So you want to take the bento plunge but feel overwhelmed with where to start? Understandable. With so many products on the market, you might as well ask what type of car you should buy. (Or even worse…what type of stroller.)
The key to a good bento is a good bento box. I’ve rounded up some of the most popular picks, but first keep the following in mind:
1. Invest in quality. Cheaply made hinges or sub-par seals will definitely show over time. Having said that, don’t stick to a one and only; it’s good to have at least two, if not more, boxes to switch off.
2. Think inside the box. Decide how many compartments you’d want, keeping in mind you can always create dividers with silicone cups (more on that in a future post).
3. Buy for little hands. Keep the number of lids to a minimum to make things easier, and choose ones that are a snap to open and close. There’s nothing worse than a leaky lunchbox coming home!
4. Bigger isn’t always better. Bentos need to be tightly packed so that food doesn’t jostle around and so that any cutesy details you make stay put.
The names of containers are clickable (some are affiliate links). I’ve starred the ones I personally own and love.
1. easy lunchboxes*, $13.95/set of 4
2. sistema klip it cube, $5.99
3. laptop lunches, $23.99; multiple colors
4. yumbox, $29.99
5. apple bento, $8.99
6. lock n lock 4-section box*, $8.99
7. goodbyn small meal, ~$12 (multiple colors, also available at Target)
8. goodbyn bynto, ~$13 (multiple colors, also available at Target)
9. sugarbooger 3-compartment container, $10.78
Both the Easy Lunchboxes and Lock & Locks are BPA-free and really versatile. If you’ve done some homework, you know that Ziploc makes something very similar. I started with these since they were under $3 for a set of two, but the difference is night and day; $14ish for a set of four is an amazing value for thick, sturdy plastic. The Ziplocs are meant to be disposable; they’re fine if you’re on a very tight budget, but cloud, scratch, and warp easily.
A few lunches in the Easy Lunchboxes. (Full disclosure: I received these to try out and review.) If you’re looking for a one and only bento box, this is it. It’ll last you a while since you’re rotating between four containers; they hold up amazingly well in the dishwasher; each compartment gets its own seal; and there’s ample room to get creative with bento tools. The Kitchn has a gorgeous feature on it packing generous portions of hefty salad. Translation: you get to use them, too!
Examples of the Lock & Lock, which is a whole line of containers in different sizes. They’re getting scarcer to find online, but check your local Asian market or eBay.
1. planetbox shuttle*, $34.95 alone or $39.95 with a carrying case
2. lunchbots trio, $20.99 (other sizes, like the duo, are also popular)
3. eco lunchbox 3-in-1, $26
4. steeltainers*, large size $15.95/ small size with removable divider for $12.95
5. pororo 5-section container, $23.98 (check if you have a Korean grocery store in your area)
6. kids konserv rectangle with divider, $15.95
7. innobaby din din platter with lid, $19.99
8. rilakkuma 2-tier tiffin, $28
9. sten lock divided container*, from $6
I threw in the Sten Lock because I found a couple at a local Korean market and like them a lot. Mine don’t have dividers but are still high-quality stainless steel and very versatile. They’re similar to the Steeltainers, and to the set of Lunchbots Clicks that I also own.
Top row: large and snack size Steeltainers, which I received to review. Here’s my review: I love them. They’re a good size for either my kindergartner or my 3rd grader and can hold drippy foods without batting an eye. The white that you see is an outer plastic shell removable for cleaning; I’m assuming it’s for insulation, though for true insulation I’d go with a thermos.
Middle row: Lunchbots from the Clicks line, which don’t have dividers but do have locking, leakproof lids, unlike their divided containers. I have the small Clicks, and use both for my kindergartener’s main lunch or one for a snack for each kid.
Bottom row: Planetbox Shuttle which is heavy-duty with an easy clasp and a lot more room than you’d think. The original Planetbox, now called the Rover, is super popular, albeit pricy, but big enough for grown-up appetites. And, it’ll last. You could pack lunch for your kids, and then your grandkids, with this brand.
Phew! Hope this is helpful; feel free to ask any questions you might have. Stay tuned for a blog post about bento tools, and a giveaway of one of my favorite products.