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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

What’s the Best Bento Box for Toddlers [and Kindergarten]



Learn why parents are switching to bento boxes for their children's on-the-go meals!
Learn why parents are switching to bento boxes for their kindergartener’s on-the-go meals!

It’s no surprise that most children look forward to lunch every day. Lunchtime is an opportunity for them to recharge and socialize with family and friends.

For some toddlers and kindergarteners, the presentation is just as important as taste. So, as parents, how can we make lunches cute, colorful, and fun—especially when we are eating on-the-go?

Making sure the kids eat healthy, especially when they’re out and about, is always a challenge.

That’s why I recommend a bento box for you and your tot! Rather than resorting to fast food on those family trips, why not try something different? Preparing a bento lunch means you can make a healthy meal that will look as good as it tastes, even after being jostled around in a car!

The Beauty of Bento

A bento box is its sectioned spaces, so foods don’t mix. They are most common in Japan, where they usually hold rice, some kind of meat or fish, and vegetables.

You can almost always order a bento meal at most authentic Asian restaurants, but they have recently become popular items in kindergartens, elementary schools, and even college campuses across America.

Why should I use a bento box for packing my child’s lunches?

  • Have you ever known the tragedy of uneaten meals because the foods accidentally touched and are now, apparently, inedible to your toddler?
  • Have you ever spent hours filling what felt like 500 plastic snack bags for just one lunch?
  • Do you thrive on organizing?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then a bento box is for you.

A healthy bento lunch is a sweet way to show your child you care.
A healthy bento lunch is a sweet way to show your child you care.

When you’re shopping around for back-to-school supplies, equipping your child with a brand new bento box is a wonderful opportunity to express how much you care. You’ll get to be the cool parent who strategically packs their kindergartner expertly-chosen fresh picks for lunch instead of two bags of cheese puffs and a can of soda.

I can’t think of anything better than being offered several foods of varying flavors and textures at lunchtime. For the kindergartner, exposure to a sampling of foods demonstrates the importance of eating a balanced diet. They will come to love the different cheeses, crackers, and fruits that you’ll pack them for lunch.

If healthy eating has been difficult for your little guy or gal, consider strategically adding fun-shaped foods or snacks to the box so they don’t lose interest in their lunches. Bento boxes offer them a visually appealing display of the day’s spread, instead of a dark and mysterious lunch pail.

What features should a bento box for kindergartners have?

Bento boxes come in many shapes and sizes, so be sure to choose one that will suit your kindergartner well. Let them pick out their favorite color while you select a size that won’t overwhelm them come lunchtime. Here are some cool features to think about as you shop around.

#1. Durability is critical!

Bento boxes for kindergarten lunch should always be durable. I’ve never met a kindergartner who was known exclusively for their daintiness and careful handling of lunchboxes.

A bento box made of high-quality, BPA-free plastic will likely be the best option for your kindergartner.

Plastic is easy to care for and maintain and is less likely to break if the bento box takes a spill onto the lunchroom floor. Plastic boxes also tend to be dishwasher safe, unlike the wooden varieties, meaning an easier cleanup for you!

Bentgo Kids Childrens Lunch Box - Bento-Styled Lunch Solution Offers Durable, Leak-Proof, On-the-Go Meal and Snack Packing

Plastic is also a good choice because it’s usually lighter than its glass or stainless steel counterparts.

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#2. A good box can help you keep things organized.

Arguably, the best feature of a bento box is its ability to keep different foods separate from the rest. This is especially useful for kids who don’t like their foods mixing together. No more wasted food just because the pretzel salt contaminated the peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

A bento box that has snapping sides might also be ideal for the kindergartner who has a tendency to jumble things around or drop their lunch. The snaps make sure the contents stay put.

Another excellent selling point of a top-notch bento box is a space where you can attach miniature travel utensils. Sometimes these can be snapped into place on the inside of the box, which makes them less likely to get misplaced by the little rascal who can’t seem to remember where he or she left the teddy bear last night!

Don’t forget a cold drink! Here’s my review of the best thermos for cold drinks.

#3. Get the right size.

A quality bento box will come with enough headroom for any taller items you might want to pack in your kindergartner’s lunch, such as half a deli sandwich, a slice of cornbread, or onigiri. Not many people love squished sandwiches, and kids shouldn’t have to be confined to flat foods for the whole year. (A single slice of bologna between two slices of white bread gets boring in a hurry!)

In the same light, there should be enough room to accommodate a balanced selection of items for lunch without being too bulky. After all, your child does have to carry their lunch box to and from class. Try to find a model that can fit in a small backpack—we don’t want anyone losing their lunch on the ride to school!

Original BentoHeaven Bento Box Bundle with FREE Lunch Bag, Divider, Utensils, Chopstick & Fun Lunch Box Notes - Leakproof Lunch Boxes - Bamboo Black

Some bento boxes have dual layers, which can be helpful for packing something like a sandwich underneath the snack foods. They are bulkier, so layered boxes might be better for those outings where Mom or Dad comes along.

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#4. Planning ahead.

As lunch is a few hours away from the time you packed the bento box, you might want to consider a box that comes with a compartment for ice packs, or a model that can be slipped inside an insulated container. Nothing is worse than a hot cup of pudding after a long morning of learning the ABCs.

Dinosaur Bento Lunch Box for Boys Girls Toddlers, 5 Portion Sections Secure Lid, Microwave Safe BPA Free Removable Tray, Pre-School Kid Daycare Lunches Dino Snack Container Ages 3 to 5 Blue Orange

If you keep those attributes in mind, you’ll have no problem finding the box that perfectly fits your needs. Although they’re great for anyone’s lunch, your kindergartner will especially appreciate being sent off to school with a bento box full of nutritious food that will keep them energized all afternoon.

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#5. Portability

Sending your kid off to daycare? There are bento boxes that fit inside classic lunch boxes, making them easy to organize and customize. Some include trays that fit easily into colorful plastic cases, which can be carried inside a lunch box or backpack.

Also keep an eye out for models with closure snaps, which are perfect for those kiddos prone to spills and messes.

#6. Extra Features

Some bento boxes for toddlers boast great extra features, such as a section for eating utensils, which is convenient for those meals away from home. Others include temperature management systems, like thermal sleeves or cooling packs.

Whatever your needs are, there’s a bento box for that.

Bentgo Prints Insulated Lunch Bag Set With Kids Bento-Style Lunch Box (Dinosaur)

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Features of a Great Bento Box for Toddlers

Bento art is a cute way to brighten your toddler's day!
Bento art is a cute way to brighten your toddler’s day!

From small and simple, to fancy multi-tiered affairs, these portable containers are made in a huge range of sizes and shapes. A great bento box for toddlers will be small, durable, and portable. Some boxes also have cool extra features which can help make your life easier, such as silverware or leak-proof seals.

The best thing about bento boxes is their customizability. Is your child a sandwich and snacks kinda gal? Does your little guy prefer variety over quantity? There are so many different kinds of bento boxes, you’ll surely find one to fit your child’s preferences.

QQKO Bento Lunch Box with 4 Compartments, Sauce Container, Utensils, Food Picks and Muffin Cups for School - Purple

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Ever thought of saving money by slicing your own lunch meats?
Here are my picks for kitchen meat slicers.

Bento on a Budget

Usually, my motto is, “you get what you pay for,” but with bento boxes you can find a quality, functional, adorable box for a good deal. Combined with the money you’ll save by packing your toddler’s meals at home instead of eating out, bento is ideal for households on a budget.

Want more options? Read about the best lunchboxes for toddlers.

Green Lunch Stainless Steel Lunch Container

The Green Lunch container includes three compartments with a snack pod. This particular lunch box is made of hundred percent food grade Stainless steel. It also comes with a bonus lifetime warranty.

It is non-leaching and toxic free which makes it more human-friendly. It is free of PVC and has no plastic in its make.

3-in-1 Stainless Steel Bento Box For Kids & Adults with Snack Pod - Holds 6 Cups of Food, 100% Crack-Resistant, Secure Locks, Eco-friendly Metal Lunch Container

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Omie Bento Lunchbox

OmieBox Bento Box for Kids - Insulated Bento Lunch Box with Leak Proof Thermos Food Jar - 3 Compartments, Two Temperature Zones - (Purple Plum) (Single)

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Omie Bento Lunch Box comes with an insulated thermos for kids which makes this a perfect deal for you. This lunch box is leak proof and can store both cold and hot food.

Its thermos bowl is crafted from stainless steel and has been insulated to provide sound thermal insulation. It’s very easy to open because it is shallow, has double walled compartments that make it very comfortable for you to store food in it.

Bentgo Fresh-Leak-Proof Bento Style Lunch Box

Bentgo Kids Prints Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Kids Lunch Box - Ideal Portion Sizes for Ages 3 to 7 - BPA-Free and Food-Safe Materials - 2020 Collection - Safari

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It’s a perfect lunch box that ensures balanced eating for your kids and also gives controlled portioning of food.

It has a removable tray that contains three leak-proof compartments which can hold different dishes for your kids.

It’s made from safe materials that won’t endanger the health of your kids. Its exterior is durable and has lock clips that let you lock the food safely to avoid contamination.

Planetbox Eco-friendly Stainless Steel Bento Lunch Box

Provide safe and comfortable five compartments for both kids and adults. It is a good alternative for people who do not like plastic because it is of a stainless steel material.

When you buy this lunch box, you get a set that provides two lidded containers with a silicone lid that keeps wet dishes, and a carrying bag crafted from reusable materials.

It’s a compartment that lets parents to pack different meals and prevent dishes from mixing up and ensure food can stay neat for long.

The PlanetBox Bento Lunch Box is free of PVC, a hundred percent non-toxic and also free of leaching materials.

3-in-1 Stainless Steel Bento Box For Kids & Adults with Snack Pod - Holds 6 Cups of Food, 100% Crack-Resistant, Secure Locks, Eco-friendly Metal Lunch Container

You will also receive a five-year warranty for the parts made of metal and a one-year warranty for the parts made of weak and soft materials.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is there any difference between a Lunchbox and a Bento Box?

No, a Bento box is a lunch box just a different name. Bento box is a Japanese name used to refer to a lunch box. The name Bento box is associated with more of Japanese traditions and culture, but don’t worry it’s the same thing.

Bento Boxes appear to be more suitable for solid food, can I put soups in them?

Bento boxes are used for both dry food and soups. All you need to do is find the best Bent box of the right size according to the amount of soup you intend to put in them and also one that can close tightly to avoid your soup from spilling out.

Are there Metallic Bento boxes for kindergarten kids?

Yes, not only metallic but also stainless steel. I would recommend you get a stainless steel Bento box because pure metallic boxes can rust and infuse toxic to the health of your kids. Some have large containers that have separate compartments that provide more space for you to pack different kinds of food in one bowl and also ensure your food doesn’t mix in any way.

How can I select the best Bento box for my kid?

Selecting a Bento box is very simple all you need to do is go out there and look for a Bento box that, one is leak-proof this will ensure your soup or juices do not leak out of the box and mess up your kid’s bag. Secondly, if you intend on micro-cooking, you should use a Bento box that is microwave safe. Thirdly find a Bento box that is very easy to wash and one that is durable, durability will be determined by the kind of material making up the Bento box. Always get a Stainless Steel it will serve your kid for long. The other factor that should guide you in selecting the most suitable is space. Get a box that provides enough space that can accommodate enough food for your kid without increasing the burden of weight. Finally, try to find a Bento box that is pocket-friendly because some like the plastic made will require replacements now and then.

Is there any restriction as to what food should go into a Bento box?

Yes, there are restrictions to what food should be put into a Bento box. Food that is more perishable like raw fish or meat should not be put in a Bento box unless you intend to eat it right away. If you intend on keeping food for long, make sure you adequately warm the food and tightly close the box.

How can I keep food in a Bento box safe?

You will need to be careful with what kind of meals you put into the box. Food that can go bad in a short span of time should only be kept in a Bento box if it is to be consumed immediately. Make sure you thoroughly heat and cook food that is to be put into a Bento box. Always warm food from a pan to ensure that you kill any organisms that might have formed on the surface of the food. Use strong flavors when preparing your meals because food loses flavor when it cools down. When you use delicate flavors on a dish that is to be kept in a Bento box, those flavors may never taste.

Ensure you put enough salt into your meals, salt is an excellent preservative and can help in keeping your food safe. Drain fried foods well before putting them in a Bento box because this will prevent the batter from getting soggy and spoiling the food.

When you decide to use onions and garlic make sure you cook the well as they tend to be smelly when they cool.

With a cute bento box in hand, you’ll be well prepared for your next family outing with the kids! For some great meal ideas for children, see my picky cookbook review to learn where to find great, healthy recipes for even the pickiest eaters.

Kids are an energetic bunch and, chances are, they’re going to be testing the durability of any lunchbox you hand them. When it comes time to send them off to kindergarten, how will they be able to enjoy the wide variety of snacks you packed them if they’re all wildly tossed about in a paper bag?

Kindergartners prefer their meal to be in one piece by lunchtime. To avoid smushed sandwiches and grapes that have been smothered to the point they’re halfway to grape juice, consider investing in a bento box for your child. Bento boxes aren’t just a great way to keep lunch from getting mangled—they can encourage healthy eating habits by presenting children with a small sampling of different nutritious foods.

Lunch boxes aren’t just for kids, here’s my roundup of the best lunch containers for adults and the best lunch boxes for construction workers.

Additional Resources

Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Kelly D., Moto Miwa, and gamene.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

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