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What Goes in a Bento Box?

There's something satisfying about opening a bento box at lunchtime. With so many options available to you, deciding what goes in a bento box can be overwhelming.

In this guide, we'll dive into some traditional options. Plus we'll dedicate a section to bento boxes themselves, describing what they are, their dimensions, and some of our top eco-friendly options.

Let's get cooking!

What this article covers:

What Foods Get Packed Into a Bento Box?

The contents of a bento box can vary widely, but some classic elements are commonly included. These range from staple grains like rice to various types of prepared dishes, each offering a fresh taste and nutritional value.

Let's explore some of these key components that make up a traditional and delightful bento box.


Rice is a staple in traditional Japanese-style bentos. It acts as a foundation, providing a substantial and versatile base that complements other elements in the box.

Adding rice to a bento box is about balance and portion control. A typical bento contains a significant amount of rice, usually about two cups, compressed to make room for other foods.

The rice's plainness offsets the saltiness of the other element, creating a harmonious blend of flavors. It's common to adjust the amount of rice based on your dietary preferences, with some people opting for a single cup to reduce caloric intake.

Rice can be prepared in various ways, such as steamed, mixed with grains or beans, or formed into onigiri, adding diversity to the meal's texture and flavor.


Oekakiben, also known as "picture bento," is a type of bento box that transforms lunch into an artistic display. It involves arranging the ingredients to resemble a picture or a scene, often depicting animals, famous people, buildings, or scenes from movies.

what food is goes to bento box

Creating an Oekakiben is an art form that requires time, practice, and patience. It's about using food as a palette to create intricate designs. Some creators use pre-cooked rice and vegetables dyed in different colours, while others prefer naturally coloured ingredients like fruits and vegetables.

Edible decorations, such as edible glitter, can also be used to add a whimsical touch.

In Japan and online, enthusiasts often participate in contests to showcase their most aesthetically pleasing designs. For those new to Oekakiben, starting with simple designs and using pre-cooked ingredients can make the process more manageable.


Ekiben, a portmanteau of 'eki' (train station) and 'ben' (short for bento, or lunchbox), is a type of bento box sold at train stations in Japan. It's designed for consumption during rail journeys, offering a convenient and delicious meal option for travelers.

Unlike typical train food in many countries, Ekiben stands out for its quality, freshness, and variety, often featuring locally sourced ingredients that reflect the culinary specialties of the region.

The variety of Ekiben is vast, from simple meals for on-the-go consumption to elaborate, limited-edition boxes. They often include rice-based dishes but extend to sushi, omelets, and wagyu beef.


Umeboshi, a pickled plum, is a distinctive component of a bento box. Its strong, salty, and sour flavor complements the other elements in the bento, particularly plain rice.

Umeboshi is not just a flavor enhancer; it also serves practical purposes in a bento box, acting as a natural preservative and aiding in digestion.

Umeboshi holds cultural significance, especially in the Hinomaru bento, where a single umeboshi is placed in the center of white rice, symbolising the Japanese flag.

what goes in the bento box


Salads are a common filler in bento boxes, providing a refreshing and nutritious contrast to the other elements. They can range from simple green salads to more elaborate combinations, often including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and dressings.

A carrot sesame salad is a simple yet flavorful option that combines shredded carrots with sesame oil, lemon juice or ponzu, a pinch of sugar, and optional ingredients like toasted sesame seeds or chopped parsley.

The beauty of this salad lies in its simplicity and the fact that it retains its crunchiness and freshness, even when prepared the night before.

Based on our observations, it's best to drain off some of the juice and use lettuce as a barrier to keep it separate from other components.


Agemono refers to a variety of deep-fried Japanese foods. These items add a delightful crunch and rich flavor to the bento, making them a favored choice for a satisfying meal.

Agemono dishes are typically prepared in bite-sized portions, making them convenient and easy to eat when on the go.

The range of Agemono dishes includes options like Japanese fried chicken, deep-fried oysters, and deep-fried shrimp. Another well-known Agemono dish is Tempura, which involves lightly battering and deep-frying seafood and vegetables.


Tonkatsu, a Japanese pork schnitzel, is a main dish that consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet that is typically served sliced and at room temperature.

In a Tonkatsu bento, the pork schnitzel is accompanied by cooked rice and a small selection of side dishes like shredded cabbage, Japanese potato salad, and tomato wedges, adding freshness and colour to the meal.


Sushi is a popular and elegant choice for inclusion in bento boxes. It consists of vinegared rice combined with various ingredients such as seafood and vegetables.

sushi goes in a bento box

The sushi can include different types of maki, like hosomaki (rice rolled around a filling, wrapped with nori) and uramaki (where the rice is on the outside of the nori roll).

When preparing sushi for a bento box, it's crucial to use sushi-grade fish, ensuring it's safe for raw consumption.


Nimono is a traditional Japanese dish that features a base ingredient like vegetables, fish, seafood, tofu, or a combination of these, simmered in shiru stock, which is typically flavored with soy sauce, sake, and a hint of sweetening.

Nimo offers a variety of subtypes: For instance, Misoni focuses on fish but can also be made with vegetables. Nikujaga is a beef and potato stew with sweet soy sauce. Nizakana involves locally caught fish poached in a broth of sweetened dashi, a Japanese table sauce.

Kakuni consists of bite-sized chunks of pork belly stewed in soy, mirin, and sake with large pieces of daikon (a type of radish) and boiled eggs. Lastly, the Okinawan Nimono features pork stewed with bone.


Kyaraben, short for "character bento," is a style of Japanese bento box lunch designed to resemble characters from anime, games, and manga.

Making Kyaraben involves a combination of culinary skills and artistic creativity. Tools like small scissors, tweezers, and seaweed hole punchers are commonly used to create detailed designs.

Ingredients are carefully chosen and prepared to represent different parts of the characters, with rice often serving as the base.

For example, onigiri (rice balls) can be transformed into cute characters by adding facial features cut from cheese and seaweed. Other elements like sausages can be cut into octopus shapes.

What Is a Bento Box?

If you're still wondering, what is a bento box? A bento box is a single-portion meal container originating from Japan, designed to hold a variety of food types in separate compartments.

what food is  in a bento box

These boxes are celebrated for their convenience, ease of preparation, and ability to comprise a balanced meal with several flavors and textures.

How Large Is a Regular Bento Box?

This brings us to bento box dimensions. Our research indicates that the size of a regular bento box can vary, but they are generally categorised into small, medium, and large sizes.

Small bento boxes, up to 500 ml, are suitable for younger children or adults with smaller appetites.

Medium bento boxes, ranging from 500 to 780 ml, are ideal for older children and adults with small to medium appetites.

Large bento boxes, between 780 ml and 1000 ml, cater to adults and teenagers who require a more substantial meal.

This is where our selection of bento boxes shines. We offer regular and large sizes, ranging from 800 ml to an accommodating 1960 ml for those who enjoy a sizeable sandwich and plenty of extras. More on our selection below.

How Are Bento Boxes Eaten?

Asked another way, are bento boxes eaten cold? Yes, bento boxes are traditionally meant to be eaten at room temperature. This is baked into their design, as they are prepared in advance and carried to work or school.

When preparing and eating food from a bento box, you should select foods with strong flavors, as they tend to remain more distinct when the meal is cold.

You may be asking, when is a bento box usually prepared? Typically, the morning, but the evening works too.

what goes in a bento boxes

Our findings show that salting the food adequately is also important, as salty flavors can fade in colder temperatures. If fried foods are included, they should be well drained and cooled before packing to maintain their texture and prevent sogginess.

Our Top Bento Boxes

At Activated Eco, we understand the importance of finding the perfect bento box that meets your mealtime needs and aligns with our green ethos. That's why we've carefully selected our top bento boxes.

Let's explore our top picks, each with unique features to suit different preferences and lifestyles.

Stainless Steel Two Layer Lunch Box

Our stainless steel bento box is a stylish and eco-friendly solution for your mealtime needs.

This lunch box is designed with functionality and aesthetics in mind. The top half features a leak-proof silicone seal, ideal for holding salads, pasta dishes, and fruits without any spillage.

The bottom half is perfect for sandwiches, bakery treats, nuts, and snacks, making it versatile for various bento types.

Made from premium 304 food-grade stainless steel, it's built to last and resist stains and rust. The extra-strong clips and thick wall stainless steel enhance its durability.

Embrace a healthier, eco-friendly lifestyle with our Stainless Steel Two Layer Lunch Box, available for purchase at Activated Eco.

Stainless Steel Single Layer Lunch Box

We are excited to present our Stainless Steel Single Layer Lunch Box, a sleek lunch box designed to be the ultimate companion for transporting your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

The lunch box is 100% BPA-free, ensuring your food stays safe and uncontaminated (the disadvantages of storing food in plastic containers).

For added convenience, it's dishwasher safe, making cleaning a breeze.

Stainless Steel Bento Box With Silicone Seal

Finally, our Stainless Steel Bento Box with Silicone Seal is a revolutionary addition to our sustainable product line.

what goes in bento box

Our bento box features five distinct compartments, providing ample and versatile space for a diverse range of foods. From tiny snacks to hearty meals, each compartment is designed to accommodate different portion sizes.

The key feature of this bento box is its innovative silicone seal, which is removable for easy cleaning. Plus, it's designed for ease of use, with a user-friendly opening and closing mechanism.


The world of bento boxes reveals a delightful array of options for your lunchtime adventures. From the role of rice in balancing flavors to the artistic expression of Oekakiben and the travel-friendly convenience of Ekiben, bento boxes offer many culinary experiences.

The inclusion of traditional elements like Umeboshi, diverse salads, and various Agemono dishes adds both flavor and nutrition to these meals. Tonkatsu provides a quick, satisfying option, while Sushi brings elegance and sophistication.

Whether you're a seasoned bento enthusiast or new to this delightful way of eating, our range of eco-friendly bento boxes is designed to enhance your dining experience. Visit us at Activated Eco to find your perfect bento box.

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