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Packing a lunch doesn’t have to be a drag, especially when you’ve got the right gear to ensure your meals and snacks stay food-safe, fresh, and secure. If you’re sending a kid off to school with lunch, this goes double.
Of course, packing your own food with care is important, too. Homemade lunches can save you money and allow you to enjoy a meal that you've customized exactly how you like it. That said, even the most thoughtful meal planning, cooking, and packing can result in a disappointing lunch if it’s the wrong temperature, soggy, stale, or spilled. That’s where having the right vessel comes in.
Ahead, the best lunch containers, from spill-proof and kid-friendly to plastic-free.
Best Lunchbox: MIER Adult Lunch Box
Easy to carry handle or strap
Top-heavy when bottom compartment is empty
May be too large for kids
This well-designed, dual-compartment tote has everything you need for taking your meal on the go—especially if you don't have access to a refrigerator (it's insulated). Two discrete areas let you store hot and cold foods separately. The upper compartment is perfect for snacks, cookies, or fruit. The bottom is leak-proof and large enough to house drinks, sandwiches, and other entrees.
The easy-access zipper compartment works well for stashing utensils and napkins, while a pair of side pockets provide extra storage for miscellaneous necessities. This crossbody shoulder bag—available in both medium and large sizes—is comfortable to carry. Better yet, the inside is lined with insulating food-grade PEVA, which is easy to wipe clean should you have any spills.
Includes: Two-compartment fabric lunch bag with a front zipper compartment for utensils
Best Bento Box: Grub2Go The Original Japanese Bento Box
Easy to clean
Reusable utensils included
Adjustable compartments for dividing foods
Will still need a bag to transport
A bento box makes it easy to carry everything you need for lunch in a multi-compartment carrier, and this model is particularly well-made. One of the coolest aspects of the bento box style is that it encourages a variety of foods by design. In Japan, they’ve been popular for at least a thousand years.
This one combines traditional Japanese features with modern touches, like a silicone-lined lid that completely prevents leaks and preserves freshness. Two layers of trays give you plenty of space to package up a full day’s worth of meals and snacks.
This container is made from BPA-free materials, and the food compartments (not the exterior) are microwave- and dishwasher-safe, making this a convenient choice for anyone who doesn't like washing dishes. It even comes with utensils and a reusable utensil holder, so you can ditch disposable plastic forks and spoons.
Includes: Two-level bento box with lids and elastic closure, two compartment dividers, and reusable fork, knife, and spoon.
Best Thermos: Thermos 10-Ounce Funtainer Food Jar
Wide variety of colors and designs
Insulates hot and cold foods
Convenient wide mouth design
May be too small for adult meals
An insulated Thermos is the best way to tote hot soup, stew, or chili to work, school, and beyond. This size holds 10 ounces or 1.25 cups of food for the perfect midday portion. Not to mention, the wide mouth makes it easy to fill and eat out of at lunch.
Designed with vacuum-insulation technology, this container is especially good at maintaining food temperature. It’s made from durable stainless steel and will last for many years. To maximize the time hot food will remain hot, Morford suggests pouring boiling water into the Thermos to preheat it before adding your steaming hot lunch.
While it's safe to wash the Thermos in the top rack of the dishwasher, our tester chose to hand-wash the Thermos to help retain the finish of the container. However, the tester found that cleaning out the Thermos lid was a little tedious, requiring you to remove the gasket from the lid to really get all of the food and liquid out.
The Thermos FUNtainer is available in various colors, patterns, and styles. Kids can choose from designs that show their favorite characters, including Batman or the sisters from "Frozen."
Includes: One stainless steel food jar with lid and spoon
"The 10-ounce container is lightweight and easy for small hands to hold. Additionally, it has a simple twist-off lid that’s easy for kids to maneuver and a large mouth that’s easy to fill, eat from, and clean." — Suzie Dundas, Product Tester
Best for Kids: Wildkin Insulated Lunch Box
Over 20 colors and patterns available
Easy for small hands to carry
Insulated soft body design
Coordinating gear sold separately
Kids love the bright, fun patterns printed on these lunch boxes, and parents love them for the durable, high-quality design. (The brand has won the prestigious Mom’s Choice Award.) This size fits your kid’s lunch containers, plus an ice pack and 16-ounce water bottle.
The design features include an easy-access front pocket—ideal for grab-and-go recess snacks—and an interior mesh pouch to stash utensils and a napkin. It’s made from materials that are 100 percent BPA- and phthalate-free, and the food-safe PEVA liner is quick and easy to clean.
The interior is spacious and compatible with many other Wildkin lunch containers. It’s insulated to help keep temperatures food-safe, but Morford says you’ll still want to include an ice pack or fill up a bottle and freeze it overnight. It will act as an ice pack as it thaws and will be drinkable come lunchtime.
Includes: One children's-sized fabric lunchbox. Coordinating bags and accessories sold separately.
Best for Salads: OXO Good Grips Leakproof Salad Container
Perfect for difficult-to-transport salads
Leakproof compartments and dressing cup
Dishwasher-, microwave-, and freezer-safe
Only one color option
Latches may break with heavy use
If you like to pack a salad for lunch, you know finding the perfect container can be a challenge. This one does it all. First of all, it includes a lidded 2-ounce container for your dressing. (Salads dressed in advance get soggy.) Then, there are two compartments, so you can separate those delicate salad greens from other ingredients that might wilt them. To top it all off, the lid features a silicone gasket and locking tabs to ensure there’s never a leak. It's made from Tritan, a material that stays transparent through repeated washings.
With a little over 5 cups of capacity, you’ll have plenty of space for big, hearty salads. On days you might not want a salad, you can use it to carry fruit slices and yogurt, among other combinations. When you’re done, just toss it in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.
Includes: Two-level hardshell leakproof lunchbox and one leakproof salad dressing container
Best Glass: Pyrex Glass Food Storage Set
Multiple size options
Microwave- and dishwasher-safe
Nonporous glass won't absorb flavors and colors
Heavier than other container options
May break if dropped
For those who don’t like using plastic, this set of three glass containers with lids will meet all of your lunchtime container needs. The large 7-cup size will stash big salads and everything that goes with them. The 4-cup size accommodates a chicken breast or salmon fillet with a pile of roasted veggies, and the 2-cup size has you covered with soup or stew.
Although glass is breakable compared to plastic, Pyrex’s durable high-tempered glass isn’t exactly fragile. It’s also nonporous, so it won’t pick up flavors, colors, or smells. The containers and lids are microwave- and dishwasher-safe, and the lids are BPA-free.
Includes: One 2-cup container with lid, one 4-cup container with lid, and one 7-cup container with lid
Containers you aren’t using to transport food have many other uses around the kitchen. Many are freezer-safe and excellent for storing homemade meals for later. They make great prep bowls if you enjoy making food for the week and can double as mixing bowls in a pinch.
Best for Snacks: Lunchbots Round Leak Proof Stainless Snack Container Jar
Ideal for small servings
Leakproof for dressings and liquid foods
Dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning
Will need additional containers for larger meals
Expensive for how much they carry
When it comes to packing snacks, these containers from LunchBots are a perfect size. An alternative to plastic, these are made from stainless steel. At 4 ounces, they’re ideal for snacks like yogurt, applesauce, and hummus. You could even stash potato or pasta salad in them or a handful of nuts, potato chips, pretzels, cheese cubes, edamame, or olives. The options are only limited by what you have at home.
The lids are BPA-free, and the silicone seals help the lids close tightly, but they are easy to grip and open. While the containers are great for kid-friendly snacks, adults who bring their lunches with them will find many uses as well. They are dishwasher-safe.
Includes: Two 4-ounce round stainless steel containers with lids
What to Look for When Buying a Lunch Container
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to lunch containers anymore. Lunch containers are as diverse as the people using them and suited for everything from a small snack to a full day’s worth of food and drinks. Keep in mind who this container is for when shopping, and look for descriptors like “kids” and “adult” to get a quick idea of how much food it will hold. Next, consider how much food the person using the container will need to fit into it. If necessary, choose a container that will accommodate a drink, ice pack, or additional sealed container inside. If you consistently eat a specific style of food (for example, salads, dry snack foods, soup), look for a container made especially for that type of food.
When buying a lunch container, consider how long it will keep your foods hot and cold. A high-quality insulated container will indicate how long it can hold food at a warm or cold temperature, and some containers will specify whether an ice pack is needed to help preserve foods. Lunch containers with padded insulation usually keep foods at moderate temperatures for several hours but often need the help of an ice pack or frozen bottle.
Materials and Seals
Hardshell lunch containers made of plastic, glass, or stainless steel offer the best protection for foods that may be damaged during transit, but they are often heavier than the softshell options. Softshell lunch containers are sometimes easier to fit into a bag or safer for kids who may swing the bag around more. Many softshell and hardshell options come with leakproof seals, which come in handy when transporting foods that may defrost or carrying the container in a purse or backpack. Most softshell containers can only be wiped out, whereas many hardshell containers can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
What makes a good lunch box?
A good lunch box should be made of insulating materials, and it should also be durable and easy to clean. If it has compartments, consider the size and what foods and drinks it accommodates. Also, you should factor in whether these compartments are necessary for you or your child.
What are lunch boxes insulated with?
Typically, lunch boxes will be made of an outer layer of vinyl, polyester, or nylon, which are durable and can be wiped clean easily. The interior is usually made of a water-resistant and easy-to-clean material such as plastic, aluminum, vinyl, or even foil.
How do you keep lunch containers safe?
The food stays safe if the container is well insulated. You can ensure this in several ways. Pack the lunch the night before and store it in the fridge. Add a cold pack to the lunch container before leaving the house, especially if it contains yogurt or cheese. Finally, if applicable, keep the container out of direct sunlight or heat.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Joy Manning is a food writer and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post. She’s the author of "Almost Meatless" and "Stuff Every Cook Should Know."
This roundup was updated by Jenny Kellerhals, a food and beverage writer based in Queens, NYC. With over a decade of experience in professional kitchens, she knows the value of proper food storage and transportation and personally relies on Pyrex food storage containers for measuring cooking, transporting, storing, and reheating foods.