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They've been around for over a century now and keep getting better and better. Lunch boxes are a part of life from the moment you're enrolled in daycare or preschool until you retire (though you can still use them after!). Of course, bringing your lunch makes your break so much easier to navigate, especially if you're a meal planner and really don't want to eat another sad desk salad.
But what kind to buy? Complex lunchers will appreciate multiple compartments or tiers to pull their meal together. There's an increasing amount of well-made lunch boxes based on bento boxes and tiffin boxes, each keeping everything separate. For your youngsters, who we've included here too, you'll want to have enough room for a balanced meal, the reusable water bottle, and maybe a snack or two. And all of them have to be durable to survive the drops that inevitably happen during your commutes.
These picks will help make your midday meal a pleasant one, thanks to clever designs and the ability to keep food fresh and flavorful long after you’ve left the house. Here are the best lunch boxes for everyone in the family.
Best Overall, Adults: Zojirushi Classic Bento Vacuum-Insulated Lunch Jar
What We Love: Easy to pack and transport, insulated, good heat retention
What We Don't Love: Involves multiple pieces that can be easily lost
This sleek lunch box from Zojirushi delivers on both functionality and aesthetics. Its three compartments enable you to divide your meal into courses, to pack a nice afternoon snack, or to keep wet items separate from dry foods, and the containers fit tidily into a vacuum-insulated cylindrical “jar” for easy transport. The small 9-ounce bowl, a 14-ounce bowl, and a large 20-ounce bowl are all BPA-free and microwavable with the jar and insulted carrying case providing a decent amount of heat retention. The jar provides additional protection against leaks since, if any happens, they'll be self-contained. This also comes with utensils that pack snugly into the case.
Vanda Asapahu, chef and co-owner of Ayara Thai in Los Angeles, celebrates this particular lunch box. "I love traditional Thai/Indian tiffin lunch boxes with multiple tiers, which separate salads from rice from hot food, yet keep it all stacked together," she says. "In middle school, my parents and I would pack my lunch in a classic Thai tiffin lunch box (called Pin-to, in Thai). Sometimes it would be rice with 2 dishes and snacks/desserts in my 4-tier box, and sometimes it would be a DIY sandwich kit with salad and a piece of last night's dessert. I've always hated a soggy sandwich, and the tiffin box allowed me to assemble my own at school. [Today,] to keep hot food insulated, I love the Zojirushi Classic Bento Vacuum Lunch Jar."
Dimensions (LxWxH): 6 x 5.4 x 8.4 inches | Weight: 2 pounds | What’s Included: 9-ounce bowl, 14-ounce bowl, 20-ounce bowl, forked spoon, chopsticks, carrying case
Best Overall, Kids: PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Lunchbox
What We Love: Compact, low-maintenance, easy to clean, keeps food items fresh and separate
What We Don't Love: Very pricey for kids’ lunch boxes
Kids in elementary and middle school enjoy more autonomy than their younger counterparts, so a sleek—but still fun—lunch box that’s easy to customize makes perfect sense for this age group. Kristen Wood, cookbook author and food blogger of Moon and Spoon and Yum, recommends PlanetBox’s bento-inspired Rover box. Fashioned from stainless steel for maximum durability and freshness preservation, these can be jazzed up with included magnetic inserts and separately-sold sleeves and carry bags in any number of patterns and colors.
"If you have picky eaters in your household, like I do, the Rover Lunchbox is perfectly suited to their needs," she says. "Apart from being made from easy-to-wash, toxin-free, eco-friendly stainless steel, this lunch box comes with several compartments and covered containers, so you can provide a variety of options to ensure your children will find something they will actually eat!"
Once your kids undo the easy-to-handle latch, they'll have two lidded "dippers" for dips and sauces to help level up their lunch. The entire box can be kept cool inside the carrying case with an ice pack snugly tucked away into the top compartment, which is next to the holder for the magnetic utensils. A small water bottle fits in front, so every aspect of lunch is accounted for.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 10 x 7.4 x 1.5 inches | Weight: 2.75 pounds | What’s Included: Stainless steel lunch box, one large lidded container, one small lidded container, magnetic utensils, carrying case
Best Insulated: LOKASS Insulated Lunch Bag
What We Love: Aluminum lining for high-quality insulation, able to hold containers of many sizes and shapes, affordable
What We Don't Love: Doesn’t come with containers or utensils, might be too bulky for some
When you find yourself in an environment where you don’t have easy access to a refrigerator (like a classroom or certain workplaces), an insulated lunch bag can be a mealtime savior. Nadia Charif, a registered dietician and staff health advisor at Coffeeble, the LOKASS Lunch Bag has impressive insulation properties while also serving as a stylish accessory. "It comes in a variety of fun prints to match your casual post-COVID work attire," she says. "It's lightweight, yet durable. [It’s] fashionable enough to carry on your arm during your commute, yet functional as can be."
Charif is especially a fan of the LOKASS bag’s functionality. "[It's] easy to clean out & reuse daily, and excellent at storing food at the right temp in any season," says Charif. "I particularly like the wide mouth for ease of access and because it's a snap to fit a variety of container sizes within it. There are extra pockets outside for those who want to include utensils & drinks, but they're completely flattened if not in use. This makes it easy to downsize the size of this lunch box if you wish to keep the lunch & load on the leaner side."
Dimensions (LxWxH): 10 x 6 x 11 inches | Weight: 15 ounces | What’s Included: 10-liter lunch bag
Related: The Best Meal Prep Containers
Best for Little Kids: Bentgo Kids Lunch Box
What We Love: Designed to suit younger children, features drop-proof and leak-proof technologies
What We Don't Love: No designated space for utensils, can’t microwave compartments individually
When selecting a lunch box for a younger kid, it’s helpful to seek out a model that’s specifically designed for a small child’s dexterity, food-related needs, and ability to randomly drop things. The Bentgo Kids Children’s Lunch Box amply delivers on all fronts, with its insertable compartment tray built around portion sizes that work well for kids age 3-7. "Love the Bentgo with its easy-close lid and perfect portion dividers for bento-style lunches," says Wood. "They're great for young kids and have tons of colors to choose from. They're leak-proof and microwave safe for you can even serve hot foods!"
Inside the drop-proof, rounded-corner shell, you'll find 4 different sized areas, with a 2-tablespoon dipping well in the middle. The shell also features latch closures that can be easily manipulated by small hands. The tray is safe in the microwave and freezer, plus can be cleaned on the top rack of your dishwasher. You will need to pick up an additional carrying case, especially one that is insulated and has room for drinks and utensils.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches | Weight: 1.25 pounds | What’s Included: Lunch box with removable compartment tray
Related: The Best Food Storage Container Sets
Best Bento: Bentoheaven Deluxe Bento Lunch Box
What We Love: Includes silverware, dishwasher-safe and microwave-safe, leak-resistant lids and seals
What We Don't Love: No insulation
It’s easy to fall in love with bento boxes. After all, they combine precise organization with a pleasurable eating experience, and they're designed to not take up too much room in your bag. This version by Bentoheaven offers excellent sealing technology to avoid leaks and keep your food fresh and temperature-stable. This package includes everything you need for a great lunch break since the food containers separated by lids and dividers and a set of utensils.
We sent this to the home of one of our testers, she found that her lunch and snacks stayed separated after some time carrying it around in her bag, with no leaks. Other testing observations included that the smaller utensils may be uncomfortable to grasp and use. For example, the spoon has a flat shape and holds less than a half teaspoon. Some foods might be fine, but eating soup could take forever, said our tester. The chopsticks also aren’t designed for large hands.
That all said, being safe in the dishwasher, microwave, and freezer makes this extremely useful for most adults. The Bentonheaven Premium Lunch Box comes in a variety of colors, but they all feature a bamboo panel on the lid, a nod to more traditional bento boxes.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 7.3 x 4 x 4.3 inches | Weight: 13 ounces | What’s Included: 2 compartments, 2 silicone lids, 3.25-ounce sauce cup, removable divider, fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks
Related: The Best Bento Boxes
Best Electric: CTSZOOM Self-Cooking Electric Lunch Box
What We Love: Cooks food with steam, uses layered compartments to maximize its interior space
What We Don't Love: Requires an outlet to use
Those who cherish a hot meal while on the clock will find a lot of use for an electric lunch box, which can both cook dishes à la minute and heat up pre-cooked dishes anywhere that has a power source. This 300-watt version is lightweight, easy to carry (it includes a built-in top handle), and highly efficient at both cooking and warming. All you need is a 110-volt outlet to plug it into.
How an electric lunch cooker works is similar to a vegetable steamer. You place water in the base, which contains a heating element. You layer in the stainless-steel tiers, which contain your food, and are separated by a layer with vents. Put on the lid, snap it closed, and turn it on. Wait the allotted amount of time, and then, you've got a nice hot lunch to enjoy! If something happens and it runs out of water, a safety feature shuts off the unit automatically to prevent burning. Since it's essentially a steamer, this is perfect for rice, hard-boiled eggs, and vegetables, but can also heat up meats and noodle dishes.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 10.2 x 5.1 x 5.9 inches | Weight: 2.9 pounds | What’s Included: 2 stainless steel bowls with lids, measuring cup, power cord, user guide
With three good-sized compartments and a carrying case, the well-insulated Zojirushi Classic Bento Vacuum-Insulated Lunch Jar (view at Amazon) is great for both your workday meals and weekend activities. For the kids, the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Lunchbox (view at Amazon) is durable and easy to wash making it one of the best.
What To Look for When Buying a Lunch Box
The particular lunch box that’s right for you will depend on how you intend to use it. A lunch box or bag that’s suited to a full multicourse meal takes on a different shape and size than a version that’s only needed for light noshes. Layered boxes, like bento and tiffin boxes, will allow you to keep food separate and might be easier to transport in a purse or backpack. For a good-sized meal, you'll need to buy a lunch box that holds at least 30 ounces of food.
As a whole, boxes tend to boast more durability in regards to weight, but bags have the flexibility to accommodate different containers and food items. For lunch bags, though, you will need to buy food that's tightly sealed or placed in storage containers separately. Lunch bags should hold more than boxes, upwards of 160 ounces. If you'll also be including drinks and snacks, larger lunch bags might work better for you.
Lunch boxes and bags come in any number of materials. Stainless steel is the most durable and easy to clean, but doesn't usually offer any sort of insulation and can't be put in the microwave. Many are now made of microwave-safe plastic since it's lightweight and, obviously, lets you warm up your food. It can hold onto smells and stains, so you'll need to rinse it out post-lunch. You'll find flexible silicone anywhere you want a tight seal. When it comes to lunch bags, look for an aluminum lining since it's great for temperature regulation.
Some lunch boxes can be popped into the dishwasher, while others need to be hand-washed (and still others have certain components that can be machine-washed and some that can’t). In general, stainless steel and silicone boxes and compartments are dishwasher-safe. However, if you use a bamboo bento box or any other containers made with more delicate materials, then hand washing with a gentle soap will be your safest bet.
Do you need an ice pack for a lunch box?
Ultimately, the need for an ice pack relies on the type of food that you’re transporting. Shelf-stable items don’t need ice packs, but if you’re bringing food that requires refrigeration or is perishable, then the USDA recommends packing at least 2 cold sources in your bag or box, even if it’s insulated.
Are lunch bags machine washable?
While many lunch bags can safely undergo a wash cycle, you’ll need to use your best judgment to determine whether that makes sense for your particular model. Bags made with high-quality materials usually have more durability and can therefore handle the strain of a machine wash. That said, you’ll want to keep the water temperature low, especially when cleaning insulated bags, and your lunch bags should never go in the dryer. When in doubt, it’s generally safe to hand wash lunch bags with gentle detergent.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Taylor Tobin is a freelance journalist who specializes in recipe testing and deep-dives into popular dishes, drinks, ingredients, and pieces of kitchen equipment. She’s been a steadfast lunch box user since she first carried a plastic "My Little Pony" model to kindergarten, and she’s thrilled by the incredible advancements in design, ergonomics, and fresh-keeping technology now available to lunch box shoppers.
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