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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
Lids are a little hard to open
Bento box purists will love this classic-designed box. Sleek and minimalist, it is composed of two tiers held together with a thick elastic band; one tier has an adjustable divider, and a lidded container for sauces or smaller food items like berries or crackers. Our tester noted that its compact shape is surprisingly roomy, giving you plenty of room for a traditional bento lunch of rice and meat, a side of vegetables, and even a sweet treat.
Each layer's lid has a gasket around the edges, ensuring the tiers are entirely leakproof. The lids also feature a vent to allow hot air to release during reheating in the microwave. Our tester found that the tight-fitting lids were a little difficult to open, so this set would be best for teens and adults with better grip strength.
To clean, this box can be run through the dishwasher on the top rack. Made of thick, recyclable polypropylene, they are very sturdy and showed no dings or scratches after several uses. This bento box is available in several colors and also comes with a full set of utensils—a fork, knife, spoon, and set of mini chopsticks.
Materials: 100% recyclable BPA-free plastic, silicone | Compartments: 2-3 with a sauce container | Size: 40 ounces
"Sleek, minimalist, and sturdy, this bento box is surprisingly roomy and very easy to clean." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware Expert for The Spruce Eats
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 With Utensils: Grub2Go The Original Japanese Bento Box
Dishwasher- and microwave-safe
Fully equipped with a set of utensils, this bento box can travel to work or a picnic with ease. It has two generous compartments that can be modified with the two adjustable (and removable) dividers, great for keeping side dishes separated or sectioning fruits away from more savory foods. Also included is a small lidded container for sauce or dressing.
Our tester liked how snug the lids are on the leakproof tiers, but felt that young children would have a hard time opening these boxes. She also noted that the dividers will not prevent liquids from running into other compartments within the main container, so you'll want to take extra care if you're packing multiple sections of sauce or soft foods like yogurt or pudding. This model holds a fair amount of food already, but an upgraded larger model is available (found on Amazon) for those with heartier appetites.
You can warm up your food by reheating in the microwave (open the vents to let hot air escape while heating). When you're done with it, cleaning this bento box is easy—it's top-rack dishwasher safe, and can be run through a cycle with no worry of damaging the sturdy plastic construction.
Materials: BPA-free plastic | Compartments: 2-4 | Size: 40 ounces
"This near-perfect bento box is easy to customize and also comes with a set of utensils that doesn't feel too small." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware Expert for The Spruce Eats
Best Stainless: Ecolunchbox Three-in-One Classic Bento Box
100 percent stainless steel, plastic-free
This stainless steel bento box has two stacking tiers plus a lidded snack pod that can keep your sweet treats from decorating your salad. It's a smaller bento box than most of the other models we tested, but it's big enough to hold a sandwich, side, and snack—perfect for a kid's lunchbox. This style of bento box is not leakproof, so you won't want to use this for anything that has sauce or liquid.
Our tester filled this lunchbox with a sandwich, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes, and used the snack pod for a serving of berries. The durable stainless construction kept the sandwich from being crushed when the box was jostled around in a bag during transport. Since it’s made entirely from stainless steel, this bento box can't be used in the microwave, so it's best suited for meals that are eaten cold or at room temperature.
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 (found on Amazon), so it’s great for folks with big appetites, for carrying fluffy foods like green salads, or for sharing. This model can be run through the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Materials: Stainless steel | Compartments: 2-3 | Size: 32 ounces
"This is a small but mighty container, durable enough to stand up to daily use and easy to open and close so even kids can use it." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware Expert for The Spruce Eats
Best for Salads: Bentgo Salad BPA-Free Lunch Container
Can’t close without top compartment
If you find yourself frequently packing salads to go, this bento box is uniquely designed for such a task. It features a large, 6.75-cup bottom container for greens, three upper compartments (one 10-ounce and two 5-ounce) for chopped vegetables, croutons, or whatever salad toppings your heart desires. It also includes a lidded container that nestles in the center section to hold salad dressing, so you can add it when you're ready to eat.
Our tester packed a hefty amount of greens into the bottom section, and loaded the top compartments with all of the ingredients for a Greek salad—vegetables stayed separate from the feta and kalamata olives, and the dressing stayed put without leaking. When it came time to eat, it was easy to top and dress the salad, and the included fork (stored in the lid) was comfortable to use, spearing greens, olives, and cherry tomatoes easily.
This is top-rack dishwasher safe, which makes it a cinch to clean up any oily residue left behind by salad dressing. Available in a variety of colors, it's a great choice for anyone who wants to make salads a regular part of their lunch routine.
Materials: BPA-free plastic and silicone | Compartments: 5 | Size: 77 ounces
"I'll never have to buy a salad again—this container actually makes it enjoyable to pack my own at home." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware Expert for The Spruce Eats
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
While classic design bento boxes are typically multi-tiered, this modern bento box features a slim design in a single layer. It has three compartments—one large 14-ounce section and two smaller 7-ounce sections. This is a smaller capacity than some other bento boxes we tested, but it is large enough to hold a decent sized entree, a side, and a bit of dessert. Since the compartments won't leak into each other, you can put soup or salsa in one section without worrying it will seep into the other foods.
Another fantastic feature is the ability to keep foods cold—just put the lunchbox body into the freezer overnight, and pack your cold lunch in the morning. The included carrying case will help further insulate your meal. To heat, you can put the tray (minus the lid) into the microwave for warming. One drawback to the design is that its shallow height doesn't allow for tall foods, like a multi-layered lasagna, but our tester liked the slim design for tucking into a work bag or briefcase.
All in all, it's a sturdily built lunchbox that also looks grown up. Cleaning it is easy—it's top-rack dishwasher safe, perfect for getting rid of any greasiness or stickiness left behind by food.
Materials: BPA-free plastic (bento), 100 percent polyester (bag) | Compartments: 3 | Size: 28 ounces
"This slim design fits nicely into my work bag, and it's totally leakproof so I don't have to worry about carrying it on its side." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware Expert for The Spruce Eats
Best Budget: Jeopace Bento Box
Hand washing recommended
Dividers can't be adjusted
Included flatware is very small
This single-layer bento box has three compartments—one main section for an entree and two smaller sections for sides or dessert. This was large enough for an adult portion of spaghetti and meatballs, a hunk of garlic bread, and a serving of vegetables, but it would also lend itself well to a sandwich, veggie sticks, and a serving of fruit.
Our tester loved the simplicity of its design—the box is leakproof and easy to open and close making it a great choice for kids' lunches. However, it isn't leakproof between compartments, so if you have sauce or dressing, you'll want to pack it separately to prevent seepage. This model includes a fork, but our tester found it to be quite small and uncomfortable for an adult to hold, so you may want to invest in a full-sized silverware set instead.
This set is 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, making it a versatile box for kids and adults alike.
Materials: BPA-free biodegradable wheat straw plastic | Compartments: 3 | Size: 30 ounces
"This is aesthetically pleasing, functional bento box for the price, but the included fork is way too small. I would suggest investing in a set of full-sized travel utensils if you're intending for an adult to use this." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware Expert for The Spruce Eats
Best High-End: monbento MB Original Bento Lunch Box
Beautiful design and colors
Dishwasher and microwave safe
Utensils sold separately
More expensive option
Monbento has been making these incredibly attractive, French-designed, luxe 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 (great for berries, crackers, garnishes, or sauce packets). Our tester liked its slim design and slightly rubberized exterior, making it easy to hold and transport. It is shallower than some other styles, but easily held a traditional bento meal of tonkatsu and rice, a shredded cabbage salad, and tamagoyaki. The lids have a pull tab to open the vents which let hot air escape during reheating in the microwave.
While this box doesn't come with utensils, there is some space to store a coordinating Monbento cutlery set (available on Amazon) right under the lid. This bento box is dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe to make transporting and reheating your food a breeze, as well as cleanup when you're finished. Previous versions of this lunchbox included dividers, 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
Best Disposable: Freshware 2 Compartment Meal Prep Containers With Lids
Great for food prep
Not recyclable in all areas
If you're searching for a bento box that you don't have to take home and wash, these disposable containers are perfect. Ideal for days when lugging around a dirty food container isn't an option (like a school field trip), these boxes are made from BPA-free plastic and come in a pack of 15.
Featuring two compartments, they're roomy enough for a main dish and side, a nice-sized salad, or a sandwich and chips. These sets aren't entirely leakproof, so they're better suited for lunches without sauces or liquids. Our tester found they can be used in the freezer and microwave, but noted that they may be prone to cracking or melting in the microwave after a few uses.
If you plan on reusing them, prolong the life of these containers by hand washing them (though they are top-rack dishwasher safe). While they are not exceptionally long-lasting or heavy-duty, they’re inexpensive enough that if one gets left behind or tossed in the trash, it won’t feel like a major loss.
Materials: BPA-free plastic | Compartments: 2 | Size: 25 ounces
"These feel a little thin, but they are nicely sized and do a great job as far as disposable food containers go." — Bernadette Machard de Gramont, Cookware 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?
Bernadette Machard de Gramont is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in global food and wine content. After a 2-year stint at Williams-Sonoma Headquarters in San Francisco, she now researches and tests a variety of cookware, bakeware, and wine tools, and interviews field experts for their insight. She personally tested eight of the items on this roundup.
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.