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If foods aren’t meant to be mixed together, I prefer that my foods don’t touch. A burrito bowl? Stir away. Spaghetti and meatballs? Mix ‘em up. Mashed potatoes and peas? Must be separated at all costs.
That’s why I’ve always had an appreciation for the bento box, a Japanese take on single-portion food containers. They can be used as a lunchbox, for a picnic, hiking trips, or for takeout. If I didn’t work from home, a bento box would be my adult work lunchbox of choice.
While you can opt for your food to be stored in one large compartment, many bento boxes are divided into smaller compartments that separate different foods. Some boxes include dividers that can be rearranged to your liking for maximum customization. Both options are great for lunch meal prep, so you can literally grab and go.
“Bento boxes usually contain a variety of goodies in one box! In Japan, these specific lunch packs are prepared by either a parent or spouse and are usually made to take to school or work,” explains Junya Watanabe, chef-partner of Matsuoka, a Japanese restaurant in San Diego that serves premium bento boxes.
Whether you’re looking for a fuss-free lunchbox alternative for your children or a sleek and stylish container for your workspace, there are many bento boxes to choose from. Here are the best bento boxes for your next meal away from home.
Best Overall, Adults: Bentoheaven Bento Box Bundle
What We Love: Large capacity, various color options, safe in the freezer and dishwasher
What We Don't Love: Might be too small for some adults, liquids may leak
With its sleek and stylish design, your coworkers will be asking you where you got this bento box set the second you bring it into the cafe. Aside from its good looks, these Bentoheaven boxes are also functional. The two compartments each have a 20-ounce capacity that holds approximately 2.5 cups of food.
While you need to pack your own utensils with some bento boxes, this set includes reusable cutlery (fork, knife, and spoon) and chopsticks. It also includes a removable divider, so you split one of the containers into two compartments. For those that enjoy salad dressings, dipping sauces, and condiments, this bento box comes with a reusable sauce cup that can hold up to 6.5 tablespoons.
There are many features designed for convenience. The powerful seal helps to prevent leakage, though some spillage may occur if you plan on transporting liquids like soup. Rounded corners make for easier storage and cleaning, plus everything is dishwasher-safe. These bento boxes can be stored in the freezer, and it’s microwave-safe for up to three minutes.
Overall, it’s a thoughtfully designed bento box for adults that offers convenience with an element of style.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 7.3 x 4 x 4.3 inches | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | What's Included: Bento boxes, sauce cup, divider, cutlery, chopsticks
Best Overall, Kids: Bentgo Kids Lunch Box
What We Love: Five compartments, rubber-coated edges for sturdiness, fits into backpacks
What We Don't Love: Latches are prone to wear and tear, not recommended for older kids
Picky eaters will love this bento box. One of the key features of this bento box for kids is the five pre-portioned compartments that keep foods separated. Portioned for children ages 3–7, this includes a 1 cup section, two 0.5-cup sections, and one 0.25-cup section, with a 2-tablespoon dipping well that will come in handy for hummus or salsa.
This bento box is made up of two core parts: the inner tray and the outer shell. The outer shell is durable enough to withstand active kids. The edges are coated with rubber to increase sturdiness and prevent breakage when dropped. The outer shell also features two latches that are easy enough for children to open and close. However, some reviewers state these are prone to wear and tear with time.
The inner tray is removable for easy cleaning. It is dishwasher-safe in the top rack, but you may increase the longevity of the bento box by hand washing it. The inner tray can also be used in the microwave and freezer.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | What's Included: Bento box, user manual
Best Budget: Bentgo Classic All-in-One Stackable Bento Lunch Box Container
What We Love: Compact design is easy to store and transport, holds a full adult meal
What We Don't Love: Strap can be difficult to secure, not leakproof
No matter how well you care for your bento boxes, nothing lasts forever. If you don’t want to break the bank, Bentgo’s Classic model is budget-friendly, functional, and stylish.
Bentgo is a top-rated brand of bento boxes for adults and children for many reasons. The products are sturdy, spacious, and sleek. This model includes two stackable containers. A sealing strap is included to keep the bentos together, with utensils stored in between. While the strap does keep the lids on tight, they're not entirely leakproof since there's no airtight seal.
The top container features two compartments that are separated by a divider and can hold 0.75 cups of food each. However, the divider isn’t tall enough to keep food separated. The bottom container can hold up to 2 cups of food.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 7.1 x 4.7 x 2.7 inches | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | What's Included: Bento boxes, sealing strap, utensil set, user manual
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Best with Insulated Case: Ozazuco Bento Box
What We Love: Silicone sealing ring prevents leaks, nonstick interior, adjustable compartment divider, made from organic wheat straw
What We Don't Love: Long and narrow design might not be for everyone
If the journey from your home to work or school is a long one, you may worry about your chicken salad getting too warm. To keep it cool in transit, these bento boxes come with an insulated bag that acts as a portable food cooler.
The design of this bento box set is unique. It’s long and narrow, so it requires less horizontal space. Utilizing vertical space is a great space-saving tip for your cabinets and fridge. The narrow compartments may be easy to store, but they don’t hold larger food items as easily. This is one adjustable divider, and the entire set is partially made from wheat fiber, in addition to BPA-free plastic.
For everything that’s included—three containers, utensils, and an insulated bag—this set is a great value. Plus, the bag has handles, which makes it easy to transport for people who walk to work or school.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 6.8 x 2.9 x 4.3 inches | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | What's Included: Bento boxes, fork, spoon, portable food cooler
Best Stainless Steel: LunchBots Cinco Stainless Steel Lunch Container
What We Love: Compact design, five separated sections, large capacity
What We Don't Love: Not microwave-safe, not leakproof, pricey
Many bento boxes are made of plastic, but stainless steel is also an option. And I can appreciate that this bento box by Lunchbots has five separate compartments for a variety of food. Though it’s not microwave-safe, this model is safe in the dishwasher and made with high-quality materials.
While LunchBots offers various models of its bento box, this one is 60 percent larger than the classic containers. If you’re finding bento boxes to be too small for your liking, consider this one for its spacious capacity.
The stainless steel lid does not form a tight seal, nor do the dividers tall enough to keep liquids separate. While this may not be an issue if you don’t plan on transporting wet foods, this can lead to leakage. Packing sauces in a separate container is a simple workaround for those who prefer a stainless steel bento box.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 6 x 8 x 1.75 inches | Dishwasher Safe: Yes | What's Included: Bento box with lid
Related: The Best Reusable Water Bottles
Bentgo has several suitable models for children (view at Amazon) and adults (view at Amazon). These are especially great for those on a budget. With its 40-ounce capacity and stylish design, the Bentoheaven Premium Bento Lunch Box (view at Amazon) is sure to satisfy a variety of people.
What to Look for in a Bento Box
Traditional Japanese bento boxes are made with bamboo or wood. Disposable bento boxes may even be made from single-use plastic or styrofoam.
Plastic is the most common material used to make reusable bento boxes today. Many are made with BPA-free plastic that is durable so it can be reused over and over again. Other models may be made with stainless steel, another durable option. Stainless steel bento boxes are less likely to stain, though they are not microwave-safe.
Bento boxes are designed for single-serving meals, but portion sizes can vary from person to person. Sets tend to have several smaller containers, while some have just one larger container with compartments. If you plan on transporting large salads or prefer larger portions, you may want to opt for a single spacious container. If your meals include several sides or you eat throughout the day, a set might work for you.
The idea of a bento box is the same no matter which model you choose, though some offer additional features. Bento boxes usually do not have a separate space for utensils, so you will have to plan accordingly. However, some now include reusable utensils that attach to the lid of the container for easy storage.
Another nifty feature is having multiple removable compartments or dividers within your bento box. This allows you to add and remove compartments as needed and customize the design of your bento box with each use.
Bento boxes often have a unique shape, so it can be difficult to find a carrying case that fits them snuggly to prevent leakage. Though less common, some models include a portable insulated case for easy transport and to keep your food cool between destinations.
Are bento boxes microwavable?
Some bento boxes made with plastic are microwave-safe, though this varies from model to model. The manufacturers often recommend microwaving for only a few minutes on medium heat. Those made with stainless steel are not microwavable.
Do bento boxes keep food warm?
Since they are not insulated, bento boxes are not designed to keep food cold or warm. They’re simply designed to carry food. You'll need to invest in an appropriately sized insulated lunch bag if you know that's necessary.
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Lacey Muinos is a food and product writer for Simply Recipes. She covers health and wellness topics with a speciality for food. As a self-proclaimed foodie, she has an impressive collection of kitchen tools.
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