How to Choose your Bento Box

Whether it’s to reduce plastic waste, save money or eat healthier, more and more people are starting to embrace the bento lifestyle.

But that first step of choosing the right bento box can be a daunting one.

When it comes to bento boxes, it's definitely NOT one-size-fits-all.

You don’t want to spend your hard-earned cash on a bento only to find that your stomach is growling by 2pm because your box only fits half a sandwich, or that your kid’s new lunchbox is too big for their school bag. 

With that in mind we’ve compiled our best tips so you can pick the perfect bento box for you and your kids!

What Size Bento do you REALLY need?

FIrst let’s consider the size of the bento box. Choosing a Japanese style bento box can be confusing especially as they tend to be smaller than Western-style lunch boxes. It's easy to underestimate how much food will actually fit into the box! The key with Japanese-stye bento boxes is that food is meant to be packed in fairly densely (to prevent foods from moving around) and to make it look visually appealing. This way you can actually fit quite a lot of food into a surprisingly petite-looking container

Here at Bento&co we’ve divided our boxes into Small, Medium, and Large categories.

Small, Medium, and Large Bento Boxes

Small boxes (up to 500 ml)

Small bento boxes are perfect for younger kids or adults with very small appetites. These boxes can also be used as a convenient container for side dishes, snacks or dessert!

Hands holding a black and purple small bento box with a design of Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service
The adorable Jiji Round Two Tier Lunch Bowl (500mL) has two tiers, and a built in fork. Perfect for little ones.

Medium boxes (500 to 780 mL)

Medium boxes are great for older kids, and adults with small to medium appetites. If you are unsure what bento box to choose, medium sized boxes are a great place to start.

The 640mL capacity Fuku Usagi Bento Box can fit all this much food inside.

Large boxes (780 mL - 1000mL )

Large boxes are for adults and growing teenagers who need a hearty lunch! This is also a good choice if you want to pack a fluffy salad or bulky sandwiches that you don't want to smush inside a small box.

The Original Karakusa Bento holds a lot while still staying compact.

Looking for something larger?

XLarge boxes (1000mL+ )

The choice for when you want a VERY generous lunch, or want to share. Includes our picnic boxes.

If you are still unsure what size is best for you, refer to the general guide below which shows suggested bento capacity (400mL to 900mL) based on age bracket and appetite. For those with more sedentary lifestyles, you can subtract 100mL from these suggested bento sizes and similarly for those who have active lifestyles, you can add on 100mL.


Large Appetite

Small Appetite

3-5 years



6-8 years



9-11 years



12-20 years



20-40 years



50-60 years



70 years



Which Shape is Best?

Bento boxes come in all kinds of shapes and each one comes with its own unique benefits and disadvantages. Here we’ve broken it down shape by shape so you can figure out which one will serve you best.

Oval and round boxes: Easy to wash! Can be difficult to fill up without creating gaps.  Perfect for “nokke” or “donburi” style bentos where you put your main dishes on top of rice.
Square boxes: Easy to place foods inside without gaps. Corners may be tricky to wash.
Slim/Narrow style boxes: Easy to put food in without gaps. Fits nicely into backpacks and work bags without taking up much space. Corners may be tricky to wash. May need to cut up larger pieces of food to be able to fit.

How many tiers should I choose?

Related to the shape of bento is the question of tiers. Most boxes come in one or two tiers (with some picnic boxes coming in 3 or more tiers).

1 Tier boxes: Less components to the box so cleanup is easy. Flavors of food may seep into the rice or mix with other foods.  Usually more room for foods to move around during transport.

2 Tier boxes: Easily separate rice from your side dishes. Packs a lot of food.  More parts to wash. Not meant for “nokke” or “donburi” style bento.

Our Recommendation for Kids and Bento Beginners

For kids and bento beginners, we recommend a one-tier oval shaped bento as it’s easy to pack, looks great and is easy to clean! These MAGE-wappa boxes are a great option that have a traditional wood-like look but are durable, microwave and dishwasher safe!

What Material is Best for Bento Boxes?

Next is the question of material, specifically whether to choose plastic, metal, or wood. Each has its benefits and advantages!

BPA-Free Plastic Bento Boxes

Bento boxes made from BPA-free plastic are perfect for everyday use. Most are dishwasher and microwave-safe. Comes in all kinds of fun designs and colors and at a reasonable price point.

Wooden Bento Boxes

Nothing beats the warm look and feel of a wooden bento box. These boxes are handmade, with many of them carefully crafted by Japanese artisans, like our Magewappa (“bent wood” bento boxes made with sustainably sourced cedar from Akita preferecture) and Miyama boxes, made by a single artisan, Mr. Hasehira. There is a price to pay for the beauty of wooden boxes however in that they are not microwave or dishwasher safe, require more care and tend to be more expensive.

A Miyama masterpiece

Stainless Steel Boxes

An increasingly popular choice, Stainless Steel boxes are lightweight, don’t transfer smells and flavors, and have a classic aesthetic. They are easy to clean and durable. Of course they can’t be microwaved, so they are better suited for foods meant to be eaten at room temperature although the Seagull Tiffin can be placed over an open flame!

The stylish Seagull Tiffin Stainless Steel Lunch Box | Medium can be placed directly over flame. Perfect for camping.

Factor in Other Preferences You Have for a Bento Box

Lastly, decide on any specific features you would like. Want a bento box with inner dividers built in to organize your food? The perfect box for you exists. Are you concerned about forgetting an icepack for your bento in the hotter months? Check out our Gel Cool collection.

Most importantly you need to like how your bento box looks as it will be your trusty companion to fuel you during the school or work week. Choose the one that sparks joy for you!

Still not sure what bento box is right for you?  Reach out to us via the chat bottom on the lower right of the screen or email us at Our team would love to help you out with any questions or concerns you may have as you start your bento journey!