- A lunch box is an undervalued but extremely important school supply. For some students, it’s the most important supply, and it’s certainly one that gets a lot of use.
- Our picks give you the best options from preschool to college and everything in between.
- With a built-in ice pack, the PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag will keep your elementary schooler’s lunch cold and fresh.
- Your high schooler will appreciate the Rubbermaid LunchBlox‘s stackable containers that keep food separated for snacking throughout the day.
- You can also check out our guide on how to pack a school lunch in a few steps.
Since they don’t land a spot on the back-to-school shopping lists provided by schools, lunch boxes are sometimes an afterthought, but they are one of the most important school supplies. A good lunch box that allows you to pack a variety of foods will keep your kids full and give them the brainpower to do their best in school every day.
Buying a quality lunch box can make your life a lot easier too. Choose the right lunch box for your kid, and they’ll be more excited about eating lunch. They might even help you pack it. You’ll also make fewer trips to school for forgotten lunches if your child loves their lunch box. If you can swing it, you can save time on packing lunches by buying a few lunch boxes and batch prepping them at the beginning of the week.
Choosing the best lunch box can be difficult, and the features you need vary based on your situation. Here are some of the major factors we considered when choosing our top picks:
- Durability: As a former high school teacher, I’ve seen how students treat their school supplies, and it isn’t pretty. A lunch box should be able to stand up to getting tossed in lockers, stuffed in backpacks, and dropped in the hallway.
- Capacity: You may be surprised how much variation there is in the amount of food lunch boxes can hold. When determining our picks, we considered the average amount of food each age group eats, so our recommendations aren’t too big for little ones or too small for older kids.
- Appearance: This can make all the difference. Younger kids might be more likely to eat their lunch if it’s in a cool container with their favorite character, and older kids wouldn’t be caught dead with a juvenile lunch box.
- Temperature control: Keeping food at the proper temperature is important for your kid’s lunch to taste good and for it to remain safe. Some of our picks have built-in ice packs or insulated containers. For picks that don’t include these, be sure to include them if the lunch needs to stay hot or cold.
The cost of school supplies can add up quickly, so we checked out lunch boxes in a variety of price ranges. To bring you the best lunch box recommendations, I combined my years of experience as a teacher with thorough research of products on review sites, brand websites, and customer reviews.
Here are the best kids’ lunch boxes:
- Best kids’ lunch box for preschool: Bentgo Kids Lunch Box
- Best kids’ lunch box for elementary school: PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag
- Best kids’ lunch box for middle school: OmieBox Bento Box
- Best lunch box for high school: Rubbermaid LunchBlox Sandwich Kit
- Best lunch box for college: LunchBots Large Trio Stainless-Steel Lunch Container
Prices and links are current as of 1/30/2020.
The best for preschool
The Bentgo Kids Lunch Box comes in a variety of colors and designs, has multiple compartments for different foods, and boasts leak-proof technology.
Bentgo offers bento boxes in different sizes, but one of their most popular boxes is the smaller Bentgo Kids Lunch Box. They also offer the same style in a bright color line and fun prints that preschoolers will love.
The box has four main compartments and one smaller compartment that’s perfect for dips and sauces. We also love that the bento tray can be removed from the box itself, and the tray is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. The outer box has rubber edges and a drop-proof design, which is perfect for younger kids.
Unlike many other bento boxes, the compartments in this box are leak-proof, making it much more convenient to pack any food without worrying about it ruining the other foods in the box. This lunch box does not have any built-in temperature control, so you’ll need to include an ice pack for food that needs to stay cold.
The Bentgo Kids Lunch Box was featured on Working Mother as one of the best lunch boxes. It’s a great size for toddlers and preschoolers, but kids will likely outgrow this lunch box by elementary school, and it might even be too small for preschoolers with voracious appetites.
Pros: Multiple color options, leak- and drop-proof design, dishwasher- and microwave-safe
Cons: Small compartments might be too small for kids with big appetites
The best for elementary school
The PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag comes in tons of fun colors and designs, and the entire bag itself is a built-in ice pack, keeping food fresh and cold for hours.
When you have young kids, you’ll pay big bucks for anything that makes your life easier and more convenient. Thankfully with the PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag with built-in ice packs, you don’t have to shell out too much cash to add a little convenience to your life. Just fold the bag flat in the freezer overnight, and you have a cold lunch bag ready to go for lunches in the morning.
I’ve had a slightly older version of this lunch box for years, and it keeps snacks cool on road trips as well. The bag zips closed at the top, and it has a convenient carrying handle that can also clip onto your child’s backpack.
Elementary school kids will love that there are several designs and colors they can choose from. From tie-dye to unicorns to plain black, there is a PackIt bag to match every style.
These lunch bags can get wet with condensation as the day goes on, so it would be a good idea to buy one or two of PackIt’s mod lunch and snack containers with adjustable compartments to keep food contained and dry. I’ve never had this problem with my bag, but it is a possibility.
It was also praised by Working Mother and Good Housekeeping. Good Housekeeping named it the best overall lunch box. In their tests, it was the only lunch box that safely stayed below 40 degrees after five and a half hours. Working Mother called it “the perfect lunch box for kids who hate carrying lunch boxes.”
Pros: Built-in ice packs, folds flat when not in use
Cons: Some complaints of condensation
The best for middle school
The OmieBox Bento Box can hold hot food in the included leak-proof insulated container, and there is still plenty of room left in the other compartments for cold or room-temperature food.
The OmieBox Bento Box has a cute design that middle-schoolers will love. Middle school can be a time of great indecision, and we took that into consideration when we chose this for our top middle school pick. This box includes an insulated leak-proof container to keep food hot, but it’s also designed to have separate temperature zones. You can pack cold food right next to the hot food, and they’ll both stay the correct temperature (as long as you add an ice pack for the cold food).
No matter what lunch curveball your middle-schooler throws at you, this lunch box will be able to accommodate it. There are five different color options for your middle-schooler to choose from. The box has an attached carrying handle, so you can forgo a lunch bag if you want.
Don’t let the compact design fool you; there are actually a few ways you can play around with the configuration of this box to perfectly fit whatever meal you want to pack. There are three main compartments, one of which fits the insulated container. You could remove the insulated container if you don’t need to pack anything hot, and the box also comes with a divider so you can create a customized fourth compartment.
A review from Martha Stewart named the OmieBox of the top 10 lunch boxes and praised the design of the insulated container: “The insulated jar is wide and shallow, which makes it easy to eat the food inside, and its lid features a chunky handle so even small kids can open it.” Wirecutter also named the Omie Box one of the best kids’ lunch boxes; one of their favorite aspects is that it holds the most food of all the bento boxes they tested.
Pros: Holds hot and cold foods, versatile design, simple yet attractive design with color options
Cons: The insulated container is on the smaller side (it holds about a cup of food)
The best for high school
The Rubbermaid LunchBlox has multiple containers that snap together onto an included ice pack, and it’s competitively priced.
Usually by high school, kids ditch the cute lunch boxes in favor of simplicity, which is one of the reasons the Rubbermaid LunchBlox is our top pick for high school. You can get the Rubbermaid LunchBlox in a variety of colors and sizes, but you can’t beat the price of the green sandwich kit. The kit includes a large sandwich box, two snack containers, one side container, and an ice pack that snaps everything together.
Your high-schooler might be happy putting the LunchBlox in a brown paper bag, but Rubbermaid also makes a LunchBlox Bag designed to fit the boxes. It should fit pretty easily in other lunch bags, too, if your high-schooler wants to add some personality.
The best thing about these containers is that they can be stacked together, or your teenager can take them apart. When I was a high school teacher, I constantly had students pulling out parts of their lunch at all times of the day. With the Rubbermaid LunchBlox, it would be so easy for them to just grab one of the containers if they crave a snack during second period. This also works well for snacks after school or during practice.
Pros: Low price point, ice pack included, containers easily snap together or can be separated for snacks throughout the day
Cons: No lunch bag included – you’ll need to use a brown paper bag or purchase a lunch bag to go along with this one
The best for college
The LunchBots Large Trio Stainless-Steel Lunch Container has a professional design and is big enough for college students to pack a whole meal or a full day of snacks.
A lot of people don’t think about lunch boxes when they’re headed off to college. Most college freshmen are focused on the all-you-can-eat dining commons for their meals, but you shouldn’t underestimate how much a lunch box will come in handy in college. Meal plan points run out, sometimes there isn’t time to go to the dining hall between classes, and when students move off campus, they usually don’t have a meal plan.
We love the LunchBots Large Trio Stainless Steel for college because it’s simple, durable, and versatile. The plain design won’t have college students feeling like a middle-schooler toting around a lunch their mommy made, and it transfers well to professional life. It can also be used to carry just a few snacks for a long day on campus.
The box is a stainless-steel bento box that’s the perfect size for a large main dish and two sides. The main compartment is large enough to fit a sandwich on standard-size bread. The compartments aren’t leak-proof, but you can upgrade to a bundle to add silicone leak-proof containers.
You might want to buy a bag to put the box in, especially if you need to add an ice pack. However, LunchBots sent me one of their boxes, and I’ve had no problem just tossing it into a backpack by itself. The lid has never come off, and going without a lunch bag saves space when you already have a lot of things to carry. Since it’s stainless steel, things won’t get smashed (just be sure not to pack anything that will leak). You can also read my full review of LunchBots here.
Pros: Transfers well to professional life, durable stainless steel, fits plenty of food for a full meal or a whole day of snacks
Cons: Compartments aren’t leak-proof, the optional colored cover isn’t very durable
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