Mr. Bento 8 Month Review

I’ve had my Mr. Bento for 8 months now. This is my updated review of a great all around lunch box. I wrote about my initial thoughts back in February. Before we get into it, I should mention there are different version of Mr. Bento. The one I got is a little larger than Zojirushi Classic Bento Vacuum Lunch Jar, which is considered the classic. You can even get them in red, gun metallic, lemon yellow I still love the Mr. Bento.

So, I have taken more than 40 pictures of all the different lunches I have made using Mr. Bento.  I added all of them to the Mr. Bento group on Flickr.  This group has thousands of pictures and every picture has great ideas of what to fill your bento box up with.

I have found that it is easiest to fill my Mr. Bento up when I have already planned ahead what I am going to load into it.  Of course, if you already have left overs in the fridge this makes loading up your bento much easier!  I have never spent more than 15 minutes filling up the bento.  Somethings that take longer to make, I sometimes do the evening before.

The basic Mr. Bento has four food containers.  From  top to bottom they are:

  • Small side bowl 6.8 ounces.  I’ve found that this makes a great dessert container.  Because it is the smallest container it means that I limit whatever sweets are in this container.  This container is not water tight, although I have put some wet fruit in this one without any problems.  The items in this container will stay cold for about 4 hours, or warm for a little longer depending on what it is.
  • Large Side Bowl 10.1 ounces.  This container is a very good size.  Its great for big pieces of fruit.  I like to put two peach halves or two pear halves with cinnamon in this container.  This container is right on top of the insulated main bowl, so it stays warmer or cooler longer than the top small side bowl.  This bowl is not water tight either.
  • Main bowl 15.2 ounces.  This bowl is the least water tight of all.  Although it is the largest bowl that stays warm or cool.  It is the only bowl with an insulated top.  A good way to keep this bowl extra hot is to keep some very hot soup in the bowl under it.  This is where you put your main entree.  The bulk of your meal.  Again, lots of ideas on the Flickr group.
  • Soup Bowl 9.5 ounces.  This is the only water tight bowl.  It has never leaked for me.  It hold soup, yogurt, or whatever you want.  This one is the hardest one to clean because you have to take the rubber ring out every time to wash it.  I use a toothpick to get that ring out.

Mr. Bento

Above is a typical Mr. Bento for me.  From the top left clockwise, you can see I put miso soup in the soup bowl (this is a warm bento).  I get the soup from trader joe’s.  Next the Katsu chicken is really just a fried chicken patty from smart and final on top of some rice. Next is my old stand by, pears from trader joe’s, they come in a glass jar.  I sprinkle a little cinnamon on them to give them some extra oomph.  Lastly, dessert.  Two cookies and a little piece of sees candy.  That makes for a very satisfying meal!

All the container bowls must be hand washed.  I don’t really find this a big deal, because I figure by doing this the containers will last longer.  Some people on the Amazon reviews have commented that they have some lingering food smells coming from their containers after prolonged usage.  I’ve had mine for 8 months and have not had that happen to me.

After packing some lasagna I did have a very light stain start in the main bowl.  No big deal.  It doesn’t bother me.  I originally got the Bento because I was tired of having sandwiches everyday for lunch in a plastic bag from a grocery store.  The bento lets me bring anything I wanted to work to eat and best of all it would stay cold or warm until I was ready to eat it 4 to 6 hours later.

Now that I have had the bento for a while I find my self packing sandwiches again.  Even though the shape of the containers is circular you can easily cut the sandwich in triangles and pack them in the main bowl easily.  If you want to get creative and your one of the people that don’t like bread crust you can use the large side bowl to cut your bread before you make your sandwich.  Then it will easily fit in the main bowl.  I’ve also found that the new thin circular bread they are making now makes a perfect fit for the bento bowls, as does hamburger buns.

Below is an example of the round bread.

Quick Mr. Bento

Your Guide to Bento Lunch Boxes

One evening my wife Michelle asked me if I wanted to get a new lunch box like hers. She got something like this.

But this lead me to think, “I need to do some research.” So I searched adult lunch boxes. One of the results was for Mr. Bento.

Mr. Bento is a stainless steal cylinder. It looks like a very larger thermos. Inside it are 4 containers. The bottom container is for soup, next up is the main meal bowl, then a large side dish bowl and finally a small side dish bowl. All the bowls are plastic (BPA free). You can microwave the bowls but not the lids. The soup bowl stays very hot for a long time, while the meal bowl stays warm and the top two bowls stay at room temperature. Cold food stays cold as well. This is a good picture depicting how the bento box works.

Mr. Bento also comes with a spork and a carrying bag.  All these containers also help you have a variety of food.  A review on Amazon lays out the intended organization well:

This unit is optimally designed for the Japanese style lunch. A soup, Rice, entrée and pickled/salted vegetables. Normally you’d put your soup in the bottom container, fill the middle container up with rice. Your entrée would go in the third and the veggies in the fourth. Since the soup and the rice container both have insulated tops they stay warm.

I thought of it like this:  soup bowl gets soup; main bowl gets the main entree; large side dish bowl gets fruit; small side dish bowl gets veggies.  But in reality I usually use that small bowl for chips/cookies/trail mix.  I figure that at least that stuff is in the small bowl so I don’t have that much of it.

As for size, the amount of food in it is way more than enough.  I’m never hungry after lunch.  I’m very satisfied.  The thing is pretty big.  I’m not a small person either.

The reviews on the Amazon page great. They really helped me make a great decision and let me know the draw backs. For example, the bowls will stain and are not dishwasher safe. This hasn’t bothered me at all. It doesn’t take long to wash the bowls by hand. Also, I thought filling them up in the mornings would take a long time, but I’m done in 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how complicated the meal is to prepare. Also in the reviews of Mr. Bento they mention the flickr group, which I joined right away and have been posting pictures of my meals. It is a fantastic way to find great ideas for filling up your bento.

Cold quick bento today

It has been awesome having a warm meal int he middle of the day. Whatever I pack is just what I want to eat and I don’t have to settle for whatever fast food place is close, or whatever the cafe at work has that day. I can make just what I want to eat! It is really fantastic.

Mr. Bento for 2/9/2012

Another reason I bought Mr. Bento was to try to reduce the amount of food I eat at lunch. The portions at restaurants are huge and I don’t want to be eating that much. As Makiko Itoh says in The Just Bento Cookbook,

“Incorporating healthy homemade bentos into your weight-loss program is a great idea. Their compact size makes portion control easier, and also means you don’t get into the bad habit of eating fast food and high-calorie snack food for lunch…”

My First Mr. Bento Lunch

By the way the reviewers on the Mr. Bento page and on the The Just Bento Cookbook page agree that Ms. Itoh’s book is the best bento book around and after reading it I would have to agree with them! I borrowed it from the library and now I will have to buy it. I can tell it is one of those books I will constantly be going back to for great recipes. This is the only book you need. I checked out a few others and was very disappointed.

Anyone thinking about changing their lunch routine or looking to keep their portion sizes down, should really give Mr. Bento a try. I’ve had mine for a few weeks now and I’m not getting bored of it. I still use it everyday I go to work and I look forward to a great lunch everyday!