Did you know that you can easily spend over $2,000 a year buying lunch out each day? Making your own lunch and packing it in a reusable box is therefore not only better for you, it’s more sustainable for the earth AND might help you save up for that vacation you’ve been dreaming of.
Nowadays there’s a lunch box or bag for every type of person, whether you’re a super organized meal prepper or a last-minute, throw-it-in-a-bag type. Bento boxes are great for keeping portions in control and minimizing waste, since you can place your food directly in their own compartments without worrying about Ziploc bags and tin foil. Bags, on the other hand, offer a bit more flexibility and can hold more of your lunch, including extra snacks and a drink. No matter what your style is, we’ve rounded up our list of favorites below.
And don’t forget to tell us your favorite in the comments.
How This Works
Every month we research new product categories and bring our final picks into the office, where we haggle and decide which ones make the final list. Everything is based on quality, appearance and price.
Maxwell Ryan, our Founder & CEO, oversees the field, throws in his vote as well, and then demonstrates the favorites in a video so you can see them with your own eyes. Come back every Thursday for a new edition of The Best List right here and in social with Maxwell’s Instagram story!
For basic lunch transportation, whether it’s a sandwich, spaghetti or a bit of home-cooked stew, I love the Monbento system. I switched to this for my daughter a few years ago after trying three other systems that ranged from plastic to stainless steel. The square setup top is their large version, and I prefer the Monbento Original, which still has two compartments, but is much smaller and easier to pack.
Made of lightweight BPA-free plastic, Monbento boxes are airtight, freezer- and dishwasher safe, and come in such a wide range of “soft touch” colors that you can customize to make your own. Two compartments are the norm with a soft strap that holds them together. Smaller straps are available to wrap around one container only. The best thing? I no longer worry about ANYTHING leaking out into my or my daughter’s bag before it comes time for lunch.
Naturally IKEA has one of the least expensive lunch boxes out there. The FLOTTIG looks like a mini cooler, complete with carrying handle, but the inside is made up of stackable containers that are microwave- and dishwasher-safe. If you’re not sold on the idea of individual compartments for each food type (life is too short to be shamed by your lunch box for packing more than the portion size allows), then this box is a great option.
Another budget pick, this kit from Rubbermaid is made up of modular containers that snap together to keep your lunch organized and contained. In total there are two snack containers, one side container, one sandwich container and one medium Blue Ice to keep everything cool. It’s not exactly a “lunch box,” but offers the same benefits of separate food containers without the smaller portion sizes.
Touted as the “original revolutionary lunch box,” the Box Appetit is compact enough to slide into a bag but roomy enough to hold a good-sized lunch. Instead of compartments it includes two inner containers: a larger one that is perfect for food items that need to be microwaved, and a smaller pot for dipping sauces. It also comes with a “fife” (fork-knife combo utensil), as well as a sauce well built into the lid for smaller sauce quantities.
Another stainless steel contender, the LunchBots Quad is actually marketed more as a snack box than a full-fledged lunch box. Designed with four equal-sized compartments, there’s nowhere to fit a salad or sandwich (unless you cut it into four quarters), but plenty of room for your favorite bite-sized snacks. Perfect for grazers, the Quad will keep your favorite veggies and proteins (or candy and chips—we won’t judge) close at hand.
A bit more sophisticated than other lunch boxes, the Box Appetit box is perfect for sandwiches and small sides. The bamboo lid, aside from looking pretty, doubles as a cutting board, so you can prepare your meal or zhuzh it up on the spot. The silicone seal keeps the lid secure and adds a personal touch to an otherwise simple box—it seems like Black + Blum did a great job of adding design elements that are attractive yet seriously functional.
These colorful lunch boxes are technically for kids, but I personally wouldn’t hate carrying one around—they’re just so cute. Unlike other kid-friendly lunch boxes, the Spencer’s five compartments are decently sized, so if you do opt to steal it from your kid you won’t be dealing with child-size portions. No matter what your age is, you’ll love the different color options, simple design and great price.
The Bentgo Kids Box has five compartments in fun shapes, making it feel like the most kid-friendly pick on our list. It has a chunkier design and comes in three bright colors, plus gives you the option to swap out the tray for a different color. Extra props for that circular compartment in the middle, which is perfect for dipping sauces—so simple yet so genius. Purchasing a Bentgo Box feels good for another reason too: the company has committed to donating $100,000 through 2018 to Feed the Children.
At first glance the Rover looks a bit too boring for kids, until you realize that the stainless steel construction is actually a blank canvas for themed magnets. That’s right—you’re required to choose a kid-friendly magnet design for each box, ranging from rockets to retro kitties and everything in between. On the inside you’ll find five compartments and two different food containers, adorably called the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. This box is great for your kid to grow with—if they get sick of the magnets they can just take them off or apply different ones.
If you prefer to keep your lunch in a bag instead of a box, this roomy tote from Fluf is a great option. Made of organic cotton and fully machine-washable, this bag is perfect for those on the go—just wrap up your food and throw it in the bag, no prep necessary. If you prefer a different design, Fluf has several to choose from, including more fun options like an all-out gummy bear pattern.
A long-time bestseller, this bag from L.L. Bean is a classic design that’ll bring you back to your own school days. Roomy and durable, it includes an outer zipped pouch and inner mesh pocket perfect for cutlery and napkins. It’s also insulated, so your food will stay fresh longer, and is actually quite roomy—you could easily fit a small drink in there as well.
For a more feminine design, check out this tote from Kate Spade New York. Insulated and ultra roomy, it’ll easily hold your lunch plus a little extra. Kate Spade actually has a great range of cute lunch boxes—if you don’t like this design, there’s also a blush stripe tote that says “Save Room For Dessert,” as well as a few boxes and smaller carriers. It’s a bit on the higher price end, but the chic design is worth it.
A modern update to the old school “brown bag” lunches, this waxed cotton canvas bag found on Kaufmann Mercantile gets better with age. Created in North Carolina by Overlap Sewing Studio, this bag is American-made and produced from high quality materials—check out that beautiful leather strap with belt buckle. Each product is slightly different due to the hand-finished process, so you’re getting a bag that not only looks unique, but feels a bit more personal than your average mass-produced lunch bag.
- Wash your food containers ASAP. If you carry a bag then chances are you use tupperware containers to transport your food. While it’s tempting to just toss them back in your bag post-lunch to deal with later, try to at least rinse them out to prevent any food smells from taking over. If you carry a bento-style box, same thing.
- Give it a light daily wash. As soon as you get home, give your lunch box a good wipe down with soap and water to remove any leftover food remnants. At the very least if you’re short on time, rinse it out and wipe dry—anything to get rid of that post-food funk.
- Leave it open to dry. Since your lunch box is closed most of the day, it’ll trap moisture and could become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold to grow. After cleaning, leave it open to dry, or wipe down with a microfiber cloth.
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