Search Wirecutter For: Search Reviews for the real world Browse Close. Browse Close. To pack a sandwich, a banana, and juice with a little room to spare (or to use as a ), we recommend the versatile. Its compact, rectangular shape fits nicely into a backpack or tote, and it has mesh pockets for holding snacks or an ice pack. Unlike roll-top bags or large, bulky lunch boxes, the L.L.Bean container’s streamlined shape fits easily in a crowded fridge. It also has fewer interior seams compared with the competition, which makes cleaning easier.
Adults will likely prefer the, but some are also available. For a hearty lunch—say, a big sandwich or a quart-size container of soup with lots of snacks and a couple of drinks—the extra-large offers plenty of room.
It’s a good choice for people working in a remote location with no means of refrigeration, because it will fit several ice packs. It’s also tall enough to accommodate 20-ounce bottles.
The wide shoulder strap makes it easy to carry, and the bag’s hard-plastic liner keeps it from sagging under the weight of a hefty lunch. And because the plastic liner is removable, this lunch box was easier to clean than all the other insulated boxes we tested.
For multipart lunches with toppings or garnishes, we like the and the. The kit includes a 5-cup container with a multipart tray insert for toppings, a small container for dressing, and a custom-fitting ice pack. The kit fits inside the bag with room to spare for extra containers or a few snacks and a drink.
Rubbermaid also makes several other similar LunchBlox sets, like its or the larger, and you can also buy or mix and match pieces from multiple sets. The containers are microwave and dishwasher safe, and the bag is easy to wipe clean.
Aside from lunch boxes, many people prefer to use regular glass or plastic containers to transport their lunch to and fro. We’ve covered that subject in depth in our guide to. To get a sense of what makes a great lunch box, we consulted reviews from, and more. We also looked for highly rated bags and boxes from retailers including Amazon, Macy’s, Target, The Container Store, and Walmart. Wirecutter writer Michael Sullivan spent dozens of hours researching and testing lunch boxes for the original guide. For the 2018 update, I (Anna Perling) scoured the Internet for any noteworthy new bags, and tested 11 against our existing picks.
We’re both seasoned at packing exciting, delicious, borderline overcomplicated lunches, and have done so for many years. Who should get this. When your lunch box is fraying at the seams or starting to smell a little funky, it’s probably time for a new one.
For adults who work in remote locations, access to refrigeration for packed lunches is unlikely. So a durable, insulated lunch box is a must for holding ice packs and keeping foods at safe temperatures.
Bento-like containers for adults will help prevent different parts of your lunch—like crunchy seeds for salads or parmesan shreds for pasta—from sloshing around or getting soggy. Investing in a lunch box and packing a midday meal instead of going out is also a great way to cut down on expenses.
If you’re looking for lunch boxes for kids, we also have. How we picked and tested. We compared 11 new lunch boxes and containers against our picks for the 2018 update. Photo: Michael Hession For this guide, we tested lunch boxes for adults, covering insulated lunch boxes, bento boxes, and metal and plastic food storage containers.
Regardless of the type of lunch container you use, it should be durable, stain-resistant, and easy to clean and store. Bento boxes and food storage containers should also be leakproof, and inner compartments should keep foods from seeping out. Because insulated lunch boxes should keep food cold without refrigeration, they need to be large enough to hold a substantial lunch and multiple ice packs (ideally, they should have a mesh pocket on the interior lid for holding an ice pack in place). A shoulder strap is a must if you’ll be carrying your lunch as well as other equipment or bags during your commute. We previously tested metal containers as an alternative to plastic or glass, because they weigh less and won’t break. However, metal containers can’t go into a microwave to reheat your lunch, and they aren’t leakproof.
Our picks for the best insulated lunch boxes: the L.L.Bean Lunch Box (left) and the Coleman 9-Can Cooler (right). Photo: Michael Hession We also looked for bento-style boxes that had either separate compartments with individual lids or a single lid that sealed the entire box. Bento designs with a single lid need to be airtight to prevent the contents from spilling over the compartment walls and to keep food odors from mingling. Regardless of the type of lunch container you use, it should be durable, stain-resistant, and easy to clean and store. All bento boxes generally require a little more work to keep clean due to the multiple compartments or trays inside. But we think the all-in-one convenience outweighs a few extra minutes of scrubbing.
To test lunch containers, we packed them with many different foods—from sandwiches to carrot sticks and hummus to granola bars—to see how much they could hold. Photos: Michael Hession For the 2018 update, we tested 11 lunch containers and bento boxes against our picks.
We evaluated how well lunch boxes fit a packed lunch with multiple components, including a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, yogurt, almonds, carrots, hummus, apple slices, chips, and a drink. To see how comfortable bags were to hold, we tried out adjustable straps and handles. We also looked at how easy the containers were to seal, and if they remained closed during a long commute or when jostled in a bag. To test for leaks, we filled the plastic and metal containers with water and shook them at different angles. As a durability test, we dropped the bento boxes and plastic food storage containers from waist height onto asphalt. Finally, to test for stain resistance, we splashed a tablespoon of tomato sauce inside bags and let them sit overnight before attempting to clean them.
For the original guide, we also poured water over the insulated lunch boxes to see how effectively they repelled liquids. We didn’t repeat that test this round because we think most lunch items will also be protected by a plastic bag or container anyway.
To test for leaks, we filled containers such as the EcoLunchBox Three-in-One with water and shook them at different angles. Photo: Michael Hession. To test for stain resistance, we splashed each bag with tomato sauce and let it sit overnight. Pictured here: the Coleman 9-Can Cooler. Photo: Michael Hession. Some insulated lunch boxes, such as the Wildkin Lunch Box, have a lot of interior seams that stain easily and are difficult to clean. Photo: Michael Hession.
We tested how long insulated lunch boxes kept milk at safe temperatures after four hours. Photo: Michael Hession.
Finally, using a food thermometer, we tested how long the insulated lunch boxes kept milk at safe temperatures after two and four hours. We followed the for keeping cold foods safe and placed ice packs above and below a plastic container filled with ½ cup of milk at around 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Only the Coleman kept the milk below 40 °F after two hours, but temperatures didn’t rise above 43 °F after four hours in any of the bags ( had similar results in an extensive test of 43 lunchboxes.) To be within safety standards, the USDA recommends keeping food under 40 °F if it will be left out for more than two hours, but 43 °F is still quite cold. If you’re concerned about your child’s lunch spoiling, pack shelf-safe milk (ultrahigh temperature—or UHT—pasteurized milk in aseptic packaging) or have your child buy milk at school, and opt for nonperishable foods like PB&J instead of a turkey sandwich. We originally recommended lunch boxes for kids here along with our adult picks, subjecting them through all the same tests.
But in 2018, we moved kids lunch boxes to. Our pick for smaller lunches: L.L.Bean Lunch Box. The is the ideal size for stowing in an office fridge.
It has several pockets for an ice pack or extra snacks, and insulation that keeps foods cold. In our tests, the inner and outer linings were the easiest to clean compared with the competition’s. You can choose from multiple colors and bright patterns. The L.L.Bean Lunch Box’s streamlined design makes it a good choice for those who commute by bike, subway, or bus and need a lunch box that fits in a bag or backpack. Though the lunch box is on the smaller side, it’s roomy enough to hold a drink, a sandwich, and multiple snacks. Small or a can hold last night’s leftovers and fit inside the bag, too. Note that the lunch box is meant to be carried upright but zipped open while lying flat, so you’ll want to carry soups or other liquids only if they’re in a leakproof container, like a thermos.
Though the lunch box is on the smaller side, it’s roomy enough to hold a drink, a sandwich, and multiple snacks. We found that the smooth lining on the L.L.Bean Lunch Box was easier to wash than the Embark Personal Lunch Bag’s lining, which trapped more crumbs, stained, and proved difficult to clean. According to the L.L.Bean website, the sealed-seam lining on the lunch box is “BPA and PVC free and tested safe for lead and phthalates.” (You can read more about the relative safety of BPA and the plasticizers that have replaced it.) The bag’s exterior mesh pocket is great for holding more fragile snacks like chips or a granola bar, and the interior mesh pocket on its lid helps keep an ice pack in place. For $8 more, you can even have the lunch box monogrammed if you’re into that.
If you work remotely with no means of refrigeration, we recommend the extra-roomy and affordably priced. This spacious lunch box is perfect for packing a big lunch with ice packs, drinks, and snacks to get you through the day, whether you’re sharing picnic-style or lunching solo. The Coleman’s removable hard-plastic liner offers better structure and makes cleaning a cinch compared with the other large insulated bags we tested. We’re confident that the Coleman’s well-sewn, hardy construction will give you years of use. This cooler is best for people who need to pack an ample lunch. It will fit a large sandwich or a quart-size container of soup or salad, several snacks, a couple of drinks, and ice packs.
It’s too large to fit in a backpack or a crowded fridge, but the wide shoulder strap allows for easy carrying, a nice feature especially if you have to lug other bags or equipment to your destination. Drinks won’t fit in the bag’s smaller mesh side pockets, so we recommend using these pockets for more (always more) snacks. The mesh pocket on the interior lid holds an ice pack in place to help food and drinks stay cooler longer. The Coleman 9-Can Cooler provides a lot of space to hold a large lunch plus multiple drinks. Photo: Michael Hession The removable plastic liner is easy to wash by hand (it’s not dishwasher safe). We were able to wipe tomato sauce out of the Coleman more easily than from larger bags like the Mier, which had a baggy liner that bunched up and collected crumbs and water when we tried to wipe it down.
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The Coleman’s hard-plastic liner also offers more structure compared with the Ramaka Solutions or the Herschel Canteen Lunch Pack, which sagged when fully packed. Additionally, the Coleman did a better job of repelling water and didn’t stain as badly as the competition.
This spacious lunch box is perfect for packing a big lunch with ice packs, drinks, and snacks to get you through the day. The Coleman 9-Can Cooler doesn’t come with a warranty, but because it’s so highly rated on Amazon and usually costs less than $15, we’re willing to forgive that minor drawback. Also great: Rubbermaid LunchBlox Salad Kit and Lunch Bag. Out of the bentos we tested, the and corresponding are the best options we’ve found for adults who routinely pack salads or lunches with several distinct components.
The Salad Kit has a medium-size bottom compartment and a removable, divided top tray with a separate container for dressings or dips. It comes with a custom-fitting ice pack, too. Both the Salad Kit and ice pack fit into the medium-size lunch bag with room for a water bottle or several snacks if a salad won’t get you through the day. Rubbermaid also makes a that will fit the Salad Kit, but we didn’t test it because it won’t hold as many extras.
The Salad Kit has a main container with a 5-cup capacity. A removable top tray has a space for an included salad dressing container and several smaller compartments for foods like nuts, grapes, or carrot sticks. To pack a salad or serving of stew with additional toppings, we prefer the compartmentalized Salad Kit over bentos like the BentoHeaven, which has two larger undivided stacking containers.
Extra items like a banana or beverage fit into the matching Lunch Bag when the Salad Kit is inside. Mesh side pockets on the bag can store drinks or snacks, but an inner mesh pocket isn’t large enough for an ice pack (the ice packs that come with the Kit lock onto the lid of the container). The Lunch Bag stores the Kit upright, and has an adjustable shoulder strap for easy carrying. Unlike the more structured, larger Coleman, the Lunch Bag can fold down and fit into a backpack if you want to use it on its own.
Rubbermaid also makes several other LunchBlox configurations that will fit inside the bag, like a with different-size, separate containers, and a larger. The Lunch Bag is big enough to hold one of these sets plus a few extra containers or additional ice packs (you can mix and match components from different LunchBlox kits). And of course, you can use the Salad Kit without the Lunch Bag, too. Both the LunchBlox Salad Kit and Lunch Bag are simple to clean.
The bag didn’t stain in our tests, and is easy to wipe out. Although the Salad Kit has a few components, including its top tray and dressing container, it’s still more streamlined than the multipart Zojirushi Mr.
Bento, which has four separate containers, a bag, an insulated canister, and multiple utensils (the Zojirushi bento, though amazing in its scope, is also quite large and heavy). The Salad Kit’s containers are also microwave and dishwasher safe, and BPA free. The medium LunchBlox bag comes in a black, patterned print; the small size comes in black, blue, or pink prints with different patterns. In our tests, the Salad Kit’s dressing container didn’t leak.
We wouldn’t recommend putting liquidy foods into the top tray, however, because the inner tray doesn’t have a well-sealed lid. Instead, these spots are great for dry foods like nuts, seeds, fruit, or cheese. The Salad Kit didn’t break in our drop tests, unlike the IKEA Flottig, which exploded open when dropped on the street.
Rubbermaid has a in case of any manufacturing defects. Care and maintenance. It’s important to keep the contents of a lunch box within an acceptable temperature range for food safety.
According to the USDA, perishables last only two hours in temperatures between 40 °F and 90 °F before they spoil. Always keep cold foods under 40 °F and hot foods above 140 °F.
If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, the using two cold packs (larger than 5 by 3 inches each), one above and one below perishable items such as dairy or sandwiches. Most insulated lunch boxes are not machine washable or dishwasher safe. Manufacturers suggest wiping insulated lunch boxes clean with a mild dish detergent and a damp paper towel. Be sure to dry an insulated lunch box with paper towels or a cloth and leave it open and unzipped to air-dry completely before you use it. Your best bet is to clean an insulated lunch box once or twice a week to prevent it from acquiring an unpleasant, off scent.
For difficult stains, such as those from tomato sauce, cleaning the soiled area may take multiple attempts. If the exterior becomes stained, we recommend cleaning it immediately with a little soap and water for best results.
Most plastic and metal food storage containers are dishwasher safe (top rack only), but always read the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and care. For some bento boxes with rubber seals around the lid, wash by hand to avoid possible deterioration.
The competition. The is larger than our pick, but has a similarly rugged outer shell and easy-to-wipe inner lining.
It’s more structured, and doesn’t fit as neatly into backpacks or totes. It’s a great option if you want to pack a medium-size lunch. We tested the, which has a design that resembles our current pick from L.L.Bean. In comparison, the High Sierra’s outer fabric felt cheap, and more seams inside made it harder to clean. Although the budget price of the appealed to us, the bag’s wrinkly liner didn’t come clean easily. Also, this bag is too large to fit neatly into a bag or fridge. The large had a baggy liner with folds that gathered crumbs and were difficult to clean and dry.
We like the chic neutral look of the, but this bento has only two large compartments and flimsy, toylike utensils. A company representative told us that the company is working on an updated container with a divider. We’ll look out for the new box. Both the and the are unique, next-level bentos.
With four and three separate, leakproof, microwave-safe compartments, respectively, they can handle a lunch with many moving parts (perfect if you, like us, dream of keeping your coconut yogurt and lime-and-cilantro garnish separate from your turmeric pork curry leftovers). But when housed in their insulated containers, these bentos are huge, heavy, and don’t fit in a tote—indeed, these bentos come with their own bags for transport. We think Zojirushi’s bentos are great for picnics or packing multiple meals to eat throughout the day, but not the easiest to carry for an everyday commute. Wirecutter editor Winnie Yang sends her toddler and babysitter out with a packed Zojirushi Classic bento stashed below a stroller for picnics.
Winnie said this bento does a great job of keeping foods hot and cold, but acknowledged its large size. The plastic broke in our drop tests. Like the BentoHeaven, this bento has two large compartments and small, dull plastic utensils.
The isn’t well-built, and is too big to serve as a lunch bag for a single person. Its thin walls also lack structure, so the bag sags when fully packed. In our tests the bag’s exterior stained badly with tomato sauce, and the interior lining was difficult to wipe clean. The has an inner lining with a lot of seams that trap crumbs and make cleaning difficult. In our tests the interior stained badly with tomato sauce. The was a pain to use. We had trouble fitting the lids onto the containers, and the plastic cutlery was a nuisance.
The elastic band stained badly with tomato sauce and was difficult to remove. The seems cheaply made. The lids do not fit the bases well (before or after dishwashing), and they’re not leakproof.
The is too large for a lunch portion; it’s more suitable for bringing to picnics. It’s also a bit tall to fit in a crowded fridge, especially if you’re bringing it to work.
It dented in our drop tests. We liked the roll-top closure and secure clip, but it was too soft to protect delicate lunch items from crushing. The is very purselike, with a bulky handle and playful patterns that might limit its appeal across most people, so we opted not to test it.