We started with a Laptop Lunch 1.0 system (with an extra set of inner containers); I like it so much that I ordered a 2.0 as well for days when I'm packing more than one lunch. The inner containers are microwave- and dishwasher-safe. A couple of them have lids, so you can pack something like applesauce without making a mess. Here's the old 1.0:
And the 2.0 (which is deeper) with the Bento Buddies:
Lately, I've often been using some Pyrex containers for my husband:
One will fit in a Laptop Lunches case or on end in another insulated lunch bag, or I can stack them and wrap them in a cloth (furoshiki). These are inexpensive and easy to take care of, but not for young children since they are glass. I use mason jars alongside them for smaller items I want to keep separate.
We also have a three-tiered tiffin (metal Indian lunchbox)
and a Mr. Bento with four bowls that stack in an insulated tower. I put the outer part (open) in the fridge the night before to help keep everything chilled.
I also have just one genuine Japanese bento box, a little two-tiered box with removable dividers.
If you're new to packing lunches and looking to try something inexpensive, a lot of people say they're happy with EasyLunchboxes, though I haven't tried them myself. You can also find inexpensive bento boxes on veryasia.com and jlist.com, but make sure you have a band to hold the box closed and you know what you'll carry it in. (Some come with bags.)
We use two snack boxes, both dishwasher-safe: a Lock and Lock (inner dividers are removable)
and a stainless steel LunchBots.
Useful accessories, in approximate order of importance:
Ice packs. The smaller, the better.
Silicone muffin cups, used to subdivide. Find them wherever you buy muffin tins and other baking items.
Regular kitchen knives. A good paring knife and then whatever you like for chopping.
A mini muffin tin and a regular muffin tin. I can skip store-bought baked goods and still have a variety of yummy treats in my freezer, ready to go.
Labels from Oliver's Labels with our phone number on them. I use one on the bottom of every box and one on each inner container.
Egg molds, which work equally well on rice. We have a heart and a star--which are really too big for the eggs I buy but great for rice--as well as a fish, a car, a bunny, and a bear. You can find them on Amazon.com. As I've learned, though, you can mold rice without them.
Vegetable cutters (and assorted cookie cutters, but many are too big to be very useful). Look for mini or micro in the product description to find cookie cutters small enough!
Klean kanteens for water. Tap water is cheap and good for you; get a bottle you like.
Mayo cups, usually for salad dressing. The Laptop Lunches come with their own dip containers, but those are too tall for other boxes.
Picks and toothpicks. I need some longer ones. Toddlebug will use picks or fingers to eat raw fruits and veggies; my husband would rather use a fork unless it's something like blueberries.
Silicone baran (dividers) -- only the biggest one has been useful so far. If you see yellow teddy bears peeking out from between foods in our Laptop Lunch, that's what it is. You can always use a piece of lettuce.
Miscellaneous reusable wraps and plastic and glass containers that I can throw into my husband's regular lunchbox. Wraps are available at etsy.com and reuseit.com. Plastic containers are available at grocery and discount stores; I like the sistema brand. For glass, look for frigoverre (I got ours from Crate & Barrel, but I haven't seen the very small ones there since), Pyrex or Anchor Hocking, or half-pint Mason jars. I also sometimes use the BabyCubes I have left from making baby food, or the 4-oz. size jelly jars.
We use the same cloth napkins and generally the same silverware (dessert fork and teaspoon or egg spoon) as we would at home.
What I don't have:
- Exotic ingredients (nori, furikake, etc.) that might be in traditional Japanese meals.
- Character-themed items. If you have a Hello Kitty fan in the house, you can certainly find a lot of products you can use out there, though!
- Expensive knives.
- A rice cooker, yogurt maker, or a lot of other specialty cooking items. I do have a waffle iron (free from someone cleaning out her cabinets!) and a bread machine (a sweet anniversary gift from my in-laws last year). Look for ways to use what you have instead of adding more.
- Paper dividers/muffin cups/etc. Part of the point of buying the nice reusable stuff was not buying things that would be trash after one use.