So you’ve been looking around bento web sites and following the discussions about them in forums. You want those cute bento boxes, but there are no stores near you that sell them and you’re not sure you want to commit to buying one by mailorder. Or maybe you’re on a very tight budget.
If you have an Ikea store near you (and, the likelihood that you do is getting stronger by the minute, at the rate that they’re taking over the world) the Ikea 365+ food saver containers make perfect bento or lunch boxes. I use one myself, as I’ve described briefly before . They’re sturdy, compact and microwaveable. And they are very inexpensive. They range in price from just $1.99 (or £.95) on up.
Like many Ikea products, these storage boxes are very attractively designed I think. The sturdy polypropylene body is white, and the rubberized rim is a bright red. The top is translucent. It’s a lot sturdier than your average food storage plastic container. (Many males of the species do not react positively to cute animals and such adorning their lunch containers, so the simple design of the makes it especially suited to the guys in your life, or you if you are a guy. )
The rubberized red rim on the lid also acts to help make an airtight lid. I’ve found that it does survive being transported fairly well without leaking.
One interesting feature is the microwave vent in the lid.
This is a good idea, but for porting your lunch in them there is a bit of a downside since liquids can leak a little from it if you turn the box upside down. The ways around this are to try to carry the box right side up, and to possibly to put a sticker or piece of tape over the vent if it starts to get a bit loose after repeated use. For most of my bentos I find that just carrying it the right away around is ok. It’s compact enough to lie flat on the bottom of a backpack.
In addition, the lid has lips that stick out, to make it easier to remove. This also can be a bit of a liability in a crowded backpack, since something can catch on the lid and open it. Wrapping the box in a napkin and then securing it with an elastic band helps to prevent that. The napkin can double as a tablecloth at lunchtime.
The Ikea 365+ containers come in four sizes, all of which are 17cm x 17cm (6 3/4” x 6 3/4”) square. Of these, the two smallest ones are the most useful as bento boxes. The shallowest one is 3cm (1 1/4”) deep, just about the right size for a sandwich, vegetable sticks, some small fruit like grapes, a nut and dried fruit snack, and things like that.
The next smallest one is 6cm (3”) deep, and has an internal capacity of about 900ml. This makes it a great size for a Japanese-style bento for a big guy (remember that each ml corresponds approximately to 1 calorie in terms of the amount of tightly packed food it can contain). Here it is in action.
This was shot with a cellphone at lunchtime, after it had been tossed around a bit in a backpack. Things did shift around a bit, but otherwise survived well. I usually put in 1 1/2 to 2 cups of rice, and the rest of the space is packed as much as I can manage with other foods.
It’s also big enough to transport a salad, a selection of fat onigiri, and things like that.
They don’t seem to sell the box by mailorder, but they should have it in store.
If you buy a plastic food container that is not obviously a bento box to use for your lunches, I think it’s important to designate it just for lunch use. It’s a psychological thing: you don’t really want to be using a box that you’ve used previously for storing scraggly leftovers (which may have turned into odd science experiments) for your lunch. You want your lunch to be attractive and pretty. This also helps to keep your designated lunch boxes pristine.
Part of the attraction of bento lunches for people who manage to keep making them over the long haul is the fun of using the special accessories and things. So, even if you’re using a humble food container, once you’ve designated it for your lunches, treat it as kindly as you would a rare Totoro bento box you’ve had shipped from Japan.