Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why brown bag when you can bento? (review of Planet Box for Vegan Mofo)

About a year ago, after quite a thorough search of the interwebs, I decided to purchase a bento-style lunch container called a Planet Box.

Compartments!  YES!

Now there are a couple of reasons why I selected a Planet Box lunch box (this model is now called the Rover, they also have a larger model for bigger adult appetites called the Launch).  I was suffering from a problem common to many of the so-called "brown baggers".  I had far too many cheap plastic containers, for which I could never find a corresponding lid.  I would also cringe at the thought of what could be leeching into my food from these containers when they were frozen, heated, etc.  A second issue was that my reusable lunch bag was on it's last legs.  So I decided to upgrade.  I've always liked the idea of bento boxes because they keep the food in separate areas (no soggy crackers), and they (should) have fewer parts to lose/wash than your typical menagerie of plastic containers.

But which bento system to buy?  It is so hard to choose from the myriad of offerings available online! I really liked the Planet Box specifically for several reasons.  Firstly, it is metal, and getting away from plastic is usually a good thing in my books!  As a result, it is super durable and really quite dent-resistant.  Sometimes I feel like you could use it to whack someone over the head and it would survive the encounter!  Another reason is that this Rover model (which was the only version at the time) is built for kids, and I have a smaller appetite, so I found it packs just the right amount for me.  This would also be great for anyone who is trying to exercise portion control in their lunches.  For adults or bigger eaters, they now have the Launch which is a much larger bento tray.

So now that I've had the Planet Box for a year, I feel like I can finally make a qualified review of it!  I purchased the full system, which includes the box, the big and little dipper containers (for keeping wet foods in), decorative magnets, and carrying case.

In regards to the metal box itself, I've had very few issues.  Sometimes a little moisture does get between the compartments because they are not airtight.  But I've found that if you use a towel to take off excess moisture on recently washed veggies or really juicy fruits (like pineapple or peaches), then there doesn't seem to be much of an issue.  I'm able to pack crackers in with chopped veg and fruits and not have them get soggy.  The latch does its job perfectly, I've never had it open randomly.

The outside of the container, sans magnets.

While you can decorate the outside of the container with magnets that come with each box, I generally choose not to.  There's something very appealing about the industrial, spartan appearance of a blank Planet Box!

The big and little dipper containers have held up pretty good as well.  When placed in the box the lid holds them shut.  I use a rubber band to keep them shut if I'm carrying them separately in the carrying case pockets.

Speaking of the carrying case... this is probably the least essential bit of the Planet Box complete system.  If you wanted to save a few bucks, or are already carrying a messenger bag/backpack with you to work, you could probably skip this one.  I got it because I only carry a purse besides my lunch bag.  It is a good enough design on the case, I love that I can carry a beverage in the open topped pocket.  So far in the first year it doesn't have any rips or tears, so I'm pretty pleased with its performance.

The carrying case, one year in.

Obviously, the only reason why we all haven't dashed off to Planet Box's online store to get one is the price.  This is not a cheap lunchbox.  In fact, it is a pretty darn expensive lunchbox.  But it is also an amazingly durable, hygienic and fun lunchbox.  I'm not sure I would make the investment for a child who is prone to losing things, but for an adult this is a great product that I'd highly recommend.

And now, the fun part: what to pack in your Planet Box.  My coworkers have asked me if I run out of ideas or get bored with trying to find things to pack in my Planet Box.  I say, no more than I did with plastic containers.  There are always days where you can't figure out for the life of you what to take for lunch.  And while this may not solve this problem for you forever, here are some great vegan lunch ideas that can at least get you started!

A Week of Yummy Planet Box Lunches!
 The classic sammich:
Om nom nom.

The obvious thing to do with this bento box is, of course, to stick a sammich in that square part!  In this case, I've made a sandwich with Yves Bologna on wheat bread.  My sides are 2 storebought cookies, some Daiya havarti cheese, raspberries, grapes and celery sticks.  This is what I would consider to be a nostalgic school days lunch, remembering back to when this was the fare you'd find in the brown bag packed by mom or dad.

Or, here's another sammich option:
This blog post is making me hungry...

This one is a PB sammich, with the same cookies as before, along with a baby dill pickle, some apple slices and the only vegan doritos, Sweet Chili Heat.  Riding in the front pockets of the carrying case is an almond yogurt and a can of juice.  With the extra two side items, this is what I would consider a big lunch for me.

Pack a wrap:
And that's a wrap!  OMG I'm so not funny.

A wrap is another great lunch item because you can stuff them with pretty much anything you have on hand.  For this lunch, the whole wheat wrap is actually stuffed with burrito ingredients, some leftover black beans, peppers and guacamole.  Sides in this case are tortilla chips and salsa (which is in the little dipper container), a homemade carrot muffin, some dark chocolate, blueberries, raspberries and an apricot.  This example shows how you can pack multiple items into one compartment.  I personally don't like my food to touch too much, but for fruit I'm willing to make an exception.

A super kid-friendly lunch:
Finger foods rule!

This is an example of a really kid-friendly lunch.  Because not all kids like fancy wraps!  Here we have a "pup in a blanket", a recipe I love which comes from The Vegan Lunchbox cookbook.  There's some ketchup in the small container for dipping.  Alongside this main we have some homemade chocolate chip cookies (can you tell that I LOVE cookies a bit too much?), a baby dill, some grapes, some Veggie Straws and a banana.  The tiny, bite-sized finger foods in this lunch are a lot of fun for little people!

Build your own tacos:

This is a build your own taco lunch!  Stuff a crispy shell with TVP Taco "meat", a great recipe from the amazing Snarky Chickpea.  Add some diced bell peppers and Daiya cheese and you've got tacos at lunchtime!  Served with some doritos, carrot sticks and a gala apple.  Now you can't stick metal in the microwave, which means if you want to heat this one up you'd have to transfer your TVP into an appropriate container before you warmed it up.  This is one downside of metal containers.

And of course, leftovers:
Thanksgiving remnants. :)

Leftovers make great lunches, so the Planet Box can be used for these as well.  Ive packed some leftovers from the (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend.  My mains are Acorn Squash Empanadas, a fantastic recipe that you can find in the Veganomicon cookbook.  There is also a vegan cupcake, chopped fresh pineapple and some snap peas.  And I know what you're saying, "but Vegbrarian, how do you keep the icing on the cupcake from getting all smashed-up by the lid?"  This is a problem that dogs the lovers of cupcakes everywhere.  I find that you can keep icing from sticking to the lid of any container by putting a tiny sheet of parchment paper (the kind you cook with) over the icing before you put on the lid.  Because nothing sticks to parchment, your cupcake should emerge with icing intact (but possibly a little flatter).

And of course, the possibilities are endless!  So, I highly recommend the durable, stainless steel Planet Box system for both adults and (responsible) kids alike.  It makes packing a healthy lunch easy and fun!


  1. Nice review. I've longed after a bento box for years but never pack a lunch so it seems a waste!

  2. I love bentos!!! Those pictures really are fabulous- it's amazing how bento boxes can make simple food seem so incredible!