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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 Bento Box Bundle
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 includes two 20-ounce food containers with vented lids, chopsticks, and cutlery. It comes in either black or white. It also includes lunchbox notes so you can leave a message for your loved ones or use them as a reminder for yourself.
Best for Kids: Bentgo Children's Lunch Box
Kids will love this colorful bento box. It has five compartments that are portioned for a kid’s appetite and is designed for kids aged 3 to 7, but it would also make a great snack container for adults who want to control portions of goodies.
The 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.
The removable compartment tray is microwave-safe 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. There are also options with bright colors and in multiple fun prints to suit any taste.
Best Design: GRUB2GO The Original Japanese Bento Box
Highly rated by users, with a design that looks classy, this bento box can travel to work or to 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 they can 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.
Best Stainless: Ecolunchbox Three-in-One Classic Bento Box
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 a 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.
Best Removable Compartments: Caleb Company Click & Go Bento Boxes
This set of three bento containers lets you prepare lunches for the family or plan several days ahead. The leakproof snap-locking lids keep foods fresh and spillproof.
To help customize your lunches, this has one large and two small removable compartments, so you can use or remove containers to ensure your food fits perfectly. Because of the airtight and leakproof silicone sealed lid, you can even put liquids in the containers with no worries about spilling. A textured edge on the bottom helps prevent sliding and makes the boxes easier to grip. These hold 39 ounces and are microwave, freezer, and dishwasher safe.
Best with Insulated Bag: Komax Lunchmate Bento Lunch Box Kit
It’s not always convenient to keep lunch in the refrigerator or to microwave a meal, so this bento box comes with an insulated bag to keep your salad cool or your spaghetti and meatballs warm.
The Komax Lunchmate has two separate containers that hold 17.9 ounces each, one of which is divided into two compartments, and it includes stainless steel cutlery and chopsticks. The containers are freezer and microwave safe, so you can prepare meals ahead of time and heat before eating if you prefer. They’re also dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning.
The included insulated bag has a waterproof coated fabric and a zipper for easy access. A handle makes it easy to carry. To keep foods cold for longer, there is room in the bag for ice packs (not included).
Best for Salads: Bentgo Salad BPA-Free Lunch Container
Salads are a healthy lunch option, but they 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 the 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 perfect 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 it’s available in a variety of colors so everyone in the family can recognize their salad on the way out the door.
Best Slim Design: Modetro Ultra Slim Leak Proof Bento Lunchbox
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 it comes with its own matching insulated lunch bag to make it easy to carry and to 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.
Best Disposable: Freshware 2 Compartment Meal Prep Containers With Lids
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 re-used, 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 some cheese. This is a pack of 15 containers with lids, but for serious meal preppers, they’re also available in a box of 150.
Best with Flatware: Jeopace Bento Box
Three compartments in this box keep foods separate so the cookies won’t touch the salad. The box is leakproof 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.
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.
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.