative as well.
Some bento come with everything you need for lunch, except maybe a napkin! They might have chopsticks, a spork, or a full cutlery set. Be aware that they may not be full-sized, however, especially if you get a smaller bento which was designed for kids.
You can also buy a separate holder to add your own utensils or purchase a utensil set with a case. If the bento has a bag, you can throw them in there. If it has an elastic strap to keep it closed, try tucking them under that.
Click to purchase
A Narrow Bento That's Comfortable to Carry and Fits in the Work Fridge
MB Square Bento Box (Large)
A Huge, Professional-Looking Bento Box
Two-Tier Bento Bowl
A Small Bento for Carb Lovers
Bento Lunch Box
A Practical Daily Lunchbox That's Easy to Use and Care For
Bento Box Set
A Balance of Function and Beauty
Classic Bento Vacuum Lunch Jar
Keep Your Soup Hot Until Lunch With an Insulated Container
Salad Lunch Container
We Can't Imagine a More Perfect Salad Lunchbox
Bento With Insulated Bag
A Bento That Encourages You to Eat a Balanced Meal
Three-Tiered Bento Box
Find Zen-Like Calm on Your Lunch Break
Stainless Steel Rectangle Lunch box
A Durable and Eco-Friendly Metal Bento
The fork and spoon can be used as chopsticks if you turn them around, and the fork has one serrated edge for use as a knife. The top compartment is leak-resistant as well.
A few reviewers say the didn't receive the bag, but buyers are overall pleased with their purchase. They mention that the locking side flaps can break, and you need to be careful that they're closed securely. However, they confirm that it's convenient to use and perfect for work!
Whether you're an athlete, a big eater, or just want more space for your food, you'll love this extra-large bento. It can hold a full-sized sandwich because it doesn't have any dividers, only a single movable compartment.
Some users say the lids are really hard to take off, but on the plus side, they're fairly leakproof. The only thing holding the two tiers together is the elastic strap, and it's not recommended to use it as a carrying handle. You can buy a bag for the bento from this same company.
Aside from the large size, reviewers also like that it looks professional enough to use in an office or lunch meeting.
If your favorite lunch involves rice, noodles, or pasta, you need a bowl bento! This one is made in Japan and features a large bottom bowl and leak-resistant top bowl.
Use the bottom for rice and the top for stir-fry or the bottom for pasta and the top for salad. Or, how about some pad Thai and cut fruit? Reviewers point out that it is not the biggest bento you can buy, and they say it may not be great for soup.
However, others say they've had no issues with leaks. Even though it seemed small when empty, they realized it could hold enough and it helped them with portion control. Since it comes with a carrying bag, you can throw some grapes or crackers in there just in case!
This bento, which includes five removable compartments that fit into a single tray with a top, is incredibly practical for everyday use. It's top-rack dishwasher safe, according to reviewers, so there's no need to deal with handwashing at the end of a long day.
The fact that the compartments can be taken out individually means you can microwave your pasta while keeping your salad crisp! It also includes a carrying bag that has a mesh pocket: perfect to hold an ice pack, cutlery, and napkins, or even a banana or candy bar.
Some reviewers say it's not as leakproof as they'd hoped, but others had no issue. It may be best to keep the lids out of the microwave and dishwasher to maintain their seals. Most buyers say they use it frequently and are impressed with the quality.
This made-in-Japan bento set is simple, small, and aesthetically pleasing. It comes with a rice press, which molds your rice into bite-sized sections so it's easier to eat with chopsticks. The removable dividers are practical for different types of foods too.
Some reviewers mentioned they didn't receive the bag. Since that's a main selling point, you may want to double-check with the seller before purchase. They also say the bottom is leakproof, but the top is not.
Most one-star reviews complain that it's too small, but many mention that once they filled it, it held more food than they expected! Plus, they note that the included band kept the containers secure.
If you like to have a side of soup with your bento, this is the product for you. The bottom locking bowl is a perfect size for instant miso soup. The hot soup on the bottom will keep the middle bowl warm while leaving the top container cool.
The main complaints were that it didn't keep food hot. For the best results, you should preheat it with boiling water as per the instructions.
Other reviewers say they use it constantly, and the containers, bag, and utensils have all held up to daily wear and tear. Some occasionally run the containers through the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning, although other reviewers don't recommend this as the plastic may warp.
The struggle is real when you're trying to find a good way to transport salad for lunch. This one checks all the boxes: it's got a big bowl for leafy greens, a top tray for toppings or mix-ins (like croutons), and a removable dressing cup with its own leakproof lid.
Some reviewers reported that they had trouble closing the lids. Others were disappointed that they made a mess when trying to add dressing and then close it to shake it all up. A few mentioned that the company honored their 2-year warranty if theirs broke.
Creative buyers say the size is not only perfect for salads, but for baked potatoes with toppings, veggies and hummus, and tortilla chips with fixin's too!
This bento includes one large and small container, plus lids that can also hold food. This stack of containers is topped with a bowl to eat from too! With so many options, you'll find it easy to get all the food groups in your lunch. Plus, it comes with metal cutlery and an insulated bag with a shoulder strap.
Fill the larger containers with your main dishes, and use the lids to hold cut fruit, nuts, or other small foods. The compartments are lined with stainless steel, but reviewers say it doesn't do a good job keeping foods hot.
Quite a few say the lids can get stuck if they're screwed too tightly. The lids have leakproof gaskets, so there's no need to overdo it. You can also use just a few of the containers when you want a smaller lunch.
Many reviewers praise the versatility of this bento! They also like that it's easy to clean and holds up to daily use.
Sometimes you need to forget about efficiency and practicality to focus on mindfulness and enjoying the little things. The design of this bento is all about beauty. If you want a way to slow down and appreciate what you're eating instead of just filling your stomach, this faux-lacquerware bento can help.
It's not leakproof at all, so reviewers suggest using it for more typical Japanese bento foods: rolled omelets, rice balls, fried chicken, grilled fish, pickles, or boiled vegetables. It's also not very large, but if your goal is to eat more slowly, you'll get full faster anyways!
Some buyers use it as a daily lunchbox. They say the small, narrow size makes it easy to put in a purse or work bag. For others, it was so pretty that they decided it was too precious to use at all!
Metal bento are more common outside of Japan, and this one is made in India. It's fairly simple, with one removable compartment and two tiers. The only plastic on it is the gasket to seal the top tier, and the packaging is also eco-friendly.
Some reviewers experienced quality-control issues, like bent containers or cracks. Others say it's very sturdy and is a good size and depth to hold a lot of food. There are also very few complaints about leaks! However, the gasket is not glued in, so you may need to reset it after washing.
You can fill your bento with anything that fits in there, but for healthy, balanced eating, try to keep in mind the 3:2:1 rule for starches, vegetables, and proteins.
A typical Japanese household will usually prep some foods, like sides, ahead of time. These can even be frozen in small portion cups until you need them. The bento is often left unrefrigerated and kept cool just with ice packs until lunch.
If the thought of leaving your rice out bothers you, or you don't have a rice cooker with a timer function, you can cook it the night before. You'll have to microwave it later though, because refrigerated rice can be unappetitizing.
A recent viral tip is to add a teaspoon or so of honey to the water when you cook your rice! It won't change the taste; it keeps the rice from absorbing too much moisture and reduces clumping. So, it will still be absolutely delicious when it's room temperature!
Need a sponge designed to get in the nooks and crannies of a bento box? Or some umeboshi to top off your rice? Check out the articles below to help you craft your lunch!
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