August can mean only one thing for families with school-aged children: back-to-school is starting. Whether it’s shopping for school supplies or hunting for new clothes, the days before the school year starts are filled with prep, prep and more prep. One major thing to check off the list? Lunch gear!
From flip-top bags to stainless steel bento boxes, the market is flooded with a wide range of kids lunch boxes, bags and accessories, often making it difficult to select the right ones for your kids’ needs. Here are our suggestions for the best lunch boxes for kids (and other gear!) to help make school lunches a success.
Kids Lunch Boxes and Bags
Between fitting various containers, keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot, and minimizing spills and crumbs, there’s a lot to think about when choosing kids lunch boxes. We’ve done research on different options available and sought recommendations from parents to help you find the perfect one for your child.
The most obvious benefit of insulated lunch bags is that they keep food chilled until it’s time to eat, which is a plus if your kid doesn’t have access to a refrigerator. Most insulated bags have a smooth plastic interior that’s easy to wipe clean at the end of the day and a stiff exterior that keeps their lunch from getting smashed. Many insulated bags don’t have interior compartments or dividers, so remember to pack foods that will sit well together. However, many insulated bags do offer a handy, separate zippered pocket for napkins and utensils.
Often made of neoprene, snack totes are great for preschoolers because of their smaller size and tendency to travel well. Most have just one main compartment, but this makes it simple for little ones to use on their own. Snack totes are also lightweight and fold up easily once lunchtime is over.
Another great option for toddlers is a lunch backpack, which lets their little hands stay free (and perhaps keeps lunch better intact). Similar to insulated lunch bags for kids, most lunch backpacks have a smooth plastic interior that’s easy to keep stain-free.
Like a portable ice pack in bag form, freezable bags are ideal for field trips or days when you pack something that must stay cold. They’re typically lined with gel similar to an ice pack and include an outer compartment for napkins and utensils. Just pop the entire bag in the freezer overnight, and it’ll be ready to pack up the next morning!
Most commonly made of stainless steel or plastic, bento boxes are perfect for toddlers and younger kids. They can see their entire lunch at once instead of fishing each different item out of a bag or container. For older kids, bento boxes are ideal to separate fruits and vegetables (which give off moisture) from dry snacks. Some bento boxes accommodate main courses with larger compartments, while others are designed specifically for snacks or side dishes only. Another benefit? Many bento boxes are dishwasher-safe, making after-school cleanup a breeze.
Lunch starts with the lunch box or bag, but it doesn’t end there! From drink containers to hummus holders, round out your child’s lunch with a few fun—and functional—accessories.
For warm meals. On colder days, soups, chilis and stews make perfectly tasty and easy Thermos lunches to help warm your child at school. Look for vacuum-insulated food jars like these options from Thermos (which, at 10 ounces, are ideal for younger kids). To help keep food warm until it’s time to eat, fill the Thermos with hot water as you’re packing the rest of your child’s lunch. Once the metal interior is hot, pour out the water and add the food. For an easy thermos lunch, Nurture Life meals offer super packable options in portions made for your kids age!
For dips. Hummus, Greek yogurt dip or other liquid sauces need a separate place in kids lunch bags or boxes. Try stainless steel containers with lids that keep things airtight, away from other foods and free from messy spills.
For snacks. Need a practical (and eco-friendly) way to pack up snacks in your kids lunch boxes? Try reusable bags to keep snacks fresh without the added waste of using a plastic bag. You can also opt for pre-packaged snacks like Nurture Life’s allergy-friendly fruit bites that come with ½ serving of fruit in every little packet!
For water. For a kid’s busy day at school, a water bottle is a must. Look for a container that’s free of BPA, lead and other toxins. Klean Kanteen’s Kid Kanteen, made from food-grade stainless steel, comes in several sizes based on your child’s age and can easily be hooked onto a backpack or lunch bag.
For fun. Small, special touches in your child’s lunch can go a long way in brightening their day, such as a handwritten note, a drawing or a photo. Get creative—your child will love the extra thought! Need some inspiration? This company creates lunch box cards that range from riddles and jokes to fun facts and positive phrases.
With back-to-school here, there’s a lot to do and prepare for. A few simple guidelines can help you choose the best lunch boxes for kids and stock them with handy and fun accessories. That way, you’ll be all set—and so will they!