In Japanese, “bento” means useful or convenient, a perfect description for these portable little lunch boxes. Designed to feed travelers and workers back in the 12th century, bento boxes have never gone out of style. Adaptable to any lifestyle, from schoolkids to road warriors, bento boxes have evolved to meet the 21st-century demand for fast, healthy, stress-free eating. They consist of a single food container or several stackable containers, sealed with an airtight lid. The inner compartment is typically divided into two or more sections, allowing you to pack a full meal and even several snacks.
Contemporary bento box designs use durable, reusable materials for balanced meals on the go. Some models also include portable utensils, so you’re always prepared for a quick bite. With the large variety of bento-style lunch boxes on today’s market, some better than others, it’s important to choose wisely. The best bento box options meet the demands of daily life, thanks to high-quality materials, streamlined designs, and easy-to-clean compartments.
- BEST OVERALL: EOIMS Original Design, Bento Box Bamboo
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: LOVINA Bento Boxes for Adults – 1400 ML
- BEST INSULATED: DaCool Hot Food Jar Insulated Lunch Box
- BEST SET: Ozazuco Bento Box Japanese Lunch Box
- BEST LEAK-PROOF: monbento MB Original Black bento Box
- BEST TRADITIONAL: OSK Japanese Traditional Rabbit Moon Bento Box Set
- BEST FOR KIDS: KOSSLY Bento Box For – 1600ML
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Bento Box
Thanks to its long history, the bento box already has stood the test of time. However, some new versions use inexpensive materials and break easily. Choose carefully and look for durable materials with extra features, such as locking lids, that don’t detract from their streamlined simplicity.
Most modern bento boxes are made of food-grade plastic. Just make sure the product description says “BPA free.” BPA, or bisphenol A, is an industrial chemical that’s been used in the manufacture of many plastics since the 1960s. According to the Mayo Clinic, BPA can leach out of plastic, which can possibly cause ill effects if absorbed by the body. Bento boxes also are made, either partially or completely, of food-grade stainless steel, as well as with traditional materials, such as bamboo, lacquered wood, and hardened wheat straw.
Plastic is easy to clean, and it’s typically safe to use in the microwave, freezer, and dishwasher. Stainless steel, while durable and easily washed, can’t go in the microwave. Some stainless steel containers, however, are well-insulated, keeping food hot for hours. Natural materials like wood, bamboo, and wheat straw are a bit more delicate and not recommended for dishwashing or microwaving. But they’re reusable, sustainable, and nontoxic. These materials make beautiful, traditional-style bento boxes.
Some people think bento boxes are small, especially when compared to classic lunch boxes or salad bar boxes. However, bento box designs support healthy food choices, such as a balanced diet and reasonably sized portions. That said, bento boxes come in a range of sizes suitable for kids, teens, and adults. Be sure to note the capacity (typically listed in liters or mls) and dimensions (inches) before buying. Measure your existing storage container and compare it to the bento box’s measurements. This is a good estimate of its capacity and whether it’s suitable for your needs.
Bento boxes are traditionally rectangular, with rounded edges. Their size and shape fit easily in the hand as well as in a travel bag. Simplicity is a design aesthetic central to Japanese culture. According to Kenya Hara, professor at the Musashino Art University in Japan, “shokunin kishitsu [the craftsman’s spirit] applies to bento-making and the pride people take in making them as beautiful as they can.” A modern bento box can honor this spirit by incorporating a minimalist, sustainable design.
The inner compartment traditionally divides into two or more sections for different foods. Bento boxes also come in stackable styles, two or more boxes high. This design helps keep food separate, especially if soup is in one of the compartments. Lids also may contain storage space for portable utensils, either spoons and forks or classic chopsticks. Some lids also double as cutting boards, plates, or cups for soup and other dishes.
Good bento box design is married to functionality. Look for one that blends effortlessly into your daily routine. The most important features to look for in a quality, reusable bento box include:
- Leak-proof seals are essential when transporting food. Look for bento boxes that have airtight silicone seals in their lids as well as between the various compartment layers (in stacking boxes). Some lids also contain snapping locks or elastic straps to prevent spills. Check out customer reviews to ensure that the seals and lid locks work in practice.
- Insulation might add to the cost of a bento box, but it’s worth the additional dollars. First of all, insulated boxes are designed to seal tightly, minimizing the risk of spills and leaks. Secondly, the best versions really can keep food hot or cold for up to 12 hours.
- Ease of cleaning makes the whole bento box experience, from prep to cleanup, uncomplicated. If you usually use a dishwasher, look for a bento box made of durable plastic or stainless steel that can hold high temperatures. Please note that lids, especially those made of natural materials or that have silicone seals, should not go in the dishwasher.
Our Top Picks
With the spirit of craftsmanship and function in mind, the bento boxes on this list are—thanks to their material construction and design—simple to use, easy to clean, and pleasing to the eye.
The EIOMS Original Design Bento Box is a good-looking bento box. The natural bamboo lid doubles as a cutting board or plate. It contains a silicone seal, plus it has an elastic strap for an airtight, leak-free fit. The container comes in BPA-free, food-grade plastic in either black or white. Inside, the main compartment divides into two sections, which prevents different foods from mixing. Even though it’s robust and capable of withstanding rough activities—including hiking and camping—the EOIMS Original bento box is easy to care for. Just remember to remove the lid when microwaving or sterilizing the box in the dishwasher. It’s also fridge- and freezer-safe. This attractive box is a good gift for a foodie or fitness enthusiast.
Bento boxes should be practical, and that’s where the LOVINA Bento Box steps in. These sturdy, snap-lid boxes are made of food-grade, BPA-free plastic. The use of this material makes the boxes reusable and safe to place in a microwave, freezer, or dishwasher (just remove the lid beforehand). LOVINA made box design a priority: The boxes fit into each other, saving space in the cupboard. Each box has three compartments for a full and balanced meal on the go. A portable spoon and fork (included) fit into the lid, offering convenient utensils for hot and cold meals when away from home.
This insulated bento box container looks space age and is high-tech too. Made of 304 food-grade stainless steel with copper-lined insulation and a seamless weld, this jar boasts beauty and functionality. While not in the traditional bento shape (it’s more of an oval), DaCool follows Japanese design principles. The sleek jar can keep liquids hot or cold for up to 12 hours. The company suggests pouring hot liquid or food into the container 5 to 10 minutes before sealing to preheat or precool it. The lid has a leak-proof seal, and it can double as a cup or bowl. The DaCool bento box also comes with a wide-mouthed, collapsible stainless steel spoon, perfect for filling the box and eating lunch too.
Even the best handwashing is no match for a dishwasher’s sterilizing power. The inner compartments in Ozazuco’s bento box pop out for easy cleaning. Made of BPA-free, food-grade plastic, and wheat fiber, the box features three stackable trays that fit neatly on top of each other. The clear plastic lid snaps in place with a silicone seal to prevent leakage. The set includes a fork and spoon as well as a portable food tote. Just big enough to fit veggies, a main dish, and some fruit for dessert, the Ozazuco comes in various colors and sets of one box or two.
Looking for a leak-proof bento box? Consider this two-tier option from monbento. The box contains high-quality silicone seals in both the lid and middle layer—something that other bento boxes sometimes lack. Made of BPA-free plastic, the monbento box is heat resistant and won’t shatter if dropped. The case has a soft-touch finish, giving it a sleek, modern look. Its extra-large size makes it ideal for long road trips (or for diners with good appetites). With two compartments stacked one on top of the other, it can transport an entire meal plus snacks.
The OSK Japanese Traditional Rabbit Moon Bento Box Set is cute and practical, with two tiers and a lunch bag for toting. It’s perfect for kids and also for adults with a sense of whimsy. Instead of forks or spoons, this pretty red box comes with reusable chopsticks, which adds to its traditional but fun design and function. Use for dry snacks and sandwiches and stay fueled throughout the day.
It’s rare to find an item that can grow with your kids, but the KOSSLY has room to expand. The stackable containers, made of BPA-free plastic, feature two separate compartments that are airtight and leak-proof. These boxes are microwave-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe (though hand-washing is recommended for increased longevity). If your kid is a picky eater, this bento can keep food separate and sterile, and special foods can be packed and taken along. The buckle snaps on each side of the lid to make sure no accidental spills occur. A reusable fork and spoon are sandwiched between the layers for meals hot and cold.
FAQ About Your New Bento Box
Let’s get down to business. Here are some answers to your most pressing bento-related questions.
Q. What’s the purpose of a bento box?
A bento box is designed to conveniently store a well-balanced meal for on-the-go lunches and snacks.
Q. What do you pack in a bento box?
Put just about any food you like in a bento box, so long as the box’s seal prevents leakage. In general, bento boxes are intended for salads, sandwiches, snacks, and sushi. Insulated versions work for soups.
Q. Which bento boxes are best for portion control?
Most bento boxes are good for portion control, but some manufacturers make boxes that are composed of one tier divided into three small sections. This helps users carry just the right amount of food for lunch.
Q. Are all bento boxes leak-proof?
No! Look for integrated silicone seals and extra-secure snaps or elastic straps that lock lids in place.