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A bento box is simply a boxed meal with compartments separating toppings or courses. Bento is derived from a Chinese word meaning "convenient," and at its most basic, it’s lunch packed to be eaten on the go and has existed since the 12th century.
Bento-style meals and boxes have roots in Asian cuisines, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, but have since spread through the rest of the world. The main section of the box traditionally held rice or noodles, but bento boxes can be used to contain everything you need for cheese and charcuterie, picnic spreads, on-the-go snacks, and more.
Ahead, the best bento boxes that can be reused for convenient eating anytime, anywhere.
Best Overall: Bentoheaven Deluxe Bento Lunch Box
Adjustable and removable dividers
Dishwasher- and microwave-safe
This bento box looks high-end and sophisticated, but the price won’t break your budget. The modern, minimalist look is both stylish and functional, and the leakproof, airtight design will keep your food fresh and your workspace mess-free. This bento box will always look good on your desk, so you’ll never feel like you’re brown-bagging sad leftovers.
The box is freezer-, microwave-, and dishwasher-safe, so you can prepare foods in advance, tuck them in the freezer, and heat in the microwave before serving. The silicone sealed lids and ventilation caps reduce heating time.
This bento box features two 20-ounce food containers with vented lids, chopsticks, and cutlery. It comes in either black or white and even includes lunchbox notes, so you can leave a message for your loved ones or use them as a reminder for yourself.
Materials: 100% recyclable BPA-free plastic, silicone | Compartments: 2-3 with a sauce container | Size: 40 ounces
Best for Kids: Bentgo Children's Lunch Box
Rubber sides are extra durable
Easy to clean
Made with BPA-free plastic
Slightly heavier than other models
Exterior scratches pretty easily
Kids will love this colorful bento box. It has five compartments that are portioned for a child’s appetite and is designed for kids aged three to seven, but it would also make a great snack container for adults.
This bento box has rubber-coated edges and internal hinges that help make it drop-proof and sturdy enough for the most active kids. The box is leakproof and has two kid-friendly latches that make it easy for small hands to open and close. Our tester packed lunch for their son in the Bentgo box for a week and was thrilled to find that nothing leaked at any point.
The removable compartment tray is microwave- and dishwasher-safe, while the outer shell should be hand washed to preserve the seal. This includes a booklet with 30 kid-friendly recipes and meal ideas. It's available in green, purple, or blue, and there are also options with bright colors and multiple fun prints to suit any taste.
Materials: BPA-free plastic | Compartments: 5 | Size: 20 ounces
"Although this bento-style lunch box is pricier than some of its competitors [for kids], it’s well designed, solidly built, and comes in a whole slew of vibrant colors and prints." - Linnea Covington, Product Tester
Best Design: Grub2Go The Original Japanese Bento Box
Dishwasher- and microwave-safe
No included compartment for sauces
Highly rated by users, this bento box can travel to work or a picnic with ease. It has two generous compartments that can be modified with the included dividers, so the salad doesn’t snuggle up to the sandwich. The containers can be used together or travel separately when lunch isn’t as large.
The lids are airtight and leakproof, so there’s no worry about tipping the box or tossing it sideways into a backpack. The set even includes utensils that snap into a tray, so you can cut your salad, spoon dressing on, and eat with the included fork. A wide elastic band is included that holds all the pieces neatly together. This holds a total of 1,000 milliliters or a bit over 4 cups.
Materials: BPA-free plastic | Compartments: 2-4 | Size: 40 ounces
Best Stainless: Ecolunchbox Three-in-One Classic Bento Box
100 percent stainless steel, plastic-free
This stainless steel bento box has two large compartments, plus a lidded snack pod that can keep your sweet treats from decorating your salad. It holds a total of 4 cups of food, so there’s plenty of space for a sandwich, side, and snack, but it isn’t totally leakproof, so it’s not intended for carrying soup or chili. It’s made entirely from stainless steel, with no gaskets, plastics, or silicone, so it’s dishwasher safe when the box comes home at the end of the day.
The latches are easy enough for kids to use, but latch securely, so the box will stay closed until it’s time for lunch. If this bento box isn’t big enough, the giant version holds a whopping 8 cups of food, so it’s great for folks with big appetites, for carrying fluffy foods like green salads, or for sharing.
Materials: Stainless steel | Compartments: 2-3 | Size: 32 ounces
Best for Salads: Bentgo Salad BPA-Free Lunch Container
Leakproof salad dressing container
Can’t close without top compartment
Salads aren’t always easy to pack, resulting in sad, soggy greens when it’s time for lunch. This bento box is designed for salad—although it could be used for other meals easily—with a large, 6.75-cup bottom container for greens, three upper compartments (one 10-ounce and two 5-ounce) for crunchy bits, wet vegetables, like tomatoes and cucumbers, and other tasty add-ins.
A central lidded 3-ounce section is ideal for salad dressing, so it can be added right before serving, and a matching fork snaps onto the lid, keeping it clean and handy. This is top-rack dishwasher safe when the container comes home and is available in a variety of colors, so everyone in the family can recognize their salad on the way out the door.
Materials: BPA-free plastic and silicone | Compartments: 5 | Size: 77 ounces
Best Slim Design: Modetro Ultra Slim Leak Proof Bento Lunchbox
Easy to pack
Microwave- and dishwasher-safe
Slim design may limit larger foods
Dividers aren’t adjustable
Smaller than some adult bento boxes
Most bento boxes are tall with stacking compartments, but this one has a slim design that looks modern and professional. It’s leakproof, so it can handle wet foods, and comes with its own matching insulated lunch bag to make it easy to carry and hold the temperature. With the lid on, the compartments are sealed from each other, so wet foods won’t leak into other compartments—meaning your salad dressing won’t soak the sandwich.
The box is freezer safe, so it can be frozen ahead of time to keep lunch chilled, and it’s microwave safe with the lid removed, so lunch can be served warm. At the end of the day, it’s dishwasher safe, as well. This has two small 7-ounce compartments and one larger 14-ounce compartment.
Materials: BPA-free plastic (bento), 100 percent polyester (bag) | Compartments: 3 | Size: 28 ounces
Best Disposable: Freshware 2 Compartment Meal Prep Containers With Lids
Great for food prep
Not recyclable in all areas
Reusable food containers are a great idea, but sometimes it’s just more trouble than it’s worth to keep track of an empty, dirty food container to take it home to be washed and reused. That’s where these containers come in. They’re microwave-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe, so they can be reused if you choose, but they’re inexpensive enough that if one gets left on the school bus or accidentally gets tossed in the trash at work, it won’t break the budget.
These have two compartments and hold a total of 25 ounces, so there’s plenty of room for a sandwich and chips or salad and cheese. This is a pack of 15 containers with lids, but for serious meal preppers, they’re also available in a bulk of 150.
Materials: BPA-free plastic | Compartments: 2 | Size: 25 ounces
Best with Flatware: Jeopace Bento Box
Hand washing recommended
Dividers can't be adjusted
Three compartments in this box keep foods separate, so the cookies won’t touch the salad. The box is leakproof, too, so it won’t make a mess in a backpack, but liquids can transfer between compartments, so it shouldn’t be tipped if foods are saucy. These are freezer- and microwave-safe for easy prepping and fast reheating.
They’re also top-rack dishwasher safe, but hand washing is recommended to avoid warping the lid. The bento box holds about 38 ounces, so there’s plenty of space for lunch or dinner, and the included fork means there’s no need to borrow the good flatware from the kitchen.
Materials: BPA-free biodegradable wheat straw plastic | Compartments: 3 | Size: 30 ounces
Best High-End: monbento MB Original Bento Lunch Box
Beautiful design and colors
Dishwasher and microwave safe
Utensils sold separately
More expensive option
Monbento is a French company that has been making these incredibly attractive and high-end bento boxes since 2009. Each classic bento box is streamlined with a minimal look and feel but exudes softness with delicately rounded edges, a comforting color palette, and a BPA-free plastic that's soft to the touch. Each bento box is constructed with two equally sized boxes, each with its own airtight lid, and a small food cup that fits into either box. There is also a lid for the top of the boxes that you can slip some travel utensils, a small napkin, or some flavor packets into, and a coordinating elastic band to hold it all together.
Each bento box is dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe to make transporting and reheating your food a snap, as well as cleanup when you're finished. Previous versions of the monbento lunch box included dividers for the bento boxes, but they have been replaced with the small food cup. Monbento also offers a variety of food containers for both liquid and solid foods, all to match the elegant designs of the classic bento lunch box.
Materials: BPA-free plastic | Compartments: 2 | Size: 34 ounces
"The monbento lunch box is beautiful and the perfect size for traveling. I usually fill it with cured meats, cheese, fruit, and crackers as a snack when I'm going to be in the car or flying for an extended period of time." - Jenny Kellerhals, Baking Expert for The Spruce Eats
What to Look for When Buying a Bento Box
As you may expect with something that has been in use for nearly a millennia, Bento boxes and meals vary widely. At its most basic, a bento box is a tray with a lid (either attached or detached) for ease of transportation. Both traditional and more contemporary bento can come in a variety of shapes and sizes but are generally either square or round. Bento meals also typically feature a variety of foods that are divided using trays or even separate compartments that are often stacked. Dividers can be fixed or moveable, allowing you more control over the portions.
The first bento were made from bamboo, then later lacquered boxes and wood, such as cedar. Beginning in the 20th century, other materials began to be used, starting with aluminum in the 1920s. Today, you can still find bento boxes made from traditional materials as well as stainless steel, plastic, and glass. Single-use bento, common in Japan at convenience stores and sometimes found abroad as well, are typically single-use plastic or even styrofoam.
Another change in bento boxes in the 20th century was the introduction of insulation in the design. Japanese insulated bento tend to come in separate containers and resemble a Western-style lunchbox, with a thermos cup that fits into an insulated or non-insulated soft carrying case. The more common insulated option tends to be bento-inspired lunchboxes made by Western companies, often with a removable tray inside an insulated case. You can also find non-insulated bento that come with an insulated carrying case.
Bento boxes are designed with a single serving meal in mind, but can still vary in size. While there’s no one meal packed in a bento, recipes and meal ideas tend to have a mix of proteins, carbs (typically rice), vegetables, and fruits. If you balance out your foods, you can typically create a filling meal even in a smaller bento box. But if you want a big salad, for example, you may need to find a bento box specifically designed for a big pile of greens so you’re not left hungry. You can also consider how many foods you’re likely to want to pack: A bento with lots of small compartments could be great if you like variety or pose a problem if you typically want just a main and a side.
Early bento lids were completely separate from the base of the box and often tied up in furoshiki, a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth, to help keep it secure. Today, tops of boxes are often more secure, with lids and seals that resemble other food containers. Tops can be held in place with clasps, airtight lids, or gaskets. Lids are also often hinged, making it easy to keep all parts of the box together. Lids vary in how leak- and splash-proof they are, so think about how much you’ll need to transport your bento, and even how far ahead you want to prep your food; an airtight seal will help keep food fresher longer and prevent food from spilling in your bag.
Not surprisingly, before the advent of the microwave, bento meals were eaten cold. Today, like with all packed meals, it’s often a matter of preference. If you want to heat up meals, make sure your bento is microwave-safe. Additionally, no matter your plans, ensure any plastic is BPA-free.
Simple bento typically start at around $15, going up to around $30 as features like insulation and spill-proof seals are added. More design-focused bento, as well as indestructible models with kids in mind, tend to be on the more expensive side. Traditional wood bento is, perhaps surprisingly for those not familiar, the most expensive. Because they are still handmade, wood bento can cost upwards of $100.
Types of Bento Boxes
For most of history, bento boxes were made from wood, woven bamboo, or lacquered wood. Bento made from traditional materials are still available today, though many people now opt for easy-to-care-for plastic or metal bento. Many so-called lacquer boxes you may find online, for example, are often made from plastic mimicking the high shine of lacquer.
Modern bento come in nearly every conceivable shape, size, and color. They typically feature designs that make them amenable to everyday use, including light and easy-to-care-for materials as well as spill-proof lids. Plastic bento can also mimic more traditional designs that were once made with lacquer.
As with Western-style lunch boxes, bento boxes can be licensed with favorite characters or use bright, colorful designs to appeal to children. For Western parents, the appeal of bento boxes is often that it helps build in variety for school lunches—and avoid single-use plastic bags. Bento boxes marketed to children in America often feature tight seals and clasps for preventing splashes and come in bright colors.
Less common in the West, disposable bento meals are often sold to-go in single-use plastic trays. You may be able to find these at Japanese markets or even in to-go orders at Japanese restaurants. Disposable meal prep containers, with separate compartments, offer similar single-use convenience.
Bentgo is one of several American companies that adapts traditional bento for a Western audience, offering products like salad bento and children’s bento boxes with a sandwich-sized compartment. Its products are also often insulated.
A California company, ECOlunchbox offers stainless steel and plastic-free bento-style lunchboxes. It also sells stainless steel inserts and accessories.
After eating out of your bento, simply wash and dry it until next time. Some bento, especially insulated models, have removable inside trays that can be washed, and the exterior is only cleaned as needed. Traditional materials, like bamboo or wood, require more care and must be hand-washed. Lacquerware can even peel and chip in the wrong environment—it’s little wonder people opt for materials like metal and plastic when given the chance for this everyday product.
What is a bento box?
Bento is a single-portion meal designed to be taken to go. Of Japanese origin, today bento is popular all over Asia and, increasingly, the world.
What is in a traditional bento box?
Originally, bento would have been fairly simple, just containing rice for a traveler. Over the centuries, bento developed to reflect trends in Japanese cooking. A bento will typically contain rice or noodles alongside a protein, like fish or pork, as well as vegetables. Other common items include tamagoyaki (a Japanese rolled omelet), potato or pasta salad, and fruit salad.
Do bento boxes keep food warm?
Most bento boxes are not fully insulated, like with a thermos. They can, however, be stored in an insulated carrying case.
Are bento boxes microwavable?
For most of centuries people have eaten bento meals, the food was eaten at room temperature. With the advent of refrigerators and microwaves, many of us store food for hours before eating it at low temperatures or may just want a piping-hot meal away from home. Many bento boxes are microwave safe, though not all. Check instructions before microwaving.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a food writer and product tester for The Spruce Eats. A self-professed "kitchen geek," she's written many roundups on a range of essential kitchen items, from the best Thanksgiving gadgets to the top seafood kitchen tools of the year.
Linnea Covington is a food writer and product tester for The Spruce Eats and personally tested one of the items on this roundup.
Marshall Bright, a freelance writer covering food and cooking for The Spruce Eats, updated this roundup. A self-taught home chef, Marshall is passionate about making home cooking approachable and fun for more people.