It’s back-to-school time — and for a lot of adults, back-to-the-office time too — which means that it’s time for back-to-school shopping. And while new pens and notebooks are fun to pick out, there’s almost no back-to-school item that’s more fun to pick out than a lunch box.
But not all lunch boxes are created equally, and finding one that’s sturdy, versatile and attractive can be a challenge. Plus, there are different styles that meet different needs, from backpack- and cooler-style lunch bags to bento boxes for kids and grown-ups alike. With that in mind, we consulted experts to find the absolute best lunch boxes on the market.
Bento lunch boxes
Bentgo Kids’ Chill Lunch Box ($29.99; amazon.com)
Jessica Woo, the self-styled Bento Box Queen, knows her bento boxes! Her charming TikTok account details the beautiful and whimsical lunches she makes for her children in — you guessed it! — bento boxes. Woo picked this lunch box because of its built-in chiller. “You just have to throw it in the freezer and pack up your lunch and it’s ready to go!” she says.
OmieBox Bento Box for Kids ($42.50; amazon.com)
For something a little less childlike, Woo picked out the OmieBox bento lunch box. “This lunch box comes with a thermos food section to keep warm food stay warm longer so you don’t need a separate container,” she says. Its colorblock design is perfect for the school-aged kid who still uses a lunch box but who has outgrown styles festooned with trucks or unicorns.
Tarlini Bento Box Set ($14.99; amazon.com)
Of course, bento boxes aren’t just for kids — they’re also perfect for adults who bring lunch to work or who need a small lunch box for recreational activities. This microwave- and dishwasher-safe plastic bento box has three compartments for separating food, and comes with utensils included.
Lunch boxes for kids
Easy Lunchboxes 3-Compartment Lunch Containers ($13.95; walmart.com)
Beau Coffron — who chronicles the whimsical lunches he makes for his kids inspired by Minions, Disney princesses and “Star Wars” characters on his site Lunchbox Dad — knows all about lunch boxes. We asked him what styles he relies on to protect his creations: “Easy Lunchboxes for plastic and PlanetBox for stainless steel,” Coffron says. “I love the price and how simple Easy Lunchboxes are.”
PlanetBox Stainless Steel Lunch Box ($67.99, originally $84.99; amazon.com)
For parents who prefer metal lunch boxes to plastic ones, Coffron recommends the PlanetBox brand. Though the price may give you sticker shock, Coffron praises these lunch boxes for their durability. “PlanetBox is more expensive, but they are super durable and will last a long time,” he says.
Bento Box With Cutlery Set ($47.95; stuckonyou.us)
George Georgievski is a bestselling cookbook author who showcases the school lunches he makes for his kids on Instagram and TikTok. “I find that the bento-style lunch boxes are the easiest ones to pack as a parent and also the most ideal for kids to eat from,” he says. He likes the personalized bento boxes from Stuck On You because they have compartments that separate foods to prevent the dreaded “cross-contamination of food,” as he puts it, adding “so you shouldn’t hear ‘the apple had a strawberry on it and I’m not eating it.’”
Cooler and insulated lunch boxes
Large Bento Cooler Bag ($27.96, originally $34.95; stuckonyou.us)
“I do recommend a cooler bag,” Georgievski says. “The one I use houses the bento and it also has a pocket that I slide an ice pack in to help keep the fresh produce cool and fresh.” He offers this tip for ensuring food stays cool, even in summer: “I have in the past on super-hot days filled zip-close bags with water and froze them overnight to add in the bento.”
PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag ($19.99; amazon.com)
When it comes to insulated lunch boxes, Coffron likes the PackIt lunch boxes and bags “because they have the cooler built in,” he says. “You stick the entire thing in the freezer so there are fewer pieces to lose.”
Hydro Flask 8L Insulated Lunch Tote ($44.95; rei.com)
This super-lightweight (it weighs only 9.6 ounces, unfilled!) insulated tote-style lunch bag is perfect for people on the go. It’s large enough to hold lunch, snacks and a water bottle, and the interior is lined to make cleanup easy in the event of a spill. It comes in three colors and it is collapsible, so you can fold it up when it’s not in use or pack it for travel.
Backpack lunch boxes
PackIt Freezable Upright Backpack, Cherry Dots ($14.99, originally $19.99; amazon.com)
If a backpack-style lunch box is a better choice for your kids (or for you!), Coffron’s pick for insulated lunch boxes, PackIt, also offers its coolers in backpack form. It folds flat when not in use, so it can be stored right in the freezer without taking up a lot of space, and its vertical style allows plenty of room for bottles or thermoses.
Rockbros Backpack Cooler ($139.99, originally $149.99; amazon.com)
The popularity of outdoor activities like hiking and camping soared during the Covid-19 pandemic, and if you’re among the people who took to the great outdoors and plan to stay there, this souped-up backpack cooler is for you. It has a padded backside and shoulder straps for comfort, and can hold 40 pounds of goods, keeping them cool for up to 48 hours — perfect for a weekend of camping.
Coleman Soft Cooler Backpack ($29.99; amazon.com)
If spending upward of a hundred dollars on a cooler isn’t in your budget, this moderately priced cooler backpack from Coleman is a great option. It has padded straps to keep pressure off the shoulders and an antimicrobial lining to keep mold, mildew and smells from forming.
Lunch boxes for adults
Takenaka Bento Box ($37.99; amazon.com)
For day-to-day needs, Coffron relies on the same Easy Lunchboxes for himself that he uses for his kids. “They are great for adults as well — we use them on trips, for snacks, etc.,” he says. But when it comes to something a little more grown-up, he likes a sleek-looking bento box. “For something a little fancier, I’m enjoying Takenaka Bento Boxes; they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.”
Bamboo and Metal Lunch Box ($24.15; etsy.com)
“As far as adult lunch boxes go I once again can’t go past the bento style,” Georgievski says. “There’s something about having my food in separate compartments that makes my lunch rock! I enjoy creating lunches — my current favorite is my Vietnamese-inspired lettuce cups; I fill the compartments of the bento box with pork, lettuce cups, rice, coriander, hoisin sauce and chili. Then, I simply fill the lettuce cups and enjoy.”
Ecozoi Stainless Steel Lunch Box ($34.95; amazon.com)
This round metal stackable food container offers a slightly different turn on the bento box. It has four tiers that can hold up to 7 cups of food, and the circular design makes for a smaller footprint than more traditional square or rectangular lunch boxes.