Disposable bowls may seem like an afterthought, but we found one that’s both durable and comfortable to use—ideal for your next picnic or outdoor gathering.
How We Tested
What do macaroni salad, baked beans, and ice cream all have in common? You’ve probably, at one point or another, eaten them out of a disposable bowl.
Disposable bowls are ubiquitous at picnics, family gatherings, and birthday parties for their convenience and ease of cleanup. But when you think about it, your disposable bowl experience may well be unfavorable: bowls that crush too easily in your hands, fly away with a whisper of the wind, or develop soggy bottoms within minutes of being filled with food.
We set out to find the best disposable bowl—one that was durable and comfortable to hold and eat from—and tested 12 models, priced from about $0.05 to about $0.80 per bowl. First, we ate fruit salad from each and evaluated their abilities to withstand repeated slices and pokes of a disposable fork and knife, and then we ate hot baked beans from them with a disposable spoon. Next, we let hot soup and ice cream cake sit in separate sets of each bowl for 30 minutes before checking them for any signs of sogginess or damage.
Which Disposable Bowls Were the Most Comfortable to Hold and Eat From?
Since we often hold a disposable bowl while eating from it, such as when at a party or picnic, we knew that a good disposable bowl needed to feel comfortable in our hands, especially when filled with hot food. We were looking for a few key attributes: a wide rim, a wide base, and short walls. A wide, sturdy rim would allow us to easily pick up the bowls, especially when they were full of hot baked beans or when we were removing them from a microwave. A bowl with a wide base would be more secure to hold and easier to grip.
Bowls with smaller bases were typically more tapered in shape and therefore had taller walls than those with wider bases. The higher the walls, the tougher it was to eat from the bowls, as the angles made it harder to see food and use utensils. Bowls with shorter walls allowed us to more easily access our food, whether we were scooping beans with a spoon or piercing and cutting pieces of fruit with a fork and knife.
Which Disposable Bowls Were the Most Durable?
Durability depended on the materials the bowls were made from (foam, compostable materials, or coated paper) and whether or not they were coated with a waterproof seal. The two foam bowls in our lineup were too flimsy and too easily punctured with a disposable fork and knife. They were also the only two models that weren’t microwave-safe.
While the seven compostable models held up to repeated cuts and pokes and contained the ice cream cake without becoming soggy, they struggled with hot foods. When we added hot baked beans and chicken noodle soup separately to two sets of each model, their bottoms (and often their sides) became soft and the outsides of the bowls felt sweaty. Even though these bowls were supposedly microwave-safe, we found that a stint in the microwave to heat up chicken noodle soup made the sides precariously soft and malleable.
The most durable disposable bowls were made from paper and had waterproof coatings. While the company would not divulge more specifics about what their coatings are made from, they are most likely an acrylic-based coating, according to Clean Production Action. No matter the temperature of the foods they contained, these bowls didn’t become soggy, sustained no damage when we tried cutting and poking them, and withstood being microwaved without any issues.
The Best Disposable Bowls: Dixie Ultra Paper Bowls, 20 oz
Our favorite disposable bowls are the Dixie Ultra Paper Bowls, 20 oz, which cost about $3.50 for 26 bowls (about $0.13 per bowl). Both functional and durable, these bowls showed barely any scratches after the fork and knife test and, thanks to their waterproof coating, no signs of wear and tear after the ice cream cake, hot baked beans, and soup tests. We liked their big rims, which were helpful when picking the bowls up and when grabbing them from the microwave. Their wide base and low sides also made the bowls easy to hold and eat from. With a 20-ounce capacity, they were a bit large for side dishes or desserts, but we found them to be the perfect size for main courses and large salads.
We also liked the Dixie Everyday Disposable Paper Bowls, 10 oz, 36 Count, which cost about $3.00 for 36 bowls (about $0.08 per bowl). These bowls had smaller rims, which meant that they were tougher to grab and pick up, but their smaller size made them ideal for side dishes and desserts, and they were just as durable as our favorite bowls. Made with the same material and coating as our favorites, these paper bowls held up well to both hot and cold food tests and didn’t become damaged by the microwave or the disposable utensils. We also appreciated their wide base and low sides, which made them easy to hold and eat from.
Our favorite compostable model was the Stack Man 100% Compostable 12 oz. Paper Bowls [125-Pack], which cost about $13.00 for 125 bowls (about $0.10 per bowl). While they didn’t hold up well to hot foods, they were easy to use and had wide rims and bases and short walls. We also liked their thicker sides, which prevented them from getting as soggy as other compostable bowls when filled with baked beans and soup. We think these are a great compostable option for many different kinds of picnic fare (potato salad, fruit salad, and desserts)—just avoid putting superhot food in them.
- Test 12 disposable bowls in a range of sizes (from 10 to 20 ounces), priced from about $0.05 to about $0.80 per bowl, including three made from wax-coated paper, two made from foam, and seven made from compostable materials
- Eat fruit salad from each bowl, using a disposable knife to cut any large pieces of fruit and a disposable fork to spear fruit
- Eat hot baked beans from each bowl, using a disposable spoon and holding the bowl with one hand
- For the microwave-safe models, heat chicken noodle soup in each bowl until it’s nearly boiling, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then check the bowl for damage
- For the non-microwave-safe bowls, add near-boiling chicken soup to each bowl, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then check the bowl for damage
- Add a slice of ice cream cake to each bowl, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then check the bowl for damage
Ease of Use: We evaluated how comfortable the bowls were to hold and eat from.
Durability: We noted if the bowls withstood punctures and if they remained undamaged by hot and cold foods.