Why read: This is a detailed guide on how to choose the best stainless steel lunch box for kids, as well as other lunch essentials – lunch bag, thermos, ice packs, utensils.
For your easy shopping, this post contains affiliate links. If you click highlighted links or pictures and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
So, your little one started school this year. You pack nutrient-rich healthy food in his lunch box every day.
But something just doesn’t feel right.
It’s either the way the lunch box is constructed. Or food just doesn’t align or look good together. Things get constantly messy. Your son needs help with opening the food container and feeding himself at school …
I’m talking about myself here, actually.
When it comes to food, I do a pretty good job. For most cases, I make sure my boy eats organic, whole, homemade food. And that’s what I pack for his lunch.
But the thing is that it’s not just about the food. For our kids to have the best lunch experience at school the lunch needs to be packed in a right way.
As with everything else the variety of lunch boxes available on the market today is overwhelming. That’s how I ended up with a completely useless lunch box for my boy. It’s time to find the right one.
Photo by Rubbermaid Products
What’s the Best Lunch Box for Kids?
Before starting my research on the best lunch box for kids out there, I decided to make a list of everything that I look for in an ideal one. So here is what I came up with:
- NO PLASTIC – I’ll explain in the next section why packing your child’s lunch in a plastic container is not a good idea.
- Small and lightweight – I want my 3-year-old to be able to fit it into his backpack and then carry the backpack on his own.
- Compartment lunch box – I feed my boy and our entire family based on USDA’s MyPlate guidelines. So an ideal lunch box needs to have separate compartments for all food groups – veggies and fruits, protein and grains.
- Easy to open – I don’t want my boy to rely on someone else’s help and stay hungry if he can’t open his own lunch container.
- Not too expensive – actually, this is not as important. If all the other points are met, I’m ready to splurge and get that one perfect lunch box. Because my boy’s health comes first.
Say Goodbye to Plastic Containers
I have zero tolerance when it comes to plastic.
I know you might argue that plastic containers are lighter, more practical, cheaper (much cheaper!). Plus there are plastic Tupperware lunch boxes that claim to be BPA-free, hence safe for storing food.
But here is the truth…
Plastic is plastic – even if its BPA or the-hell-knows-what-else free!
This means that when it comes into contact with cold, hot or acidic conditions, plastic starts to deteriorate. After a number of washes, you’ll notice that your previously cute plastic container doesn’t look as good anymore. Moreover, over time it’ll start to retain odors. Don’t believe me? Just go and smell your plastic containers. Do you really want THAT to come in contact with your or your child’s food?
I know I don’t!
Just one last thing about plastic. It’s not environmentally-friendly either. And if you care about the planet and want to reduce your carbon footprint, this is another reason to say goodbye to the plastic lunch boxes.
Why Stainless Steel?
While glass is the safest material for food storage, it’s not practical for on-the-go food. Especially when kids are involved – glass is heavy and it can break.
Stainless steel is the safest and most practical option for your child’s lunch box for the following reasons:
- Safe material for food storage – it doesn’t leach harmful chemicals into our food, doesn’t pose health risks, doesn’t retain tastes or smells, no toxins or lining.
- Durable – unlike glass, stainless steel doesn’t break. Even if your child drops his container a million times it won’t break and can last a lifetime.
- Eco-friendly – Zero waste goes to landfills.
- Easy to clean – Dishwasher safe: rust and stain-resistant.
- Lightweight – if you choose lunch boxes made with kids in mind, those are pretty light.
Yes, stainless steel lunch boxes are more expensive. So initial investment might seem pricey but, believe me, it pays off in the end. Please also note that these are not freezer or microwave safe. But the plastic ones aren’t either, even if they claim so.
What are Bento Lunch Boxes?
I have to confess I’ve just recently learned what a bento box is. And now I’m obsessed with the idea of bringing the concept to my boy’s lunch box, and why not to all of our family meals too.
Simply put a bento box is Japanese equivalent for a lunch box. But there is a reason why this Japanese term is now widely used among Americans.
With their love of aesthetics, the Japanese take their food culture to an art level. And bento lunch boxes for kids are no exception. There are even classes across Japan where people can learn how to pack their lunch boxes. The food needs to look pleasant to the eye and be nutritionally balanced at the same time.
There is so much tradition behind Japanese bento boxes. Following the same practice we, as moms, can make our children’s lunch experience an extremely enjoyable one. I’ll go into more details about the culture of bento boxes in a separate post. Check back if that’s something of interest to you.
Best Lunch Box for a Toddler & Preschooler
Let’s agree, even if your 2 or 3-year-old is a wizard eater – and hats off, mama, for doing a great job in teaching him how to be one – he will most certainly make some mess while eating at school.
So I don’t believe any mother would pack soup or anything that requires too much effort from her little one at this early age. What would work perfectly instead is bite-size portions of various healthy snacks or finger foods, dry sandwiches, or even hot food cut into small pieces.
That’s why when looking for that perfect lunch box for my 3-year-old, I didn’t need it to be leakproof or of very big size. Please do note that all of the lunch boxes in this section are not leakproof.
After looking through numerous lunch containers and their reviews, observing my son’s 20 classmates using their lunch boxes during meals and talking to some of the moms about their experiences, I chose the winner.
#1 Choice – LunchBots Stainless Steel Containers
These come in different sizes with compartments ranging from one to five. So depending on how old your child is or how much he eats, you can choose the perfect one for his needs. The most important factor for me is that it is all stainless steel including the lid.
For my boy I decided to go with the Four Section Design:
- Smaller size – perfect for a toddler. Check out this design for bigger size and three compartments.
- Quality – high-quality stainless steel.
- Bento box with 4 compartments – allows packing 4 different types of foods without touching each other.
- Easy to open – I did end up getting the one with green dot cover for some color and cuteness.
# 2 Choice – Stainless Steel Lunch Containers by GRUB2GO or ECOlunchbox
If your toddler stays in daycare for the full day and you need to pack more food, these are probably better options for you.
They come in 2 compartments. You can place one set of meal in the bottom layer and then another in the top one.
The clips are kid-friendly and can be adjusted to desired stiffness.
*Note – Because there are no plastic gaskets to create a seal, all of these lunch boxes are not leakproof and would work only for dry food.
Although PlanetBox lunchboxes are expensive, they’ve become extremely popular and top-rated among health-conscious parents. A number of my boy’s classmates use these lunch boxes. To be honest though from what I’ve observed I wouldn’t say these are very suitable for younger kids. You could try it out starting from kindergarten and up.
PlanetBox is designed to keep foods from touching each other. When closed, the top and the bottom of the box meet so that foods will not co-mingle, even when carried and stored on its side. The seal on the PlanetBox itself is not designed to hold wet, messy foods so it’s not leak-proof.
In addition to the stainless steel bento box with 5 compartments, you get 2 small round lidded containers, a lunch bag, and a set of hip magnets.
Despite its price tag, I believe PlanetBox offers the best lunch box & lunch bag combo for the older kids.
Other Lunch Essentials
When you finally choose the perfect lunch box for your little one, half of the job is done. The other half is choosing some other lunch essentials that will make your and your child’s life easier. Some of these you might already own from your little one’s baby time:
- Lunch bag
- Ice Packs
OXO Tot On-The-Go Set with Carrying Case – this is my boy’s first utensil set. And now it works perfectly well for his lunch at school. The case is very easy to open and both the fork and the spoon are of a perfect size for a 3-year-old. The fact that this set has a case make it ideal. My boy puts his utensils back into the case very responsibly after his meals. It means everything stays clean in his lunch bag, the utensils don’t go missing and we don’t use any plastic disposable forks or spoons.
Cutlery Set with Case – I have my eye on this set for next year when my boy is ready to use a knife. This set is more suitable for older kids. And adults too, as it looks really stylish. I want one for myself!
For the days when I go with hot food for my boy’s lunch, I definitely use a thermos. You probably already own one or two thermoses as these come in very handy for any on-the-go meals. But if not, here are the ones I’d recommend.
Thermos Foogo – I purchased my Foogo Thermos when I started my boy on solids. And now it is well used by him for his hot lunches.
- It is small and compact – perfect for toddlers and little kids
- It is leak-proof so can also be used for soups.
- Because it was designed with kids in mind, it is relatively easy to open.
If you are looking for a bigger thermos for your older child, check out this 16 ounce one. It comes in different colors and has a slick design. Plus you get a folding spoon as a bonus. Another item that is perfect for adults too.
*Tip – If you want your food to stay steaming hot in your thermos, warm it with boiling water before putting food in it.
Best Lunch Bags for Kids
Continuing with a mom’s wish to keep things as neat as possible, a compact and cute lunch bag is also a must. The lunch bag will help to keep the lunch box, all the lunch necessities and the mess in one place and not transfer to your child’s backpack or purse.
For the hot food to stay hot and cold snacks fresh longer, it’s better to purchase an insulated lunch bag. Also, make sure you check the dimensions of both your lunch box and lunch bag to avoid the disappointment of a lunch box not fitting in the lunch bag. Order the lunch bag a little bigger or at least with side pockets for the water bottle, cutlery, and ice packs.
Yes! You’ll also need ice packs to keep the food fresh. Even if the lunch bag is insulated, insulation alone is not enough to keep everything fresh on hot days.
#1 Choice – SoYoung Lunch Bag
In my pursuit of everything eco-friendly, I came across this perfect lunch bag for kids. Even the name “So Young!” says it all. Here is why I love it:
- Insulated and leak proof lunch bag.
- Retro-inspired cute design, it’s so unique and different from all the lunch bags with screaming colors.
- Machine washable with a removable insert.
- Back pocket for cutlery and love notes, name tag inside the bag.
- The size is just right for a child of any age – not too big but isn’t too small either.
#2 Choice – Mackenzie Classic Lunch Bag by Pottery Barn
If you’re looking for a lunch bag that you can personalize with your child’s name, Pottery Barn offers that option.
Their Mackenzie Classic lunch bags are very well made. And they also have a number of different cute designs for your little one to choose from.
#3 Choice – Beautiful Lunch Bag for Girls – oFloral Insulated Lunch Bag
If I had a daughter, I’d definitely go with a tote-shaped colorful lunch bag. These are so unique and come in so many beautiful patterns. Girls just need to have all things pretty, don’t they?
On hot days, when your little one’s lunch bag seats in his cubby for 3-4 hours before lunchtime the food can go bad even in an insulated bag. A reusable ice pack is your solution to keep the food cool. Just place one at the bottom of the lunch bag or in a mesh pocket if the lunch bag has one, and you can have the peace of mind that your child’s food stays fresh the whole day.
These are basic and very affordable Ice packs. For $7.99 you get a set of 4.
They are small though, so you might need to use more than one. Another downside is that these are not sweat-proof.
Another set of Fit & Fresh Ice Packs – but these are covered with nylon fabric which keeps them dry. For $8.99 you get a set of 2 but because these are sweat-proof it makes them totally worth it.
If you decided to go with the SoYoung lunch bag, SoYoung Ice pack would go perfectly well with it.
These are of course more expensive, but you get an adorable design and an eco-friendly sweat-proof ice pack.
One Last Thing
You and I both know how much love we put into our children’s lunch boxes when we send them to school. Especially when it’s their first year, sobbing here… It’s not just about the food.
It’s about the overall experience. My little boy now learns how to grab his lunch bag from his cubby, take a seat at the lunch table and socialize with his classmates while having his meal. And all that ON HIS OWN.
So I want him to always look forward to his lunchtime. Nutritious food is extremely important for a growing child. But the way the food is packed and presented is of equal importance.
P.S. For something extra special, you can place a love note in your child’s lunch bag. Because my boy can’t read yet, I hide a little drawing of cartoon characters on a piece of sticky note in his lunch bag. He loves to look for those. And when I come to pick him up, he always tells me in great excitement that he found my drawing 🙂
P.P.S. To make sure you feed your child nutrient-rich food check out my 6 Basic Nutrients Required For Your Child’s Healthy Diet blog post.
Plus grab my FREE parent’s guide to the optimal child nutrition plan by entering your email in the box below. You’ll receive an instant download link straight to your inbox. I have even included a printable chart at the end of the guide for you to print and stick on your fridge so that you never forget to use the right combination of foods when feeding your kids and the whole family.
How About You?
Have you found THE best lunch box for your kids? Let’s help fellow moms by sharing our experiences in the comments section below.