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Posted on Mar 7, 2007 | 75 comments

Guide to choosing the right size bento box

So you ordered a bento box online, it arrives and you’re shocked at how tiny it is. People try to tell you to just eat less, but you have a sneaking suspicion that you may have accidentally bought a bento box sized for a 2-year-old instead of an adult. Here’s how to tell: check the box’s total capacity against the gender/age/height guidelines in the table below (I translated them from a popular Japanese website that’s been getting a lot of media exposure in Japan — they’re based on official Japanese nutritional guidelines).

In Japan, bento box size is described not by its dimensions (inches or centimeters), but instead by its volume or capacity (in milliliters — ml). Why? Because a rule of thumb in Japan is that when you pack a bento box normally (A: 3 parts grain dishes, 1 part protein dishes, 2 parts vegetable dishes; B: without candy, junk food or fatty food; and C: without empty space), calories correspond directly to capacity. So a 600ml box should hold a 600-calorie meal.

Capacity (容量) is usually written on the bento box package and also often on the bottom of the bento box in raised plastic. If you’re not sure of your box’s capacity, you can measure it yourself by filling the box with water, pouring the water into a liquid measuring cup and checking the milliliters (ml) or ccs there. Most, if not all, Japanese eBay sellers should be able to tell you the size of a box in ml if asked. (Edited to add: 240ml = 1 cup American)

Here’s a quick height conversion chart in case you don’t know your height in centimeters.

Age (Women) Avg. height (in cm) Calories per meal (kCal) Bento Box Size (in ml)
3-5 85-110 450 400
6-8 116-128 500-550 500
9-11 134-147 600-650 600
12-14 155 770 700
15-17 157 735 700
18-20′s 158 685 600
30′s 157 670 600
40′s 157 670 600
50′s 152 650 600
60′s 152 650 600
70′s 147 520 500
80′s 147 520 500

* Source:

Age (Men) Avg. height (in cm) Calories per meal (kcal)
Bento Box Size (in ml)
3-5 85-110 450 400
6-8 117-128 500-550 500
9-11 133-145 600-650 600
12-14 160 885 900
15-17 170 920 900
18-20′s 171 885 900
30′s 170 885 900
40′s 170 885 900
50′s 165 800 800
60′s 165 800 800
70′s 160 620 600
80′s 160 620 600

* Source:

Step 2: Adjust for your level of physical activity and height *

Physical activity:
Level 1: Low (spend most of your time sitting or quiet)
Level 2: Moderate
Level 3: High (lots of exercise, sports, etc.)

Adjust the size of the bento box for your height and physical activity:

Add 100ml to your bento box size for:

  • Taller than average height
  • High physical activity (Level 3)

Subtract 100ml from your bento box size for:

  • Shorter than average height
  • Low physical activity (Level 1)

* Source:

I’m not sure how much to adjust if, for example, you’re both taller than average and have high physical activity (add 100ml or 200ml?), but it’s something to start with. If you’re dieting, you might want to choose a smaller box, but these are the general Japanese guidelines for packing dense food (i.e. rice or pasta, veggies and a protein). Bulky foods like sandwiches or salads would require larger boxes than the chart above.

The Japanese Food Guide Spinning Top defines the following food groups:

Category Cooking Category (Ideal Japanese Bento Makeup)
Grain dishes Dishes that mainly include rice, bread, noodles and pasta (carbohydrate sources) 3 parts
Vegetable dishes Dishes that mainly include vegetables, potatoes, beans (excl. soy beans), mushrooms and seaweeds (various vitamins, minerals and fiber sources) 2 parts
Fish and Meat dishes Dishes mainly include meat, fish, eggs, soy beans and soybean products (protein sources) 1 part
Milk Milk, yogurt and cheese (calcium sources) (occasional)
Fruits Fruits and fruit-like vegetables (Vitamin C and potassium sources) (occasional)

Source: What is Shokuiku (Food Education)?

BTW, if you get excited about the bento boxes at the Yellow Studio website linked from the charts above, be aware that they won’t ship outside Japan. (UPDATE: You can use one of the shipping services on this page to receive orders from companies that won’t ship internationally, though.)



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  1. @76 from reggie: I hear you on being much taller than these Japanese height charts, reggie. I’d recommend using your own preferred authorities to figure out how many calories a day you should be consuming for your height, gender, activity level, and diet goals. Divide by three to get your per-meal calorie goal, and that’s the size bento box you can aim for.

  2. Hello, I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying your site.

    I am new to the Bento craze and this site has been an excellent source of info to me.

    I also made my first purchases on that awesome online dollar store and am enjoying my new Bento products.

    I have a question though and hope someone can help me.

    Yesterday I stopped by a local asian grocery store and I purchased a unique plastic storage container that reminded me of a Bento box. I have been trying to identify it as I want to make sure it is safe for microwave and also just safe in general as it has no real identifying markings.

    It is very cute though and is about 6″ long, 4 ” wide and 5″ deep and it is rectangular shaped and has these hinges on the lid that secure it. On the inside it has a smaller removeable compartment such as what is in a regualr bento box. I bought a blue and red one and on top of the lids are a decal with flowers. Unfortunately these decals are not imprinted but are more like stickers and could easily be peeled off if not careful. But the boxes themselves are very sturdy hard plastic. It also feels like it is thermal on both the lid and base as it is heavy. The only markings on the bottom say “Phoenix” and Made in Taiwan.

    I have been fervently searching the net to find info on this container but have had no luck.

    I will try to post a pic if someone could show me how but I hope someone may be able to identify this container. I also plan to stop back at the store and ask them if they know or have more info on it. I am really not even sure what it as I said it is very cute, unique and looks to me like an insulated bento or small rice container perhaps.

  3. It’s really easy to figure out the approximate capacity of bento boxes. For example if a box measures as follows:
    5 inches X 5 inches X 2.75 inches
    you just multiply the 3 dimensions:
    69 cubic inches
    then go to this site to convert to mL:
    in our example the box is approx. 1130 mL, but keep in mind that tapered sides and thick lids will mean that the capacity is somewhat lower than calculated.

  4. I love this page! I am slowly gathering my bento gear and have tried a couple of times. I haven’t mustered the courage to microwave my bento (on my real bento boxes) so I end up pouring the reheatable food on a paper plate. I got a question tough: I am a 162 cm tall, and exercise 5 days a week (3 times 45 min, 2 times 30 min) would it be accurate to say that a 700 ml box will fit my food needs (I am in the middle 30′s age wise)?
    My husband is in the 40′s age wise, has low physical activity, but he is 178 cm tall. Will an 800ml box work for him? I need to find out because the boxes I have (2 tier models) are between 500 to 600 ml capacity depending on the model. I have microwaveable sandwich boxes that sometimes use as “make-shift” bento but the shape is limiting for placement of food dividers. A million thanks , Isabel

  5. @82 from Ksenia in Canada: Thanks for the link to the conversion tool! I’m sure that’ll come in handy for people trying to figure out the capacity of boxes they see online that only show dimensions.

  6. @83 from Isabel: I’m not a nutrition/diet expert, so I’d say you should consult a trustworthy resource to figure out how many calories per meal you and your husband should be consuming. Then the rule of thumb would be to get a box that holds approximately the same number of milliliters as the number of calories you’re aiming to consume.

  7. I am very excited to find this site. I’ve subscribed and I have a question, if you don’t have time to answer I understand. I am wanting to learn japanese and was wondering how you learned. What is the most accurate way?
    Also I’ve been told the japanese aren’t accepting at all, is this true, because I would like to visit Japan and this sounds dissapointing.Thanks for your time, I can’t wait to get a bento!

  8. Thank you..Should I be worried about BPA and phalates? Or Led?
    I so want to do this well. Any particular bento?
    I found a great retailer on esty..

  9. what if ur 172.5 and a level 1?

  10. I’m living in Okinawa, Japan for the next three years and just found out about bento. I LOVE how cute they are! I also really like the portion control. I’m aiming for no more than 1500 calories a day, so would it be a feasible idea to buy 3 bento boxes and pre-pack all my food for the day? Breakfast, lunch and dinner?

    Maybe I could get three 400 ml boxes and then use the rest of my calories for a morning and afternoon snack.

  11. I go between really liking your site, and wishing I’d never stumbled on a new obsession! I’m still waiting for my first bento box to get here. It holds 977mL, according to a reviewer, so it should be good for lunch and a snack. I also fell in love with a pretty box with sakura blossoms, but it’s only 620 mL. Since I’m 171 cm (and eat like a pig) I don’t know that it’ll be big enough. Not that I can buy a second box before I’ve gottent the first. You see what you’ve started, Biggie?

  12. So a 6″x5″x2″ bento box is too big for a 12-year-old girl with below average height? I’m glad I found this before my dad ordered it. Where can I get one that’s the right size? So much for trying to use a 6.5″x6.5″x2″ sandwich container as a bento box in order to save money… But I think I will, anyway, since there’s nothing else I can do. My dad refuses to buy me a bento box.

  13. @103 from Angel: I get it, Angel! I’ve been going through old blog comments and realized I never responded to your comments. I’m sorry about the delay. Quite a conundrum you’ve got there, but without really knowing the details of your situation I’m not sure what to tell you.

  14. Aw, I just check the bento I bought in Japan while I was there studying and it’s about 200 ml short…not that that will stop me from using it

  15. oh wow! now i know my bento box is kiddy sized! its a two tiered dragon fly bento box measuring:

    “3 5/8 inches tall, about 4 1/2 inches wide, and about 3 3/8 inches deep. The bottom tray is about 1 7/8 inches tall, while the top one is just over 1 3/4 inches tall”

  16. Loved your advice! I bought a 500 ml Japanese bento and was shocked and angered by how tiny it appeared to be for the money. Then, after seeing the recommendations on your site, I decided to give it a ‘test” and see just how tiny this bento would be actually using it as recommended. During this experiment I realized how awfully big my “normal” portions were-and how the bento sized portions really did fill me for one meal-as designed. I have come to use my bento for portion control and it works! Thanks so much for the information!

  17. hello, how can i find out if my height is average or not? I feel a little lost on this one ^__^;

  18. This is so helpful.. I never knew there were different sizes for different people, in America we don’t have that! Lucky for us, the bento people have thought of everything.. Thanks for the information, I’m going to be able to find the right size for me and my husband now! Kudos.
    Deep Fryers

  19. Great info! Just made my “french version” of your pos, hope you don’t mind.

  20. you know anthoer cool website to buy bento boxes and supplies besides jlist is just click on the link that saids bento boxes or japanese culture there really good price too

  21. “Hey, bless you for this amazing blog post.Really looking forward to reading some extra. Amazing.”

  22. Hmm…
    Biggie, its still online in this website?
    this page is quite usefull for me..
    im collage boy and want to be economics and making a bento is one of the way…

  23. @48 from Jun: Thanks for the kind comment, Jun! What size is each of the Lock & Lock containers? Sounds interesting! I’ve got a Lock & Lock picnic set for multiple people; I wonder if yours is similar. I love the produce markets here — great variety and excellent prices (much cheaper than in Japan). Good luck to you in your produce hunt in Western Australia!

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