Are Bentgo Boxes Worth It? And What Are the Alternatives?

NOV 16, 2022 AT 02:08 AM

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The trend of boxed meals is exploding. From frozen dinners to fresh salads and prepared cookies, packages with all the components for a meal in one container are taking over grocery shelves. And now, food-on-the-go boxes are taking off.

These containers hold ready-to-eat meals, usually prepared with fresh ingredients and natural ingredients. They can be assembled to minimize prep time in the kitchen and maximize time outside enjoying the weather.

Due to their convenience and simplicity, it's no surprise that Bentgo box meals have exploded in popularity. From campers to commuters, these kits are catching on like wildfire. But is this trend worth it? And what are some good alternatives? 

What are Bentgo Boxes?

Bentgo boxes are a Japanese tradition dating back to the 1800s. Workers left home in the morning to start labor and didn't return until late evening. To adequately feed their families, the Japanese created the Bentgo box, which could be kept warm using heat-resistant materials and easily handed off to workers in a convenient, reusable container.

The meals in these boxes were often filled with meat, rice, and vegetables for a balanced meal. The addition of snacks, such as pickles or cookies, to the mix, soon became popular as well. Today, the Bentgo box tradition lives on by way of packed lunches and child-friendly meals. They can contain any mix of food but remain characterized by a compartmentalized container filled with diverse foods.

These containers have recently come back in the home kitchen and corporate campuses to provide convenient and flavorful meals. Google is credited with launching the "corporate Bentgo" trend when it started serving themed packed meals to its employees. Home cooks are now embracing these kits' versatility and convenience in their own kitchens. 

How Do Bentgo Boxes Differ from Other Meal Kits?

Meal kit delivery services have exploded in popularity in the past few years. So how do Bentgo box kits differ?

  • Variety:While most meal kit delivery services provide various meal options, ranging from vegetarian to full-blown meat feasts, Bentgo boxes are highly customizable. Because the ingredients are packaged individually, you can save leftover rice or sauces to use with future lunches, adding some flexibility unavailable with other kits.
  • Portability:This goes hand-in-hand with variety. Because ingredients are packed separately, Bentgo boxes are highly portable. This makes them a great option for commuters and those that travel often.
  • Refreshment:Traditional meal kits provide leftovers, which, while delicious, can get a little boring after a while. By giving workers (or kids) a fresh bowl of rice with a fresh sauce and add-ons each day, a Bentgo box offers a refreshing change of pace.
  • Aesthetics:While this may seem like a minor benefit, you cannot underestimate the aesthetic quality of a packed meal. The satisfaction one gets from seeing a beautifully arranged meal that one created is not to be overlooked. Bentgo boxes provide plenty of opportunities to make your meal look as appealing as it tastes.

Are Bentgo Boxes Healthy?

Regarding packed meals for the workplace and kids, health certainly matters. So how does the popular Bentgo Box measure up?

The good news is that most ingredients in boxed meals are generally healthy. So they could save you from making an unhealthy lunch for your child. For example, adding rice and soy sauce provides plenty of protein and minerals, while add-ons like edamame and tofu also contribute protein.

On its own, however, the content of a Bentgo box is relatively low in protein (compared to other meal kits). The main issue with most Bentgo boxes is the high amount of sodium in the packaged rice sauce. This is a key factor when evaluating a meal kit's health benefits.

Alternatives to the Bentgo Box

Though the Bentgo Box has been a huge hit, not everyone will need — or want — to purchase one. Whether you feel it is too expensive, doesn't provide enough meals, or you don't like its design, various alternatives are available.

  • Maki Kits:Compared to Bentgo boxes, maki kits are significantly less expensive and provide more servings. Like Bentgo boxes, ingredients are packed separately for easy cooking at home. Most make kits include rice, edamame, sauces, and nori for sushi. Though the packaging may not be as stylish as the Bentgo box, these kits are affordable and sustainable.
  • Tube Foods:Anyone who has walked through a travel kiosk in the airport knows plenty of convenient options for anyone on the go. From rice to noodles, foods that come in tubes and boxes are a quick and easy source of calories. While these may not be the healthiest option (they are meant to be portable and last on shelves for long periods), they at least provide some protein and healthy carbs.
  • Mason Jars: Yes, mason jars — especially large ones — can be the basis for any packed lunch. Pack separate ingredients in various containers and assemble your lunch when ready. This method is highly recommended if you're concerned about cross-contamination between foods. Plus, you can make it look as nice as you want by adding decorations to the lid!
  • Paper Boxes/Paper Wrapped: If you have a few staples in the kitchen, you can make your Bentgo box alternative from paper or paper-wrapped boxes. Though we generally discourage excessive use of plastic, this is a reasonable alternative for those who don't have many storage issues and don't want to buy additional items. To make it more sustainable, buy newspapers instead of cardboard boxes. Then, reuse the boxes for future meals and fold them in various ways or cut out windows to help with portion control.
  • Coolers:For trips where you won't have access to a kitchen, a cooler is your best option. Packed foods will keep until you're ready to eat, and you can even add an ice pack or additional cold items to keep things chilled for as long as needed. Pack the cooler the night before your trip for extra convenience so that everything will be ready to go in the morning.
  • Wrap Everything: Even the most basic staples — like bread and cheese — can be used to make a wrap. Though not as durable as a tortilla, bread can hold together in a wrap just fine (and you can always add additional veggies to make it more sustainable). Likewise, dairy products like cheese and yogurt make great wraps, particularly when combined with vegetables.
  • Buy Extras:If you know you'll go through certain items every trip, buying extras the night before your trip or when you get into town makes sense. This way, you won't waste money on items that go bad before eating them, and you can have some lunch options ready for the next day.
  • Make it yourself:Of course, the above options are all commercial Bentgo boxes, but you can make your alternatives using various containers, bags, and even paper. 

Conclusion

There are many ways to pack a meal kit while still being environmentally conscious and mindful of your budget. The trend of packing your lunch may have started in Japan, but the best way to make a Bentgo box lunch in the United States is whatever works best for you. With a few tweaks and adjustments, you can have a sustainable, convenient, and affordable meal without going through a complicated process every morning.

If the above suggestions don't work for you, consider trying a microwavable Bentgo box meal — they combine the convenience of fast food with the freshness of home-cooked meals. These prepackaged meals are fully cooked and need to be heated up, so they can be on your desk or in your hands within minutes. 

Finally, remember to pack it in and pack it out. So much of the sustainability of lunch packing comes down to recycling or trash disposal. Keeping your lunch trash to a minimum is always better for the environment and can also help reduce the amount of space you need in your bag.