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The best lunch containers for back to school is probably a decision that you didn’t think would be that hard, until you are staring at a wall of them in the container aisle at Target wondering if the $20 dollar lime green plastic contraption with all of the compartments and little snap lids is worth it. Especially since you are going to need at least two per kid (because we all know little Johnny will be leaving his lunchbox at school at least one day per week)
You are also faced with possibility that a cheap container may actually be more work than you are willing to sign up for because the lids pop off super easy and little Suzie’s spaghetti is now coating the inside of her My Little Pony lunch pail.
Well, I am here to take some of the guess work out of lunch containers for you. I’ve been packing lunches for 7 years now and I have spent hundreds of dollars over the years to find my favorite containers for everything from bologna sandwiches to hot soup.
What To Look For in a Lunch Container
So there are a few things to keep in mind (in general) when shopping for new containers:
- Just how much time do your kids ACTUALLY have to eat? Mine only have about 20 minutes
- The size of your child’s lunchbox.
- How secure is the lid(s) and is it going to leak?
- How easy is the container to clean?
- How long is the container going to last
Let’s quickly go over these points:
1 – I love containers that are all organized with the little separate compartments for every veggie under the sun with dipping cups and little triangles for half sandwiches, but let me shoot you straight – kids don’t have time for that. Lunchtime in most cafeterias is brief and your kid is going to be more focused on talking to their best friend than putting together the deconstructed taco that you packed in this (adorable) overly organized container. Not to mention that you are the one packing this thing. Do you really want to have to come up with something for every compartment, every morning, from August to May? Stick to a container with 1-3 compartments.
2. I have a stack of adorable containers that absolutely will not fit in my kids’ lunchboxes. Don’t be like me. Measure.
3. Not only is a leaky container terrible for you, but it’s terrible for your kid too. It’s super embarrassing to open your lunch and your grapes spill out on the floor. Make sure the lid is secure.
4. You are going to be washing these things and in, my opinion, if they can’t go in the dishwasher, they can’t come in my house. Same goes for these new lunchboxes that have the container sewn in to them. Who thought of that? Are they crazy? That thing is going to be too gross to take to school by October.
5. Longevity for me is important. I want my container to last, but I also don’t want to be so invested in the thing that if it comes home after 3 months in my child’s locker growing a new civilization that I feel I can’t throw it away.
Ok, enough jabber about the thought process, let’s talk lunch containers!
Best Cold Lunch Containers
Sistema Lunch Cube $10.99 from Amazon– It’s my go-to cold lunch container. It easily holds a sandwich, fruit and a crunchy snack. I usually add a mini candy bar or a couple of cookies to the sandwich side (because I’m a cool mom). It’s easy to clean and the four I bought last year are still in great shape. Only downside is that something like Pringles or tortilla chips don’t fit well.
Enther Meal Prep Containers $17.99 for 20 pack on Amazon – Once upon a time, I had a business making make-ahead lunches and people purchased them. These are very similar to the containers that I would use to package them in and I loved them. Great for salads or cold pasta dishes but compact enough to fit in most lunch boxes. The separate containers are pretty leak proof and the lids are very tight fitting. They are dishwasher safe, microwaveable and will last for the whole school year and at less than a dollar each you won’t feel bad throwing one away.
Reditainers – Again, my catering days taught me a lot here. The souffle cups (2 oz) are perfect for dips and sauces, and the larger containers are great for small salads, fruit or (if your kid has access to a microwave) pastas and casseroles. The souffle cups aren’t really re-usable but the larger containers are.
I know these are all plastic containers and most are semi-disposable, and there are some great metal and glass containers out there. The thing for me is that that’s not for my kids. These things are going to be forgotten, sat on, lost and possibly grow a science experiment. I don’t want to be too attached.
Best Hot Lunch Containers
Thermos Food Jar $9.99 on Amazon – When it comes to packing hot food, I stick with the company that has been keeping lunch hot for decades. Thermoses come in different sizes and I recommend buying based on your kid’s age. A 10 ounce is good for kids 8 and under but older kids will probably need at least a 16 ounce jar. Priming your thermos is key to keeping food hot. I fill mine up with boiling water while I am microwaving the hot food (usually leftovers). Then, I dump out the water, wipe it out and immediately fill it with the hot lunch. It’s good like that for about 5 hours. Heads up: Thermoses can be tough for little kids to open since they create a vacuum.
Walmart Food Jar – These are my other most favorite food container. I call them “squovals”, because they are a squarish oval insulated thermos and they are amazing. The only problem is that they are almost impossible to find. Only Walmart carries them and they are nearly impossible to find on their website (and when you do they only come in a 3 pack).
If you have a Walmart near you, you can find them in the lunch container aisle in singles. They’re about $15 each but well worth it. It’s the only non-jar insulated container that I have found that actually keeps food hot for several hours and is easy for the kids to open (closing them can be a little tricky). They don’t leak and they are so easy to eat out of. They have a removable divider if you want to keep stuff separate. I often pack the kids potstickers or spaghetti in this.
Ultimately, the best lunch containers are the ones that make your life and your child’s lunch simpler. Did I miss anything? What are your favorite containers?