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When you're always on the go, it's easy to get into the habit of stopping for a quick-service meal, but relying on fast food can also add up. With the right storage containers, taking homemade food along to the office, school, or on a road trip is a cinch. To help find one that suits your needs, we researched top products suitable for all the great to-go meals you've been planning to whip up at home.
When packing your food or drink to go, Kate Bast, Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and Founder of Shinrin-Yoku Madison, says, "Think about the sustenance you'll need to match your exertion levels and what will be most digestible."
Here are the best hot food thermoses.
Best Overall: Thermos Stainless King Food Jar
Retains heat well
Firm seal prevents leaks
Plastic laminate gradually peels off
Thanks to an uber-tight seal, the forerunner of this list is touted as having maximum temperature retention for hot and cold food. The Thermos King can keep liquids hot for nine hours and cold for up to 14 hours. Another major benefit is that the lid is designed to be used as a bowl in tandem with the included standard-sized stainless steel folding spoon. Each component of this model can safely be washed in the top rack of your dishwasher, allowing easy upkeep for busy professionals on the go.
Capacity: 16 ounces | Heat Retention: Up to nine hours | Cold Retention: Up to 14 hours
On hot days, Kate Bast, nature and forest therapy guide and founder of Shinrin-Yoku Madison, recommends hikers bringing at least twice as much water as they think they need, even if that means bringing two or more thermoses. She also suggests adding hydration packets to water or filling a thermos with fruits that have high water content, such as watermelon, which can be frozen the night before to maximize coolness. On chilly days, Bast carries one thermos with room temperature water and another containing a hot or warm beverage.
Best for Kids: Thermos Foogo Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Food Jar
Lid seal needs occasional deep cleaning
Ergonomically designed with kids in mind, the BPA-free Foogo is a favorite with parents, as its cool-to-the-touch 10-ounce body fits perfectly into most lunchboxes. The base and lid are made of rubber to make the jar easier to grip for smaller hands, too. Other perks include cost efficiency, a tough body resistant to scratches, and the ability to keep food warm for about six hours or cold for up to 10 hours.
Capacity: 10 ounces | Heat Retention: Up to six hours | Cold Retention: Up to 10 hours
"Think about the sustenance you'll need to match your exertion levels and what will be most digestible," Bast says. Her go-to hot beverages include apple or pear slices steeped in cider with maple syrup, white pine tea, and spruce needle tea. For hot food, Bast suggests bone broth, veggie broth, or other soup which you can add proteins to. For something heartier, she suggests a casserole or stew.
Runner-Up, Best for Kids: Thermos 10-Ounce Funtainer Food Jar
Available in a variety of colors
Hand wash only
Kids will adore the array of colors and character themes the Funtainer comes in. More importantly, a wide brim makes eating less challenging for little ones getting the hang of using serving utensils, and the stay-cool exterior won't harm their hands. However, it's imperative to strictly adhere to the instructions for use, such as warming the interior with hot water for 20 minutes before adding any food that will be eaten two to five hours later. This model should keep food warm for up to five hours or cold for up to seven hours.
Capacity: 10 ounces | Heat Retention: Up to five hours | Cold Retention: Up to seven hours
Best Budget: Mira Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Lunch Thermos
Comes with travel spoons
Easy to clean
May rust after frequent use
Looking for a leak- and sweat-proof vessel on the cheap? MIRA’s Stainless Steel Lunch Thermos delivers that and more. It’s easy to clean by hand due to the larger opening at the top and the rubber ring inside of the lid can be removed for more adequate scrubbing to prevent mold accumulation. The exterior color selection contains muted hues, such as pearl blue, Hawaiian blue, and light pink, which gives this product line a similar aesthetic to more expensive brands currently on the market. It has an average heat retention of approximately 5 hours and a cold retention of up to 10 hours.
Capacity: 17 ounces | Heat Retention: Up to five hours | Cold Retention: Up to 10 hours
"If you happen to be in a snowy situation after you've consumed your hot thermos items, fill it with clean snow. The residual warmth will help melt it ensuring you have more water at the ready." — Kate Bast, Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and Founder of Shinrin-Yoku Madison
Best for Travel: Hydroflask 12-Ounce Thermos Food Jar
Limited color selection
The leak-proof Hydroflask Food Flask Thermos Jar is just as sleek as the company’s beverage-only models. The durable exterior was crafted with outdoor adventures in mind, so it's quite popular with nature and camping enthusiasts, and the 18/8 stainless steel interior ensures no flavor transfer or lingering odors. Available in multiple sizes, start small with the 10- or 12-ounce container, and then upgrade in size over time if an expanded collection for a family is needed. Just keep in mind that the 20- and 28-ounce versions have higher price points. That said, this should keep your food warm for at least four hours. Some reviewers have even reported excellent heat retention up to 12 hours.
Capacity: 12 ounces | Heat Retention: More than four hours | Cold Retention: N/A
For a decently sized thermos that will keep foods, like soup, stew, and more, warm for up to an impressive nine hours, look no further than the Thermos Stainless Steel King Food Jar (view at Amazon). Kids, on the other hand, will love the fun colors and cool touch of the wide-mouthed Thermos Foogo Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Food Jar (view at Amazon).
What to Look for When Buying a Hot Food Thermos
Food thermoses tend to be shorter and wider than drink thermoses. This is so you're able to pour contents, such as soup, into the flask—and eat out of it as well. Most have a twist-on lid, which helps prevent spills. Some thermoses will have additional seals or interior lids to keep food safe for further spill protection.
Stainless steel is the preferred material for thermoses. It won’t absorb color or scent from hot food that is stored in it for a long time and cleans easily. An inner flask keeps contents warm surrounded by a partial vacuum that can’t conduct heat away from the flask. An outer case, usually also steel, allows you to hold the container without condensation or burning your hand. The outer case may also be treated with a coating or surrounded by plastic.
Even inexpensive models tend to be vacuum-seal stainless steel. However, the vacuum-seal method can be used with other materials like glass and plastic. Because they are not as durable as stainless steel, they are not recommended.
The size of a thermos largely depends on what you want to use it for. Most thermoses for adults tend to be around 16 ounces, and ones for children are a little smaller. Smaller amounts of food will cool down faster, but if there is excess air in the thermos, the contents will also cool faster. If you want your food to stay hot for several hours, you'll want to use the best size thermos for the amount of food you're putting in it. If you just want the option for a small soup bowl at lunch, you can go with 10 ounces or smaller. If you want to carry a hearty meal in your flask, 16 ounces is likely the better fit.
Thermoses tend to be fairly affordable, and you can typically expect to get a long-lasting one for somewhere between $15 and $30. The more expensive models may boast more fun colors, a tiger seal for the lid, or other accessories, but they all will use the same stainless steel vacuum-sealed design.
Thermos is synonymous with the product it produces—thermoses. But unlike Kleenex and Tupperware, Thermos has not been able to maintain the trademark on the term "thermos." The Thermos company, first started in Germany, was the first to figure out how to take industrial vacuum-sealing techniques and apply them for home use. Today, Thermos makes a wide range of insulated containers, from flasks and mugs to coolers and lunch boxes.
Designed for the outdoors, Hydro Flask’s powder-coated flasks and containers are designed to stand up to heavy wear and tear. Available in a wide array of colors, they also come with a lifetime warranty.
A stainless steel thermos is relatively easy to clean up. Because it won’t absorb scent or color from your food, you can treat it like you would any other dirty dish and wash it with soap and water. Many thermoses are dishwasher safe but not all. This isn’t because of the material but the construction: Dishwashers may mess up the vacuum seal. Interior lids and other accessories, like collapsible forks, may also require additional hand-washing to get rid of built-up grime.
How do I choose what type of thermos to get?
Before purchasing a thermos, narrow down a preferred size and what it will most frequently be used for. This could range from beverages, like coffee and tea, to meals that need to survive a long day and transport to after-school clubs and sports practices. Perhaps durability is the top concern for long outdoor treks. Check customer reviews to read common raves and complaints about each manufacturer’s products.
How does a thermos work?
Using a stainless steel vacuum-sealed design, an inner flask maintains contents at a consistent temperature, since warm or cold air cannot easily penetrate or escape from the flask. The outer material, usually made of hard plastic or steel, allows the thermos to be comfortably held and transported without liquid leaking out.
How long do thermoses keep contents hot or cold?
High-quality thermal flasks can keep food and beverages warm for as long as a full 24 hours. More economical brands will typically retain the original temperature of contents for four to six hours.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Rachel Werner teaches culinary writing through Hugo House and has been selecting food-based businesses for editorial coverage for over six years. Her product and restaurant reviews, food styling, and photography have appeared in a variety of regional and national publications including Fabulous Wisconsin, BRAVA, and Hobby Farms Magazine. For this roundup, she interviewed Kate Bast, nature and forest therapy guide and founder of Shinrin-Yoku Madison.