Choosing the best bento box for kids school lunches

Part of our assortment of bento boxes

Part of our assortment of bento boxes

Thinking about getting a bento box to use for your children’s lunches? Here’s how we thought about the different kids bento box type options and what we chose. We liked the concept of a bento box because of the  limited time for lunch at school, the opportunity for portion control, and the ease of use, and it’s worked out well for us!

Factors to consider in choosing a kids bento box

  • Type of food you’ll be preparing / packing: If you’re a sandwich plus sides family you’ll want something different than if you prefer to send in leftovers, but there’s more beyond that. Do you need temperature control, and how much? Do you send viscous foods or pure solids? And does your child need to pack a snack as well, and do you want it to go in the box or outside?
  • Ease of use: How old is your child? How easy will it be for him/her to open the box, use it, close it, etc? How much time does does he or she have to eat lunch – is an extra few minutes dealing with multiple lids fine or does that take up 25% of the lunch period?
  • Ease of cleaning: You’ll note that I’m not including stainless steel bentos in my review, because among other reasons I wanted something that got used every day to be able to go in the dishwasher. Do you care about needing to hand-wash the bento?
  • Aesthetics: Does you have a certain way you’d like the box to look? Does your child have preferences? Will they be more likely to eat their veggies if they’re cut in a certain way or if there’s a rocket ship beneath?

Things that don’t really matter

Let’s talk about two factors I didn’t mention above: price and lunchbox size. These seem like they’d be important, but in the end turned out not to matter to me, and here’s why:

  • Price: The bento boxes I looked at ranged in price from $8 to $40. I remember thinking “$30 for a food container?!” but my child uses hers every day. Even if it’s just school days and you only use it for a year, that’s still 180 school days. On a cost-per-use basis the difference is negligible – get the one that suits you best. Your kid will use it every day, you’ll have to deal with washing it every day – usually on this blog I try to talk about ways to save money, but this is not the place to save $10. Get the one that fits your needs the best and it will make your life so much easier.
  • Lunchbox size: We currently have in our household a Skip Hop lunch bag, a Garnett Hill lunchbox (I would link to these but it seems like they only sell them seasonally!), a Hanna Andersson lunchbox,  and a random brand lunchbox with a mermaid princess on it. The bentos that we have fit in all of them (yes, even the Skip Hop giraffe – it doesn’t seem like it should fit, but it does). If you have a special tiny circular lunchbox, I can’t help you, but otherwise any standard children’s lunchbox should hold any of these bento boxes.

Recommendations

The two bentos I like best are the Yumbox and the Bentgo boxes – both are durable, actually spillproof, and easy for kids to use. Plus I love that they are both just two pieces: the outer shell and the inner tray. There are many boxes that have great features but just don’t really work all that well for kids because of the number of pieces (plus I end up with seven plastic lids floating around my dishwasher, which drives me nuts), although I’ll talk about what we have there too.

Yumbox

Yumbox bento kids lunchbox with four compartmentsYumbox comes in two different styles – the Original Yumbox with six compartments and the Yumbox Panino, which has four compartments. Both are spillproof – the tray reaches up to top of the box so not only do things not spill out of the bento but they don’t spill from one compartment to the next, so you can put yogurt in one area and applesauce in another and carrots in a third and even after your kid throws their backpack with their lunchbox in it around all morning to make sure the bento does lots of rotations, is packed on its side, etc., there will not be carrots floating in the yogurt or yogurt spilling into the applesauce. This is pretty great if you have kids who are fussy about foods touching.

Yumboxes (Yumboxi?) come in more variety than Bentgo boxes, with a greater choice of colors as well as different designs on the bottoms of the trays, so you could for example buy a blue Yumbox with a rocket-themed tray and glow-in-the-dark stars. Given that our kids do not normally eat their lunches in the dark, we skipped this option, but it’s there if you need it.

Both types of Yumbox measure 8.5″ x 6.5″ x 1.8″ and weight 1.1 lbs.  They are top rack dishwasher safe for the inner tray and the outer box can go in the dishwasher as long as there’s no heated dry. You cannot microwave the Yumbox (I have yet to find a good microwavable bento for kids) so we just heat up leftovers in whatever container they were in the night before. The Yumbox is not insulated but if you have a standard insulated lunchbox you should be all set – hot food is warm at lunch and cold food is still cold, even without an icepack (we used one for a few days then realized we didn’t need to bother). One important thing to know about Y is that the inner lid of the box is geared to form a seal with the tray, so you can’t just buy an extra tray with the other compartment arrangement and pop it in your existing box – you’d have to buy the other full set.

Bentgo

Bentgo Kids bento lunchboxBentgo boxes have multiple compartments and a removable inner tray, similar to the Yumbox.  The main differences are that it is offered in one configuration of five compartments, and that it’s a little thicker than the Yumbox. It’s made of thicker plastic so is slightly higher (2″ vs. 1.8″ for the Yumbox) and about an ounce and a half heavier. Paradoxically, it feels like there’s room for slightly less food, since the Bentgo boxes have thicker divisions between compartments.

I like the Yumbox best overall, but I do think the Bentgo can be nicer for younger kids – a three year old can open it and poke around a little more easily than the Yumbox because of the extra heft. Yumbox bentos are advertised as being for kids and adults (the trays have themed illustrations on them but some would be fine for adults too), and you could totally take a Yumbox to work, but the Bentgo is clearly made for kids.

Other characteristics are similar – Bentgo boxes are leakproof and the tray is dishwasher safe, although they officially recommend hand-washing the outer shell whereas Yumbox‘s are dishwasher top-rack safe.

Other Options

Bento lunch boxFor many-pieced boxes, the Bentology brand is inexpensive and well-regarded, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear set of leaders here as much as in the two-piece category. We have this Bento-ware set (which iss $7.99 as of the time I’m writing this post, a bunch less than I paid!) which works fine but we just found it was way too many lids and pieces for our kids. If your child was more of a grazer, or the school day was set up so there was a morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack, etc., then this type of bento could make more sense – the individual lids would allow them to open each part only as needed.

Final note – Bentgo boxes were actually on Groupon today (2/3) for 50% off, but sold out pretty quickly. I wrote about it in this post and will certainly update and link if I see that deal again!


 

All photos are the author’s own except the Bentgo image which is courtesy of Bentgo.

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2 thoughts on “Choosing the best bento box for kids school lunches

  1. Pingback: Kids bento boxes and lunchboxes/bags: photos of lots of brand combinations! | momlifehacker

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