Buying Guide for Lunch Boxes
Why buy a lunch box?
Though lunch boxes are often associated with elementary school students and cafeterias, people of all ages may benefit from owning one. Middle school and high school students can bring in their own lunches to eat, as can adult workers in many offices and career paths. A lunch box gives you a way to safely pack, store, and transport your food, silverware, and Tupperware to and from school or work.
Rather than constantly buying new plastic or paper bags all the time for this task, a reusable lunch box will both save you money in the long run and is a more eco-friendly option since you’ll be generating much less waste by not throwing out a bag every day (since paper or plastic bags can only be used once). Not to mention that lunch boxes are also more convenient to carry since they have shoulder straps and/or handles that most paper bags lack and are much sturdier than those of plastic bags.
And lunch boxes often provide superior insulation, can be airtight, and come in a wide range of different shapes, sizes, and design options so you have a much greater variety of options to choose from—they can be personalized to your specific needs in a way that bags simply can’t match.
What should you look for in lunch boxes?
- Capacity: First and foremost, you want your box to carry an ample amount of food because it’s better to be over-prepared than to hear your stomach grumbling just an hour after lunch. Also consider an option that not only accommodates your hunger but finds a way to provide easy travel use.
- Preservation: As mentioned earlier, your ideal lunch box should also know how to take care of your food during the transportation process. Options that utilize reinforced housing materials like stainless steel, canvas, or heavy-duty plastic can take a beating without compromising your midday enjoyment. Additionally, strong, airtight materials know how to lock in the warm or cold temperature of your meal, and that’s a vital facet of the overall experience.
- Convenience: It should be of great concern just how easy it is to use your new lunch box. Consider your preferences: do you like large and stiffened boxes that feature unchanging compartments, or are you more interested in a flexible box or bag that adjusts to however much space you need? Understanding these factors will help you determine your ideal lunch experience.
What’s the best material for reusable lunch boxes?
Plastic fabric lunch boxes– usually vinyl, polyester, or nylon– are the most common options and widely considered the best material. Despite being lightweight and soft-sided they’re quite strong, rip-resistant fabrics that are easy to wipe clean and don’t stain easily. But what really sets these types of lunch boxes apart is that they often have an internal layer of foam that provides greater insulating properties (though they’ll often still benefit from ice packs). However, they may crack or peel over time. And they’re not particularly recyclable.
Metal is another option for lunch boxes, one that probably brings to mind a classic working man’s plain metal lunch tin. If you want a more modern metal lunch box, look for a stainless steel model if possible. They’re incredibly durable and long-lasting, won’t rip, tear, or rust, and can be recycled once their service life comes to an end. That said, metal lunch boxes don’t have natural insulating properties, so they’re not the best option if you have to take your lunch to a work site or on a picnic and don’t have access to a cooler or fridge. They’re also heavier than other materials.
You can also look for a silicone lunch box, as long it’s food-grade silicone. These lunch boxes are lightweight, temperature-resistant in both hot and cold environments, and won’t crack, harden, or peel, unlike plastic. Silicone is also recyclable and doesn’t take on the odor of the food inside it. But, like metal lunch boxes, silicone models don’t come with any built-in insulating properties.
Our Picks for the Best Lunch Boxes
LOKASS Double Deck Insulated Lunch Box
This attractive, patterned lunch box knows how to make a statement while keeping your food warm or cool for up to six hours.
Pros: This lightweight modern fabric lunch box provides plenty of space and insulation. It’s designed with a premium PEVA lining that makes it easy to wipe clean in case of spills and provides greater long-term insulation capable of keeping food warm or cold for up to six hours during transport. Its 15-liter capacity is also a huge plus, allowing users to carry and fit not just your lunch but up to two cans of soda and a few snacks. Two front, two side, and two back pockets provide even more room. You can carry it with the top handle or sling it over or across your body with the handy shoulder strap that’s highly adjustable. The shoulder strap is also removable if need be. The fabric is water-resistant, wipes clean easily, and is available in 11 different colors and patterns to better match your style.
Cons: While the large capacity is great for holding plenty of food, it also means that this lunch box will take up more than its share of space in your home or office fridge. And while the water-resistant fabric will help somewhat, there is still a risk of it leaking from time to time depending on the contents.
Bottom Line: A spacious and modern lunch box, this fabric model gets your midday meal where you need to be while being colorful enough to pass as a purse. This lunch tote features a variety of desirable features that take it from just looking good to keeping your food, snacks, and drinks hot or cold as well.
PackIt Freezable Classic Lunch Box
This large quantity lunch box is completely safe to stick into the freezer, allowing you to keep your food cold for longer.
Pros: This lunch box isn’t just insulated but fully freezable, allowing it to keep your food cool for that much longer. Stick it in the freezer the night before work or school (for at least 12 hours) and it’ll ensure your lunch stays cold all day. Thus it’s freezer-safe, as well as microwave-safe should you want to heat up your food. The built-in, nontoxic cooling gel in the walls further enhances its insulation abilities. The buckle closure strap allows you to attach it directly to a backpack or tote bag if desired. This lunch box also features a water-resistant interior that wipes clean with no more than a quick swipe. A convenient zipper front pouch provides a little extra storage space, and the box itself is collapsible, so it’ll take up less space. And there are 20 different colors and patterns to choose from if the plain black hue is too plain for your liking.
Cons: There are no separate interior compartments in this model, so the contents may shift around and leak on each other during transportation. This lunch box is also on the heavier side, especially when frozen; it may be a bit too heavy for younger children to carry.
Bottom Line: Here’s an ideal choice for someone looking to preserve the flavor of their meal for a few extra hours. Just stick this lunch box in your freezer overnight, and the next day, it will keep a meal just as fresh as it was when you packed for the entire day.
Bentgo Compartment Bento-Style Kids' Lunch Box
This cute lunch box has separate, divided compartments to keep different foods separate and dry until it's time to combine them.
Pros: Bento boxes are all the rage right now for adults, but there’s no reason kids can’t take advantage of their convenience as well. In fact, this model was designed specifically with children in mind. Featuring an adorable dinosaur design on the lid and 23 other alternate patterns if your kid isn’t a dinosaur lover, there are four different compartments inside the box to keep different food separate so wet ingredients don’t soak dry ones. The latches are designed to be kid-friendly to open, and the rubber-coated edges help prevent leaking and protect your child’s lunch if they drop this box by mistake. It’s safe to stick in the microwave, freezer, and top rack of the dishwasher.
Cons: This lunch box doesn’t have any sort of built-in carrying handle or strap, and it’s not insulated; you’ll want to stick it in the freezer overnight for it to be more effective at keeping food cool. This model is also more expensive than the average traditional lunch box.
Bottom Line: With its storage-friendly design and easy way to compartmentalize your meals, this kid-friendly bento box offers a cute, convenient, and fun avenue for your child’s food transportation and lunchtime needs.
Luckies of London Novelty Insulated Lunch Bag
A modern take on a classic brown lunch bag, this model is both insulated and reusable, unlike its traditional cousins.
Pros: If you prefer a classic brown paper bag to bring your lunch to work, consider upgrading to this model. It has all the hallmarks of traditional versions but with a sturdier exterior, insulated interior, and magnetic closure that disposable paper lunch bags don’t possess. And you won’t have to toss it after one use; this bag is not only reusable but it’s washable, so you get the brown paper bag feel without creating mountains of trash in the process. Yet it’s nice and lightweight, weighing in at only 0.1 pounds, and compact in the same way that traditional brown paper bags are.
Cons: Though this bag is washable, it has to be hand washed as it’s not dishwasher safe, nor does it have a convenient carrying strap or handle. And while it is sturdier than a regular brown paper bag, it isn’t as protective as other types of lunch boxes.
Bottom Line: An upgraded version of a traditional brown paper lunch bag, this lunch box is the perfect blend of modern convenience and classic looks. Adults will enjoy the nostalgia that comes with this lunch box while children and teens will appreciate the novelty.
Stanley Classic 10qt Lunch Box
This large, stainless steel lunch box combines a classic look with modern materials and is big enough to fit a water bottle alongside your lunch.
Pros: This lunch box boasts a large 10-quart capacity, enough to fit snacks and a water bottle or thermos alongside your meal. It’s constructed from stainless steel for unmatched durability while on the job. The stainless steel means that it’s naturally rustproof and safe to wash in the dishwasher if it gets dirty. It’s perfect for outdoor camping because even if this box takes a fall, its metal body and sturdy latches and hinges are sure to keep your meals from spilling out. And while it’s not insulated, the steel body also helps keep pre-heated or pre-cooled food hot or cold for a good long while.
Cons: Due to its large size and metal build, this lunch box is not the most space-efficient, and it’s quite heavy to carry; the 3.65-pound weight will be a bit of a drag if carried over longer distances, so it’s not ideal for hikes. It’s also more expensive than the average lunch box.
Bottom Line: Looking for a lunch box with more of that classic look? Check out this Stanley Lunch Box, a heavy-wearing and spacious option that calls back to the hardworking men and women of the 1950s industrial and construction scene.
If you bring your lunch to work or school at all, even if it’s not an everyday occurrence, it’s well worth your while to have your own lunch box. You won’t have to worry about mixing up your lunch with your coworkers’ if you have your own lunch box. It’ll save you lots of money in the long run, will be more environmentally friendly, and will be more colorful and distinctive than plastic or paper bags.