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For many people, the humble lunch box holds a special place in their memories. Here in the United States, they once served as pop culture objects. Simple metal boxes adorned with colorful graphics or logos evoked popular TV shows or movies, like “Star Wars” or “The Jetsons.” Throughout the 1960s up through the 1980s, many of these illustrated metal lunch boxes accompanied generations of grade school children to school.
Today, while the goal of an excellent lunch box is still the same as in years past—namely to keep work and school lunches safe, protected, and cool or warm, depending on the food—the design of the lunch box is dramatically different. In fact, most aren’t metal anymore. Instead, you can find many that have a soft, fabric, plastic or nylon exteriors, which make these lunch boxes easier to place in backpacks, briefcases and travel bags. You’ll also find many more styles and designs available.
To help you find the best lunch box for you, we’ve put together this guide to let you know which is the best and why, along with advice on what features to look for or which ones to stay away from along with some helpful advice.
- Best overall: MIER Adult Lunch Box Insulated Lunch Bag
- Best value: Rubbermaid LunchBlox (Medium) Lunch Bag
- Best for the office: Rubbermaid LunchBlox Salad Kit
- Best cooler: A2S Complete Meal Prep Lunch Box
How we selected the best lunch boxes
There are hundreds of different lunch box models available, and they range in price from as little as a single lunch into the hundreds of dollars. However, most pricier models are more about making a fashion statement than simply finding something that would fit into most people’s budget. That is why we generally looked for lunch boxes that care more about function than fashion. If a lunch box is going to push the budget, it should come with a heap of features or accessories to make it truly useful.
Another big factor in selecting the products for this guide was that we wanted to select insulated lunch boxes, whether they were more traditional looking lunch boxes or bento-style boxes, which were first used in Japan, but have become quite popular internationally.
We also researched models that were easy to clean and use, were durable and stain-resistant, and that were versatile as well. If the models included storage containers, we also researched and selected models with containers that didn’t leak. In the end, we surveyed dozens of models across various categories to find the ideal options for common needs.
The best lunch boxes: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: MIER Adult Lunch Box Insulated Lunch Bag
Why it made the cut: It offers users a lot of versatility, including two separate compartments, allowing you to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, within the same lunch box.
- Dimensions: 10.2 x 7.9 x 11 inches
- Includes a detachable and adjustable shoulder strap
- Available in black, blue steel, camouflage, dark red, and other colors
- Double-layer design, for separately keeps hot and cold food
- Nicely designed
- Easy to clean
- Detachable and adjustable shoulder strap lets you carry in different ways
- Might be too large for some
There’s a lot to like about this large Mier lunch box. For starters, the top “dry” section has a U-opening, which zips open and closed, for easy access and is ideal for non-seeping food, such as fruits or snacks. On the bottom, you’ll find a “cold” section, which has leak-resistant insulation, so it’s a great section to store your drinks, water, juice, or soda.
Although it’s larger than many lunch boxes, it’s easy to carry since it has a detachable and adjustable shoulder strap, and the lunch box itself has a comfortable handle, too. In the front, you’ll also find a zipper pouch, which is great for packing utensils and napkins. There are also two small side pockets for packing other items. It comes in several colors, including black, blue steel, camouflage, dark Red, and four other colors.
Best value: Rubbermaid LunchBlox (Medium) Lunch Bag
Why it made the cut: Both size options come at a very affordable price, which is great if you’re bringing food to work to save cash.
- Dimensions: 5.38 x 8.75 x 8.88 inches
- Weight: 6.6 ounces
- Includes a grip handle and removable shoulder strap
- Includes removable shoulder strap
- Some might find it a little small for their food portions
Although this lunch box is inexpensive, it’s not cheaply made. It includes insulation, to keep food fresher longer and comes with both a comfort-grip handle and removable shoulder strap, for easy carrying. There’s also an exterior pocket for carrying a water bottle or thermos.
Rubbermaid states that this lunch box is specifically designed to work with Rubbermaid lunchblox food containers and blue ice packs. However, it will hold just about any small containers that fit in its interior space. Also, if you want a smaller sized or more inexpensive version, you can buy this in a smaller size, which is just 5.38 by 8.75 by 5.88 inches and weighs just 5.3 ounces.
Best lunch box for the office: Rubbermaid LunchBlox Salad Kit
Why it made the cut: It can go in the microwave, freezer, fridge, and pretty much anywhere else.
- Dimensions: 4.81 x 8.75 x 8.88 inches
- Weight: 14.1 ounces
- Microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe and BPA-free
- Very inexpensive
- Has a smart modular design
- Handy measurement guides are on the side of each container in the kit
- Limited capacity
- Doesn’t come in different colors
This Rubbermaid salad kit comes with several containers, including one salad container (5.2 cup capacity), one toppings tray, one salad dressing container (1.8 ounces), and one medium-blue ice freezer pack. It has a nicely designed, modified Bento-box style layout, although you’ll also be stacking items on top of each other. It also includes a blue ice-freezer pack, which snaps directly onto food containers to keep salads or lunches chilled when you’re on the go. We also liked the handy measurement guides on the side of each container, which allow you to control the portion sizes of your meals.
If you get sick of salads, the containers are microwave safe so you can still feel good about bringing your food to work even if you’ve replaced your ruffage with leftover lasagna.
Best lunch box cooler: A2S Complete Meal Prep Lunch Box
Why it made the cut: This large lunch box provides you with containers and compartments, which can be very handy if you need to prepare a meal and need to carry the ingredients with you.
- Dimensions: 13.5 x 7.5 x 10 inches
- Weight: 2.07 pounds
- Includes containers
- Comes with three plastic food containers
- Includes an insulated beverage bottle
- Includes an adjustable shoulder strap
- Relatively pricey
- Not machine washable
There are lots of places to store food and drinks in this lunch box: In the main section, you have room to place the three included, leakproof meal containers, which can be stacked on top of each other. All three meal containers are also freezer-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe. Above, there’s a smaller compartment to place fruits or snacks. Both of these compartments zip shut with a two-zipper system.
On the side, you’ll also find two slots for storing water or beverage bottles. It also comes with an insulated beverage bottle (and lid), a fork and knife, and three reusable ice packs.
Best lunch box for kids: TWELVElittle Adventure Kids Lunch Box
Why it made the cut: This lunch box not only has an adorable design on its exterior, but it’s water-resistant, too, to keep it looking good and for easy cleaning
- Dimensions: 10 x 8.25 x 4 inches
- Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Machine Washable
- Beautifully designed, water-resistant exterior
- Easy to clean
- Comes with a long detachable strap for easy carrying.
- Slightly more expensive than others targeted at kids
You might find a cheaper lunch box for your kids, but it most likely won’t be as attractive or nicely designed as this one from TWELVE Little. Inside, this comes with fully insulated extra pockets, which makes packing lunch and snacks a breeze, and it will keep all the contents cooler or warmer for longer. It also has two mesh pockets, for ice packs or other items. And this box includes a long, detachable strap for easy carrying. Additionally, the entire lunch box is machine washable, so it’s easy to throw in the wash after a yogurt-related catastrophe happens on the way to school.
It’s not the cheapest box on the list, but it’s also not overly expensive, which is good because kids have a tendency to leave things pretty much everywhere.
What to consider when buying the best lunch boxes
To buy a good quality lunch box, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Most we recommended are very affordable. But how do you choose? Follow our guide to help you make your decision. Here are some factors to consider before making your purchase:
Style of lunch box: Traditional or Bento
One of the first things you’ll want to figure out is what style you’ll want to use: A traditional lunch or a Bento box. A traditional lunch box opens on the front or the top of the box or bag, generally placing some of your items on top of each other. A Bento box is generally smaller and all your food is on one layer. Most Bento boxes are also divided up into sections or have containers to add into the box.
Size, exterior, design and color
You’ll also want to consider both the size of your lunch box and its exterior or shell. If you plan on bringing a lot of food, be sure your lunch box is large enough for the food you plan on carrying with you. Check the dimensions.
Also, consider the exterior of your lunch box. Although there aren’t as many metal lunch boxes on the market as there used to be, there are a number of models that have a hard exterior, which, in some rare cases, might protect your food a little better than those with soft exteriors. But lunch boxes with softer exteriors still do a fine job of keeping your food safe. They’re also easier to fit into a bag or backpack. Plus, they’re easier to store when they’re empty.
Be sure you like the design and color of your lunch box. Also, look to see if it has a comfortable handle or includes a carrying strap, if it’s larger. And consider the overall design and color: They may not be the most important factors in your purchase, but you’ll still want to buy an attractive-looking lunch box, since you’ll be taking it with you to work or school every day.
Insulation and microwave safety
Almost all good quality lunch boxes have some type of insulation, which keeps cold food cool, or hot foot warm, even hours after you put them in. Also, see if your lunch box is microwave safe. This is particularly helpful if you use a Bento box that doesn’t have removable containers and you want to avoid transferring your food to another plate or container to warm up your meals.
Some lunch boxes come with removable containers, which is a nice extra and means you don’t have to search for separate containers for your food. They’re also designed to fit into your lunch box, and may include other items, like a thermos or water bottle.
Ease of cleaning
A well-designed lunch box will keep your food and drinks secure without spilling or leaking. However, if you do happen to spill something on the interior or exterior, you’ll want it to have material that is stain resistant. Moreover, look for a lunch box that’s easy to clean, since you’re bound to spill a drink or drop some food on it at some point. Depending on the type you have, check to see if it’s safe to put into the washing machine (for soft exteriors) or a dishwasher (for hard exteriors).
Look through user reviews before you buy your lunch box to see if it’s durable. It should last at least a year, perhaps longer.
Q: What material are most lunch boxes made from?
It depends which type you buy. Insulated lunch boxes usually contain an outer layer of tough, plastic fabric, such as vinyl, nylon, or polyester, which can be hard to stain or tear. Inside, a lunch bag might have an inner layer made from a water-resistant material, such as plastic, aluminum, vinyl, and foil liners, which can help keep food fresh and dry.
Q: What is a Bento box?
The design of a Bento box originated in Japan, but today has become quite popular in many other parts of the world. Traditionally, the box was packed with foods, such as rice, meat or fish, vegetables, and other food. It was also designed to make the portions appear as attractive as possible.
Q: How often should you replace your lunch box?
It depends how often you use it. However, some experts suggest that you should replace a child’s lunch box every year, since dirt, bacteria and mold might build up on the inside of the lunch box or bag.
A final word on the best lunch boxes
Bringing your lunch to work or making lunch for your children and having them bring it to school is a great way to ensure that your family enjoys their lunch. It’s why you want to choose a lunch box or bag that’s well constructed and durable.
However, bringing your lunch to work or to school can also save you and your family money. According to some experts, consumers on average will spend around $11 if they eat lunch out, but will spend only $6.30 when they bring their lunch to work or school. In fact, USA Today said that consumers didn’t realize they were spending as much as $50 a week on lunch, which could be as much as $2,600 a year. So, it can really pay to buy a really nice lunch box or bag so that you keep your food safe and fresh if you commute to work or school.