Bento Basics
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3 Tips on Selecting Your Bento Box

So, you have decided that you are starting a new life with bento. No matter it’s for you or for your loved ones or both, the first question you face will be what/which bento box you should get.

There are various kinds of bento boxes with different design, material, and sizes out there. It could be quite puzzling for beginners to pick a bento box without any context. That’s why I wrote this article to help you sort out the bento box that best fits your needs. I also consolidate an easy comparison table of different bento box materials for you in the end of this article.

When selecting a bento box, it’s all about your diet and lifestyle. Yeah, this sounds vague, so I break it down into three simple questions. By answering these three questions, you will have an idea of what bento box to get. Afterall, life is too short for a not fully-functional bento box.

I. Do you reheat your bento? 

When it comes to bento box selection, the first and foremost question is about reheating. That is, what temperature would you like to have of your bento? Some people like to have food as it’s fresh out of kitchen, but some like it lukewarm or cold. No matter what your answer is, it will decide the available materials of your bento box.

Re-heating bento can make it taste fresher.

“Yes, I like my bento hot. “

In this case, bento boxes made from plastic, glass, or ceramics would be a better option. You can reheat it with microwave before enjoying your meal. However, bento box with wood, bambo, and metal cannot be heated by microwave oven, you might want to think twice before you place order for these boxes.

I have a more detailed article about how to reheat your bento and introduce you few practical hacks to make your bento meal more delicious.

[link to the article]

Traditionally, Japanese bento doesn’t require reheating.

“No, I don’t need to reheat my bento.”

Congratulation! you are up for all kinds of bento boxes and can plan on getting bento box by the design or other functions such as durability, stain-resistance, or leak-free.

II. What’s your preference of food and how much do you eat?

After having a general idea about the material of bento box, now I can be more specific about the types of cuisines. This will affect your bento box selection regarding the stain-resistant, design, and size of the box.

Think back the past week, what did you usually have as your bento meal? Is it sandwiches? salad? rice bowl? pasta? beef stew? or curry?

The Size of your bento box

The size of bento box totally depends on what kind of food you have most often and how much you usually eat. If you have salads or sandwiches for bento most often, you may need a bigger bento box to prevent your lunch from being compressed. Also, if your bento meal happens to be the heaviest meal of your day, you will need a larger box to pack all the food for your energy. However, if you like to have fewer food for meals and snack a lot in between like me, a smaller bento box is easier to carry and helps me control my diet.

Usually, there are three sizes of bento box, small (500ml/17oz), medium(750ml/26oz), and large(1000ml/35oz). On average, the amount of food consumption per meal of an adult is around 500g/1.1lb. My default choice is the 750ml/26oz bento box. I found it the right size for me because I mainly eat rice and sauteed meat or vegetables for my bento meals.

Bentos with strong flavor food such as curry may need compartment to separate dishes.

Compartment or stain-resistant bento box

If your bento contains liquid food like stew, curry, or tomato sauce, a bento box with compartment and stain-resistant can help you enjoy the meal and not to worry about cleaning.

Carrying liquid and strong flavor food in a bento box without compartment may cause a mess: the sauce is everywhere and spoil the flavor or texture of other dishes. Luckily, bento boxes with almost every material have independent compartment and that allows you to separate those dishes from others when you need it.

As for stain-resistant, it can prevent food dye from foods like turmeric or beets. Bento box with materials like glass and metal can best prevent food dye. However, wood, bamboo, and plastic can easily gets color from food if it didn’t have special treatment. If you prefer bento boxes with these materials, make sure it’s painted wood/bamboo and dark color plastic. And clean your bento box as soon as possible after your meals.

III. What’s your commute like?

Last but not least is about the transportation of your bento. Can you imagine carrying a heavy lunch box while running in the rain to catch the train? Or found out that your food is all over your backpack after you get off a full-loaded train? These situations are not fun and believe me, it happens a lot.

Public transportation rider

If you commute by public transportation or bikes, functions like “lightweight” and “leak-free” should be what you look for. Bento boxes made from wood, bamboo, plastic, and metal are generally lighter than others.  Also, there are some collapsible bento boxes that can be folded into a smaller size for storage, so you can have some extra storage room on your way back.

Car Commuter

 If you drive or you are confident about your bento handling skills, you are not limited to the weight and the material of the bento box. You can have many options. Still, I recommend you to have a leak-free bento box or a bento bag to minimize the risks.

To Sum up

The criteria of your best bento box is really based on what your diet looks like. But overall, the characteristics of different materials bento box can be summarize as this:

A comparison of different materials bento boxes

I’m hesitant about the food safety of plastic bento boxes. It seems that some people are concerned about the chemicals in plastic might leach out and cause health issues in long term usage. However, there are also many plastic bento boxes that are BPA and phthalates free, and some counterarguments about the boxes has passed FDA regulation. In short, it’s a really complicated debate and so far there’s no short answer of yes or no, so I leave this decision up to you.

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