We Reviewed 11 Bento Boxes to Find One We’d Pack Lunch In

Our favorites were from Bentgo and Monbento.

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overhead shot of bento boxes

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Straight to the Point

While what you put inside a bento box is subjective, we found some objective truths about our favorite bento boxes, the Bentgo Stainless and Monbento Large Bento Box. Both were easy to pack, leakproof, and didn’t stain or retain odors. They also were spacious enough to pack a decent-sized meal, but weren’t too big as to be bulky in your backpack or bag.

The idea of packing food to-go is not new, nor is it unique to the Western world. There are metal tiffins in India, biàndāng in China, and bento boxes from Japan, which we are focusing on in this review. 

Today, the term bento describes a packed lunch gathered up in a box with little compartments for each food item; traditionally, rice was the main food placed inside, along with some vegetables and perhaps meat or fish. The bento experience encompasses the box, the food, the act of packing the food in the box, and the delight of eating from one. 

While its exact origins are murky, Sonoko Sakai, author of Japanese Home Cooking, postulates the bento box began as a way to bring food out and about. “I've read different things, like when the royal families went to go see the cherry blossoms, the servants would make a beautiful bento box,” she says. “So they would sit under the tree and lay out the blanket and watch the flowers bloom while they ate.” There was also the practical value of a portable box (and in older times, food wrapped in plant leaves) that contained the day's lunch. “When people went into the field, they had a bento, or if you're traveling you always carried a bento, and I think that it’s just a very ancient dish,” Sakai says. 

Today, bento has expanded to include all kinds of foods and boxes; a bento can contain onigiri as readily as an egg salad sandwich, and a traditional lacquered-looking box is no more common than one that’s bright pink and decorated with anime characters. 

Choosing a bento box is personal, with some people valuing certain aspects over others: some might want a single box with few compartments, others might want one that has a multitude of compartments for keeping food separate; Some might want a two-tiered box with a band to hold them together, others might prefer a single box with a silicone-lined rim for ultimate leak-prevention. Today, there are many offerings on the market, and while we tested 11 options and came away with some favorites, in the end, it’s up to you what you want in a bento box.

The Best, Most Spacious Bento Box: Bentgo Stainless

Bentgo Stainless

Say your idea of a perfect lunch is a big sandwich, a loaded salad, or a heaping donburi (really, any manner of hearty lunch fare). Well, the Bentgo Stainless has you covered with a large interior, optional divider, and an impressive leakproof seal.

The Best Leakproof Bento Box: Monbento Large Bento Box

Monbento Large Bento Box

If you like to pack anything even slightly liquidy (fruit salad, for example), this box is the bento to buy. It’s leakproof (even when shaken vigorously) and compact, yet still quite spacious.

The Best Smaller Bento Box: Bento Bite Dual from TAKENAKA

Takenaka Bento Bite Dual

This cute little bento box features two surprisingly spacious compartments with an optional divider, and a fork (because who doesn’t forget to pack a utensil?). It’s compact and easily fits into a tote-style purse or backpack.

The Best Bento Box for Kids: Pottery Barn All-in-One Bento Box

Pottery Barn All-in-One Bento Box

This no-frills bento box comes in a variety of colors and is easy to open and close (which is a nice feature for little kids). It’s also made of plastic, so it won’t dent or ding up, and the interior compartments keep foods separate, while also still being rooomy enough to fit all kinds of snacks.

The Best Traditional-Style Bento Box: Suzuran Shokado Bento Box

Suzuran Shokado Bento Box

If you’d like to serve your friends or family a traditional (or untraditional, up to you) bento, this bento box is a gorgeous option. While it’s made of plastic, it has the look and feel of a traditional lacquered wooden box, and is easy to clean.

The Tests

placing a spoonful of tomato sauce into the pottery barn bento box for the stain test.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

  • Packed Lunch Test: We packed each bento box with a simple lunch consisting of a small mandarin orange, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 1/4 cup of walnuts, three Sidgal Norwegian crispbreads, and two small peeled carrots, cut in half. We examined how (and if) everything fit, and if the box was easy to fill, put together, and close. 
  • Leak Test: We filled each lunchbox with 1-cup of water and shook it to see if it leaked. 
  • Stain and Odor Test: We smeared the interior of each bento box with tomato sauce, closed the lid, and let it sit for four hours. Then, we cleaned each box by hand and noted if the box stained or had any lingering odors. 
  • Durability Tests: We opened and closed each bento box 10 times. Throughout testing, we also noted if the boxes were easy to assemble and take apart, and because of our own clumsiness, we dropped them a few times. 
  • Microwave Test: We heated microwave-safe boxes in the microwave for 1-minute at the 700-watt setting. 
  • Cleaning Test: We hand washed each bento box after use, noting if it was easy to clean and if any food stains or odors remained. 
  • Usability Test: Throughout our testing, we examined and noted how easy it was to pack, assemble, unpack, and clean each bento box. 

What We Learned 

Overall Size and Compartment-Style Were Important

a traditional style bento box with food inside the compartments.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Since what people pack for lunch varies greatly, we preferred bento boxes that allowed for a variety of options. The Monbento Large Bento Box, the TAKENAKA Bento Bite Dual, and the Bentgo Stainless all had moveable partitions to build-your-own compartments, which allowed us to pack foods of all shapes and sizes. We found boxes with fixed compartments, like the LunchBots Large Stainless Steel Lunch Box and Bentgo Kids, more limiting; some items didn’t fit, or we had to cut them up to squeeze them in (for example, we had trouble fitting a small sandwich into the Bentgo Kids box, since all of the compartments were quite tiny). We also found we preferred bento boxes that were mid-sized; bigger boxes, like the Bentgo Modern (which, at 9 x 7 x 2.4 inches, was one of the largest we tested), felt less portable. However, if a box was too small and shallow (like the Bentgo Classic, which had two boxes, one of which was only 1.7 inches deep), we had trouble fitting food inside, especially round fruits like mandarin oranges.  

A Leak-Proof Box Was a Nice Bonus

shaking a bento box with water over a bowl.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

While not a dealbreaker, it was nice when a bento box was entirely leak-proof—no one wants to open their backpack or purse to find spilled liquid. And not all boxes that claimed to be leak-proof were: the Bentgo Kids and UMAMI All-in-1 Bento Box both claimed to seal in liquids, but leaked a little when filled with water and turned and shaken. The most leak-proof boxes were the Monbento Large Bento Box and the Bentgo Stainless; nary a drop of water escaped even when they were vigorously shaken.

Material Wasn’t Super Important

bento box with sauce inside it

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

We didn’t find the box material super important, unless you’re dead-set on microwaving your food in the box (in which case, we’d check manufacturer instructions, and most likely avoid metal). In terms of staining and odor retention, we didn’t find too much of a difference between metal and plastic boxes; some metal boxes, like the LunchBots Large Cinco Stainless Steel Lunch Container, did retain a slight tomato sauce smell, as did a few plastic ones, like the Bentgo Kids and Bentgo Classic boxes.  

In the End, the Perfect Bento Box is a Highly Personal Choice 

overhead shot of a few bento boxes on a marble countertop

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

While we preferred boxes with larger, adjustable compartments, and ones that were medium-sized and deep, in the end, it all depends on your lunching habits and what you want to prioritize. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Good Bento Box

A seriously good bento box: roomy, leakproof, portable

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Our favorite bento-style boxes had large, adjustable compartments and were medium-sized and deep enough to fit non-square foods, like mandarins or clementines. We also liked boxes that were leak-proof, portable, and easy to clean.

The Best, Most Spacious Bento Box: Bentgo Stainless 

Bentgo Stainless

What we liked: This is a compact yet roomy bento box that features a moveable partition, should you like to keep your peas separate from your carrots, so to speak. It comfortably fits a variety of foods of all shapes and sizes without being bulky. It was also very easy to clean, and didn’t retain any stains or odors. Plus, it’s leak-proof due to the silicone-lined lid and silicone airlock tab.

What we didn’t like: It’s unclear if this box is microwave-safe (another offering from Bentgo that is also made of stainless steel is, surprisingly, microwave-safe, but we couldn’t find an answer for this model). The lid can also be a little hard to remove, since the silicone tab on top, when pushed in, creates a seal. 

Price at time of publish: $30.

Key Specs 

  • Materials: Stainless steel, silicone 
  • Dimensions: 8 x 6 x 2 inches
  • Capacity: 5 cups
  • Accessories: Removable partition
  • Compartments: Up to two
  • Microwave Safe: N/A (we couldn’t find an answer to this, so we’d recommend avoiding microwaving it)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe (top-shelf only), though the brand recommends hand washing the lid to increase longevity of the silicone seal
bentgo stainless bento box on a marble countertop

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Best Leakproof Bento Box: Monbento Large Bento Box

Monbento Large Bento Box

What we liked: This two-tiered box was roomy (we were able to comfortably fit all of the food items—with room to spare—in our packed lunch test), but still overall compact enough to toss into a tote bag or backpack. It was also incredibly leak-proof. 

What we didn’t like: It’s a bit pricier than some other boxes, and the leak-proof seal is so tight, we had trouble removing the lids. 

Price at time of publish: $40.

Key Specs: 

  • Materials: Polypropylene plastic, silicone
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches
  • Capacity: 7 cups
  • Accessories: Extra band, small removable compartment 
  • Compartments: Up to three
  • Microwave Safe: Yes
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe
monbento on a marble countertop

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Best Smaller Bento Box: Bento Bite Dual from TAKENAKA

Takenaka Bento Bite Dual

What we liked: This was a charming two-tiered bento box that included moveable dividers and a fork. We liked its compact, small size (though it was still quite deep, which was nice) and how easy it was to fill, assemble, and take apart. 

What we didn’t like: It does not claim to be leak-proof, and we did have some water dribble out during our leak test. It’s also a bit pricey. 

Price at time of publish: $41.

Key Specs 

  • Materials: Polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene 
  • Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.3 x 4.2 inches
  • Capacity: 4.89 cups
  • Accessories: Band, plastic fork
  • Compartments: Up to three
  • Microwave Safe: Yes
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe
takenaka bento box on a marble countertop

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Best Bento Box for Kids: Pottery Barn All-in-One Bento Box

Pottery Barn All-in-One Bento Box

What we liked: This was a simple box that, though it features fixed compartments, was spacious. It was also easy to open and close and featured an attached lid, which could be good for little kids (or adults) who are prone to losing things. Plus, it comes in a variety of fun colors and is budget-friendly. 

What we didn’t like: The fixed compartments could make packing different foods tricky, but overall we didn’t have a problem with it. The clasp, which is made of plastic, seems like it could break after extended use, and this bento box is not microwave-safe. 

Price at time of publish: $15.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Plastic
  • Dimensions: 8 x 7 x 2.5 inches
  • Capacity: 5.5 cups
  • Accessories: None
  • Compartments: Five
  • Microwave Safe: No
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe (top rack only).
Pottery barn bento box on marble countertop

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Best Traditional-Style Bento Box: Suzuran Shokado Bento Box

Suzuran Shokado Bento Box

What we liked: This beautiful, decorated box is akin to a more traditional bento-style box. It features a pretty illustration on the lid, and multiple-sized compartments for presenting a meal in style. And unlike more traditional bento boxes, it’s made of plastic; you don’t have to worry about caring for a wooden object. 

What we didn’t like: The lid doesn’t clasp onto the box, and it’s not leak-proof, meaning this is more of a bento box you’d serve at home rather than take on-the-go. It’s also not dishwasher- or microwave-safe.

Price at time of publish: $20.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Plastic
  • Dimensions: 3 × 6.9 × 1.8 inches
  • Capacity: NA
  • Accessories: None
  • Compartments: Five
  • Microwave Safe: No
  • Care: Hand-wash only
traditional style bento box on marble countertop

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Competition

  • LunchBots Large Cinco Stainless Steel Lunch Container: Even though it’s made of stainless steel, this bento box retained some odor from the tomato sauce. We also found the fixed compartments a bit restrictive, and noticed that the partitions, while attached, had gaps in the corners, so if you have something runny in one compartment, it could leak into the others. 
  • UMAMI All-in-1 Bento Box: This bento box includes wooden utensils that, though pretty, didn’t seem entirely functional (especially the knife). And while it’s claimed to be leakproof, it did leak during our tests. The boxes were also a bit shallow, and we struggled to snap the lid on when we placed a small mandarin orange inside. 
  • Bentgo Modern: If you want a pretty bento box, this is it. While we liked the look of it, (and the fact that you can remove the interior box to microwave your food) it was pretty bulky, weighing in at 1 pound 10 ounces, making it the heaviest bento box in our lineup. It’s also leak-resistant, but not entirely leakproof. 
  • Bentgo Classic: We liked the look and compact size of this bento box, but found the 1.7-inch deep section a bit shallow for our needs. 
  • Bentgo Kids: This is a sturdy kids’ lunch box with a rubbery edge, making it resilient to drops. We found the small compartments a bit restrictive in terms of what you can pack, but we do think little kids would like the presentation. And while it claimed to be leak-proof, we did see a few drops of water escape near the hinges. 
  • Shikiri Modern Plus Bento Box: This box had a very utilitarian vibe; it wasn’t the most eye-catching of the lineup. It uses side clasps to lock the lid on, and it claimed to be semi-leak-proof except when tipped and turned, which seemed limiting. It was quite compact (though you could remove the inner compartments), and we had some issues closing it with a mandarin orange inside. The box (minus the lid) is also only microwave-safe for up to two minutes at 700 watts. 

FAQs

What traditionally goes into a bento box?

Traditionally, bento boxes were filled with rice and some little sides. “It was all about the rice and the little compartments,” Sakai explains. “The rice could be in an onigiri wrapped in a bamboo leaf, and then you have the side dishes, what we call okazu. Okazu are little nibbles that will enhance the rice, but it's always been centered around rice. So when you talk about Japanese bento, the first thing that comes to mind is rice, and that's the traditional main.” 

Can you put a bento box in the freezer?

Some of the bento boxes we tested are freezer-safe, so if you have a frozen mochi with ice cream in it, you can place the whole box in the freezer. 

Does a bento box keep food warm?

No, but you can buy insulated bags made specifically for bento boxes; these will help keep your food warm. Alternatively, some bento boxes we reviewed are microwave-safe, so you can reheat your food.