As a kid in the eighties, I remember my mom would let us pick out a new lunchbox at the start of each school year—at the time, they were really just a plastic box with a handle, a favorite cartoon character gracing the front.
Today’s lunch boxes have come a long way, with leakproof compartments, insulation, even built-in Thermoses.
So with back to school looming, I wanted to chat with our contributors and editorial team to find out which lunchboxes they rely on most for their kids—and why.
Before You Shop
Before diving into our favorites, there are a few things to be mindful of when choosing a lunchbox for your kids.
- If you’ve got preschoolers, their lunchbox should be easy to open! A lot of the more popular bento-style boxes are incredibly cute but have clips that are tough for small hands to navigate. If you go with a bento box, let your preschooler try opening it to make sure they’re comfortable before you commit.
- Whether you’ve got a preschooler or a middle schooler in the mix, you want a relatively lightweight and leakproof lunchbox. Little kids should ideally be able to carry their own lunch, and older kids end up carrying an array of books, sports equipment, or musical instruments, so the lunchbox shouldn’t add to their load…or leak all over everything.
- Last, most of the parents on our team consider whether or not a lunchbox is dishwasher safe (or at the very least, easy to clean) and durable; ideally we all want these to last a number of years!
Bento Lunch Boxes
Bento boxes are perfect for school lunches thanks to the built-in compartments, making wrapping sandwiches and finding containers for snacks and other accompaniments a thing of the past.
In our house, we love Yumbox. While they’re not dishwasher safe, they’re easy to clean, super durable (let me count the number of times my son has dropped his on the pavement as he gets out of the car) and come in a variety of cute colors and designs. A lot of preschoolers tend to love their food compartmentalized (maddeningly so!), so this has been a great fit for us.
Our contributor, Cindy Rahe, mom to a five-year-old (and cute baby) agrees, noting “I am a fan of bento-style boxes because my son is much more of a snacker than a sandwich kind of kid. I like the Omie lunch box, because it has a spill-proof Thermos with a handle that’s removable and self-contained (I’ve sent soup with no leaks), so you don’t need an additional lunch bag to store it in.”
While not technically a bento box, Associate Editor Summer Miller, mom of two, swears by the Sistema boxes to pack snacks for her elementary school-aged kids. The smaller snack-size containers have two compartments, one of which has its own separate lid, perfect for hummus and veggies.
The other Sistema is a bit larger, and Summer uses these to pack everything except the actual sandwich in her kids’ lunches: “I live and die by these. Today my kids have blueberries in one side and cauliflower in another, and then I pack their sandwich on the side.”
Cloth lunch bags are an awesome choice, as most are actually machine washable, and some are insulated and even leak-proof. Our Art Director, Andy Christensen chimes in about his Thirty One brand lunch bag, “It’s a typical bag shape, but it’s insulated and has a zipper on top. It’s a surprisingly large bag, so particularly great for older kids.”
Summer chimes in on the cloth lunch bag topic, too: “I bought my Neoprene BYO bag when [daughter] Juniper started going to part time daycare (she was about one). She’s eight now! So it’s seven years old; we use it constantly, and it stretches so I can cram tons of stuff in there.”
Insulated Lunch Boxes
Closest in shape to the more traditional lunch boxes of yesteryear, insulated lunch boxes are a great choice for young and older kids alike, thanks to their durability and roominess.
Associate Editor Carrie Havraneck, mom of twin 10-year old boys, loves the LL Bean Flip Top Lunch Box. “My kids had this one all through elementary school, probably 1-4 grades, and they are finally biting the dust this year. They are super easy to hand wash and air dry quickly.”
In our house, we love the The Pack It lunch boxes, because they’re actually freezable, so they keep sandwiches and yogurt cold through the whole school day, without having to fuss with remembering an ice pack. The lunchbox folds down pretty compactly, and I pop it in the freezer overnight. Then in the morning, I pull it out, toss the lunch inside, and off to school we go. Easy!
Wildkin lunch boxes are a great option, too, and they come in dozens of fun colors and designs. Thankfully for busy parents, both are easy to clean—just wipe out the inside and spot treat the outside as needed (or buy a dark color, and don’t bother).
What to Wrap Those Sandwiches In?
All of us on staff are trying to do our best to move away from plastic bags, so thinking through what to pack the snacks and sandwiches in before they make it into the lunchbox is a consideration, too. Thankfully, there are a number of awesome reusable products on the market to come to the rescue—from wax reusable wrappers to cloth sandwich holders.
Summer swears by the Fluf cloth sandwich bags for her kids, and I just bought a few for my son, too. You can flip them inside out and wash the lining, and they have a velcro fastener, so all those loose snacks will be sure to stay put, too.
Top Picks for Preschoolers
Unanimously, our team seems to love bento-style boxes for the under-five set. Not only are they an easy way to keep food separate (heaven forbid a three-year-old’s food touch), but they’re a great way to pack little bits of many different kinds of foods, without having to deal with separate containers or wrappers.
If you’re looking for a non-plastic option, I know many people who love the Planet Box bentos.
And just a quick reminder to let your kiddo try opening it before purchasing to make sure it’ll be a good fit at school.
Top Picks for Older Kids
For older school-age kids, it’s a great idea to chat with them about what they want and what’s easy for them to carry and store once they’re at school. If they like something warm other than a sandwich, of course you’ll want to think through a Thermos or a lunchbox with a built-in Thermos like the Omie box.
Otherwise, insulated lunch boxes like the PackIt or Wildkin are top picks, as are the many varieties of insulated lunch bags (Pro-Tip: Make sure these have a zipper closure).
What about you? What lunchboxes do you use or recommend for your kids?