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Chinese Takeout Containers as Bento Boxes

ChineseRoundOpen.JPG GeneralTsoOpen.JPG ChineseRoundOpen.JPG closeup of recycling icon

What are they good for?
  • Big fancy salads
  • Large wraps or tortillas
  • Tall foods and interior containers with lids
  • Extra-wide decorative cups or dividers, such as the ones from Dollar Tree
  • Designs that need a large "canvas" relative to the amount of food
  • Multiple identical lunches (assuming you have a stack of these containers, as I do)

My local Chinese takeout joint has started using these sturdy polypropylene containers for their entrees instead of paper boxes. General Tso's Chicken comes in the oblong one, so I call that one "General Tso." 

These things have many uses - refrigerator storage, serving dishes for party food, sorting nails in the garage. And with their tight-fitting, high-domed lids they make great lunch boxes. According to the tiny print embossed on the bottom, they are fully microwavable. And why not?  The little "PP" below the recycle triangle symbol indicates polypropylene, which is about as safe for microwaving as plastic gets. The lids eventually wear out after multiple trips through the microwave, but if you have a stack of them in your cupboard like I do this is hardly a problem.

The best thing about these boxes is the high domed lid, which allows them to hold interior containers and pre-packaged foods that don't fit easily in real bento boxes. They are perfect for bulky foods like salads. The extra width lets them hold large decorative cups that don't fit in other boxes, such as the larger Dollar Tree cups (see examples below). If you are making lunches for multiple family members at once, it's easy to make multiple identical lunches using a stack of these boxes.

Composition:  Polypropylene (microwavable)

Size:  I measured the volume of each container by filling the lidless container to the brim. I did not try to measure the extra volume added by the domed lid. The other dimensions are tricky because of the tapered shape. Both boxes are noticeably larger across the top than they are at the bottom. The result is that they have a large surface area, providing a nice big canvas for decorative arrangements, but are actually not that large in terms of volume. I was astonished to discover that the oblong box is only 10% larger than the round one in terms of volume!  The oblong box looks much bigger to me.

General Tso Oblong
Bottom of container (ht not including lid)
550 ml
Top of container (ht includes lid)

Round Box
Bottom of container (ht not including lid) 5-5/8"
1-5/8" 500 ml
25 sq"
Top of container (ht includes lid) 7-1/4"
2-1/8" n/a
41 sq"

Salmon wraps and compositional diagonals

Proof that you don't need fancy boxes and accessories to make a beautiful lunch. The one on the left is my very first bento, and still one of my favorites. In fact, I liked it so much that I  did it again a few weeks later. 

In both lunches the wraps are cottage cheese, smoked salmon and green onions. One of the wraps uses lettuce instead of a tortilla to cut carbs. Sides of fruit, cheese, raw vegies are obvious. Tomato slices are layered with mozarella cheese medalions in the blue cup, with avocado in the pink cup. Greek yogurt under the berries.

Everthing fits into the General Tso's Box.

The big soft silicone cups from Dollar Tree make terrific inner cups for bento, but they are too wide for many bento boxes. They all fit fine in the General Tso box, even that enormous red bear. The smaller green bear is a silicone pancake mold, also from Dollar Tree.

The adorable sleepy-bear spice holder is another accessory that is difficult to fit into many bentos. But nothing is too tall for these boxes.

When nothing will do but a great big salad

One of my favorite lunches is a spinach salad with meat, avocado, eggs, green onions, eggs, olives, feta cheese, sweet pickles, nuts, berries or even little bits of random leftovers. Even before I discovered bento, I realized that this box is perfect for a no-holds barred lunch salad.

Now that I have the bento bug I have embellished these big salads by adding cute dressing containers and small silicone cups with extras.  The lunch on the left has two of those: Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds and lefse rollups with cinnamon and sugar.

Taking advantage of the height

These beautiful little boxes from the Container store are too tall for most boxes, especially if you want to use the matching lid (as I did with the chocolate pudding container.) Not only is there room for two of the little boxes, I easily included the spice bear full of parmesan cheese for sprinkling on the ravioli and pierogies.

Lunch on the right is built around a sandwich cutter from Dollar Tree, which requires a wide box all by itself. In this box I can also add a salad dressing bear and a hinged fish full of chocolate chips. That's a heart-shaped molded egg in the green cup.
The Round Box

Same general idea, different shape. The volume of this box is only 10% less than the General Tso box, but there is significantly less surface area.

It's perfect for a quick, clean wrap-based lunch without a lot of fuss. Here we have leftover stir-fry wrapped in a tortilla, cottage cheese, olives, carrot sticks and sweet pickled ginger for garnish. Decorative picks work nicely for keeping the wrap closed.

The lunch on the right is basically leftovers with a molded egg (one egg sliced in half to double the decorative effect). This is salmon loaf on a bed of quinoa, with fish jumping over it. I think they might be some of those jumping Asian carp. Broccoli here and there, sprinkled with black sesame seeds, a few craisins, and a little bit of egg yolk that fell out of the jumping carp. Soy sauce in the applehead (for the eggs), and a completely gratuitous fish-shaped pick sticking out of the salmon loaf.