It’s usually only after you’ve used your child’s new lunch box for a few days that you find out whether it suits your needs. Until you’ve been disappointed in a couple of products, it’s easy to assume that every lunch bag, box, and set are created pretty much equal. But this is not the case.
To save you the time, trouble, and expense of going through several options before you find “the one,” here is a list of things to consider when you’re trying to choose the best kids’ lunch boxes.
- Five removable containers
- Many colors and prints
- Additional pockets
- Has compartments
- Hinged lid
- Changable magnetic lids
- Rubber-coated edges
- Leakproof seals
- Large bag
- Adjustable shoulder strap
- Sturdy construction
- Has internal pocket
- Easy stacking
- Machine washable
- Easy to clean
- Long heat retention
- Compact & easy
- Extremely durable
- Whimsical design
- Handle clips onto any backpack
- Retains heat
- Dishwasher safe
- Insulated carry bag
- Sturdy & durable
Different Types Of Kids’ Lunch Boxes
The sheer variety of kid’s lunch containers that are available can be overwhelming. Not only do you have to choose between styles and shapes, but there are many materials and sizes to factor into your choice.
So, let’s take a look at the main options.
Plastic Vs. Stainless Steel Options
Stainless steel, as a material, has less of a negative environmental impact than plastics but it cannot be put into the microwave and is not suitable for use with hot foods.
On the other hand, stainless steel is easy to wipe clean. It’s also durable, lasting for many years.
Most plastics can go into the dishwasher so they are easy to keep clean, but some can become brittle over time and crack. Plastics also tend to break more easily when they are dropped.
Bento boxes come as either individual boxes which sit within a larger box, or as a tray with a number of depressions into which you can place a variety of foodstuffs. The tray style comes with a large lid to cover the entire tray. The box style may have lids for the individual boxes, plus a lid for the larger box, or just a lid for the outer container.
- Promotes trying a variety of foods.
- Natural portion control.
- The presentation is more appealing.
- Can’t accommodate larger items such as a full sandwich.
- Can be awkward to clean.
Lunch bags are readily available at most retailers and come in a wide variety of materials, from plastic-lined cotton to neoprene. Lightweight and easy to carry, team them up with an ice pack and they can usually keep food chilled for a couple of hours. These are one of the best toddler and elementary school options.
- Their soft body makes them easy to squeeze into a school bag.
- Simple to clean.
- Limited protection for the food.
A thermos is an insulated container in which you can transport hot or cold food. They are usually constructed as a metal inner container, then some insulation and a final outer container. Some styles come with foldable utensils, and most have a lid which can also be used as a bowl or a cup.
- Provides an option for hot meals.
- Lightweight and easy to clean.
- You’ll need a separate container for items such as sandwiches.
This is a category which is distinct from regular lunch bags. You can place freezable bags in your freezer overnight. Then, in the morning the bag will be deep chilled and able to keep the contents cool for up to 12 hours, depending on the bag and the outside temperature.
- Keeps the entire lunch cold.
- Doesn’t take up freezer space when not in use.
- You have to remember to freeze the bag the night before, or it doesn’t keep food cold.
Plastic containers can be as basic as disposable Ziploc style boxes or as sturdy and long-lasting as Tupperware boxes. Plastic containers can be used on their own or in conjunction with lunch bags and ice packs for added flexibility. If you choose a plastic lunch box, look for one with a hinged lid to prevent your kids from losing lids.
- Most can be washed in the dishwasher.
- Lightweight, easy to find, inexpensive to replace.
- Some plastics break easily.
How to Choose the Best Kids’ Lunch Boxes
When you are choosing the best lunch boxes for kids, some things to consider are:
Ease of Opening
This is especially important when your child is in preschool or daycare. Choose a lunch box that can open and close independently.
The best kids’ lunch boxes are lightweight when they are empty. While a two-and-a-half pound bag and box combo might not sound too bad, by the time you fill it with food it may be too much for your toddler.
This might be the single most important factor when choosing a lunch box for your child. It has to be able to handle daily use when they are in school.
Make sure the lunch box is big enough to accommodate your child’s appetite now, and for some time in the future. You may also want to ensure there is room for a water bottle, ice pack, or similar.
Do you need to keep foods hot or cold? If you’re packing lunch items that need to stay chilled from a food safety perspective, you need to make sure your lunch box stays cold long enough (1).
If you don’t think the look is important, try persuading a stubborn toddler that they want to go to daycare with the new elephant lunch box you bought for them. That can be quite a feat when they have decided they’ll only eat out of a lunchbox decorated with spaceships.
Ease of Cleaning
This might be one of your top criteria to save yourself some time. Whenever possible, choose a lunch box or bag you can throw into the dishwasher or washing machine.
If your lunch box is not dishwasher safe, make sure it can be easily wiped clean with hot soapy water and a cloth.
Unless you want your child to open their lunch box to find a gooey mess, or have their lunch leak all over the other contents of their bag, make sure it is leakproof.
If the environmental impact of your kid’s lunch box is important to you, avoid items that are made of plastic or require you to place the food inside disposable bags.
The Best Kids’ Lunch Boxes of 2021
Having packed thousands of lunches for my kids and having gone through our fair share of lunch box disasters, here are my favorite lunch box picks.
1. Bentology Lunch Bag and Box Set
The Bentology lunch bag and box set provides a simple solution to the age-old problem of buying multiple items in which to pack your kid’s lunch.
There’s no working out “Does this box fit in this bag?” or “Will I need to buy an ice pack?”
Instead, everything you need for flexible lunch packing is here for you in one beautifully coordinated package.
Use it as a bento box, a larger, undivided lunch box, or as a soft lunch bag.
- Five removable containers which fit within the larger lunch box.
- Available in a wide variety of colors and prints.
- Additional pockets on the soft lunch bag, large enough for water bottles or additional snacks.
- While the containers are dishwasher safe, the lids are not.
- Does not come with a water bottle or thermos.
|Dimensions||10.3 x 9.5 x 3.5 inches|
|Dishwasher safe?||The boxes are. The lids and bag aren’t.|
2. PlanetBox Rover - Stainless Steel Bento Lunch Box
This stainless steel bento box with a matching, insulated carrying bag is durable enough to last from toddlerhood through childhood, and beyond.
Included in the set are two stainless steel “dipper” containers, with lids that fit into the pockets of the bag. That means you don’t have to use up a bento compartment for dips to go with your veggies.
Outer pockets provide room for additional treats, hand wipes, and more.
- The compartments are designed to prevent foods from touching when the lid is closed.
- The lid is hinged so it can’t get lost.
- The designs on the lid are magnets and can be changed.
- The compartments aren’t leakproof.
- A little heavier than some other lunch boxes.
|Dimensions||12 x 9 x 2.5 inches|
3. Bentgo Kids Children's Lunch Box
This is a smaller lunch box, specifically designed for toddler-sized portions. The easy-to-open latches are made for little hands to manage with ease, which makes it ideal for promoting independence.
The simple, bright colors appeal to those under 5 years old, making it a good choice for those who are not fans of cartoon prints or gender-specific designs.
The tray in which the food sits is removable, making it easier to wash by hand, or you can place it on the top shelf of the dishwasher.
- Rubber-coated edges protect the box when it slips from little hands and hits the floor.
- The removable food tray can be microwaved.
- Leakproof seals prevent mixing between compartments or dripping from the box.
- No room for ice packs.
- Only good for a toddler-sized appetite.
|Dimensions||8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches|
|Colors/designs available||3 colors|
|Dishwasher safe?||Removable tray can be washed in the top rack only.|
4. WHBag Large Freezable Lunch Box Bag
With 6.5 liters of interior space, this insulated lunch bag from WHBag is roomy enough for the biggest of appetites.
School-aged kids can pack their lunch, a couple of snacks, a drink, and any utensils they might need, all in one bag.
- An unusually large lunch bag.
- No need to buy separate lunch bags for hot or cold food.
- Adjustable, padded shoulder strap and a handle.
- You still have to buy boxes or bags for your individual items.
- Can be difficult to clean.
|Dimensions||9 x 3.5 x 10 inches|
|Colors/designs available||24 designs|
5. V V&I Pro Innovation Expandable Kids Lunch Box
This insulated, expandable lunch bag provides enough room for a generous kid’s lunch.
It can also be used as a mini cooler. Place your drinks in the bag, stack it with ice, and carry it flat using the “cooler mode” handle. It is leakproof, even when your ice eventually melts.
There is also a range of fun accessories to go with these bags, including the football-shaped squeezable drink bottle or the collapsible soccer ball drink bottle.
- Sturdy construction gives this bag a more robust feel than some other lunch bags.
- The insulation will keep the contents cold or warm for up to six hours.
- The internal pocket keeps the ice pack clean and away from food.
- The limited range will not appeal to all children.
- It only keeps food cool for up to five or six hours.
|Dimensions||10.25 x 8.25 x 5.5 inches|
|Colors/designs available||Three designs|
5. Eco Lunch Box, Splash Box Kit
If you are looking for a lunch box or bag that does not have any plastic or rubber involved in its construction, this kit could be just what you need. The stainless steel bento box has a silicone lid and fits inside an organic cotton carrying bag. And the set is rounded off with a bamboo spork.
If you are looking for a child-friendly, more sustainable alternative to the majority of lunch containers, then this lunch box and bag kit ticks all the boxes.
- You can purchase additional items individually.
- The boxes are shaped on the bottom, and the lids are recessed, allowing for easy stacking.
- All items are machine washable.
- The silicone lid can be turned inside out causing damage.
- The bamboo spork did not last long with our compulsive chewer.
|Dimensions||10.5 inches high with a 7 x 4.5 inch-base|
|Colors/designs available||Six sea designs|
7. DaCool Stainless Steel Thermos For Hot Or Cold Food
If your kids love soups, stews, and noodles, then you absolutely must have a wide-necked thermos container.
This thermos from DaCool allows your child to eat directly from the flask. But it also has a two-stage lid that will allow your little one to pour out their food and eat from the “lid bowl.”
Complete with a foldable spoon that fits into the lid, this is our go-to hot lunch jar for the kids. It has two sizes to choose from to accommodate a range of appetites.
- The thermos keeps food hot for a full 12 hours.
- The wide mouth makes it easy to clean.
- A range of colors and finishes make this suitable for little ones and older kids alike.
- Our kids found it a little awkward to eat out of the jar, with the spoon.
- A foldable fork or some camping chopsticks would have been appreciated.
|Dimensions||8.1 x 4.2 x 4.2 inches|
|Colors/designs available||Five colors and two sizes|
8. Violet Mist Neoprene Lunch Bag
Made from the same material as a wetsuit, this lunch bag retains the heat or the cold, holds in any spilled liquids and can be run through the washing machine with the rest of your laundry.
The simple zipper closure makes this a breeze for the smaller kiddos to use, with the added advantage that you don’t have to use a lunch box inside of it.
- Being lightweight, it’s easy for toddlers to manage.
- The bag is compact when it is empty, easy to store in a drawer, or flat on a shelf.
- These bags are extremely durable.
- You have to wrap the ice pack in a cloth to prevent it from freezing the food.
- Have to buy bags or boxes for the food.
|Dimensions||11.4 x 5.5 x 10.4 inches|
|Colors/designs available||42 designs|
|Dishwasher safe?||Can be washed in the washing machine.|
9. Skip Hop Kids Insulated Lunch Box
The Skip Hop box is actually a lunch bag with rigid sides. Designed to appeal to the younger child, these lunch boxes are cute animal heads, complete with fun and quirky matching zipper pulls.
The lunch box will hold enough for a smaller child’s lunch, such as a sandwich, apple, snack, and juice box. It also has an interior mesh pocket for utensils and napkins. The interior is easy to wipe clean, and it will retain the heat or cold, although only for about four hours.
- Whimsical design appeals to toddlers and younger children.
- The handle can be attached into any backpacks.
- It provides flexibility as you can add a lunch box or thermos and still squeeze in some snacks.
- Not the biggest of lunch boxes so really best suited to the preschool set.
- Although it says the bag is insulated, the food was only just warm, not hot, after four hours.
|Dimensions||7.5 x 3.25 x 9 inches|
|Colors/designs available||10 animal designs|
10. Tupperware “The Best Lunch Set”
Tupperware has made many lunch boxes and kits over the years, many of them specifically for children.
These days, however, the selection is significantly more limited.
This set is everything you would expect from a Tupperware product — no-frills, sturdy, durable, and it does exactly what it says it will.
- Flexible with a range of air-tight and liquid-tight containers.
- Dishwasher safe. The insulated carry bag is easy to wipe clean.
- Easy to find and buy replacement boxes or cups.
- No capacity for color choice — they will send you a random color.
- Smaller children may find the lids difficult.
|Dimensions||4.3 x 1.6 inches|
|Colors/designs available||Random color sent — no choice available|
|Bentology Lunch Bag and Box Set||Lunch Kit||1.6 lbs||10.3 x 9.5 x 3.5″||Boxes only|
|PlanetBox Rover – Bento Lunch Box||Stainless Steel Box||2.5 lbs||12 x 9 x 2.5″||Yes|
|Bentgo Kids Lunch Box||Toddlers||1.23 lbs||8.5 x 6.5 x 2″||Removable tray only|
|WHBag Freezable Lunch Box Bag||Freezable Bag||1 lb||9 x 3.5 x 10″||Yes|
|V V&I Pro Innovation Lunch Box||Insulated Box||0.5 lbs||10.25 x 8.25 x 5.5″||No|
|Eco Lunch Box, Splash Box Kit||Eco-Friendly||1 lb||7 x 4.5 x 10.5″||Yes|
|DaCool Thermos||Thermos||1.05 lbs||8.1 x 4.2 x 4.2″||No|
|Violet Mist Neoprene Lunch Bag||Lunch Bag||4.8 oz||11.4 x 5.5 x 10.4″||Yes|
|Skip Hop Lunch Box||Budget-Friendly||3.52 oz||7.5 x 3.25 x 9″||No|
|Tupperware The Best Lunch Set||Tupperware||12.6 oz||4.3 x 1.6″||Yes|
Buying the best kids’ lunch boxes is a delicate balancing act between choosing something your children will like and buying an item that will do the job. You also want it to last longer than one term at school or the first three months at daycare.
When buying a lunch box for your child, make sure to consider all the buying tips we shared so you can avoid buyer’s regret.