The History of Bento Boxes

Everyone likes a good lunchbox, right? From the plastic boxes in the US to the round dabba tins in India to bento boxes in Japan, a portable, healthy, tasty lunch is something everyone can love. 

A bento or bento box is an ancient form of meal prep from Japan. It’s the old school lunchbox that everyone from students to parents going to work would bring with them each day. In fact, bentos have been around since at least the 12th century (some even say the 5th century). 

Bento were originally invented as an easy way for workers to bring their lunches with them while away from home. Can you guess what “bento” means? “Bento” is actually old Japanese slang for “convenient.” Makes sense to us! 


In the early 1900’s the predecessor to modern bento as we know them today was born, often made of aluminum with a simple divider to keep contents separate. 

Today, most bento are made of reusable plastic, or sometimes still aluminum, wood, or rubber. Note: We’re actually working on a natural bento box that is made of glass and bamboo (there is a small amount of rubber to keep the lid tight). Stay tuned to hear more about it.


An Early 19th Century Bento Box


When they were first created, bento usually just carried rice, and dried rice at that. But over time, the contents grew to contain small rice and seaweed wraps, followed by more complex meals, to today, where Japanese parents will arrange and decorate their bento, known as Kyaraben. 

Today, bento can be found all over the world, not only throughout Asia but in Europe and North America as an easy way to make the most of meal prep, whether at work or school or travel. It’s no wonder bento boxes are so popular. 

Get your own bento here