At EatingWell, we have packed countless lunches for kids in the Test Kitchen and at home for our own kids. With all that packing comes the benefit of testing out a lot of products—the great, the not-so-great and the ones we just can't live without. Here are some of our favorite containers, bentos and bottles for packing kids' lunch boxes.
(Photo Taco Salad Bento Lunch for Kids in a Bentology lunchbox)
When you're choosing what products to use to pack a healthy lunch and snacks for your kids, here are a few things to consider.
Individual containers allow for more flexibility. But we love bento lunchboxes for school-aged kids, because you can still keep foods separate, but there are fewer containers for kids to open (and for you to clean). Not all bentos are leakproof, and so you may still need to have some individual containers for dips, yogurts and dressings.
Even if plastic is labeled "BPA-free" you might be wondering if any plastic is safe to use for packing your kid's lunch. The truth is, BPA-free plastic does not necessarily mean chemical-free. If you are concerned about plastic, look for alternatives, such as stainless steel, glass and silicone. Also, to avoid chemicals leaching into your food, never heat food in any type of plastic container.
Read More: Is BPA-Free Plastic Safe?
Glass is a great alternative to plastic storage containers. It's easy to clean, won't stain and can go in the microwave for easy reheating. Before you make an investment in glass, though, you might want to double-check to make sure your school or daycare allows glass containers. Look for tempered glass, which has been treated to be much stronger and resistant to breaking. Stainless steel is another great plastic-free alternative. It's safe, easy to clean and you don't have to worry about breakage. However, one downside is that it can't go in the microwave.
Perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs or sliced fresh fruits and vegetables, that are left out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours may enter the Danger Zone—the unsafe temperatures between 40° and 140°F, in which bacteria multiply rapidly. If your child does not have access to a fridge at school, pack lunch in an insulated lunch bag or container and include an ice pack to keep the food fresh and cold.
An EatingWell Test Kitchen favorite, this bento doesn't leak, because it comes with lids for several of the interior containers. Made from food-safe plastic that contains no lead, BPA, phthalates or PVC, it's great for both little kids and school-age kids.
This stainless-steel bento box is a great alternative to plastic and is so easy to clean, since it's all one piece. Just pop it in the dishwasher. The optional colorful cover makes this bento more fun for kids and can be washed while it's attached to the lid. This is not a leakproof bento, so you'll need to pack dressings, dips and yogurt separately.
These sandwich and snack bags are the very best reusable bags. Made from food-grade silicone instead of plastic, Stasher bags are dishwasher safe, clean really well, don't leave any residue and are sturdy enough that the food in them doesn't get totally squished. They have an airtight seal, keeping food fresher longer, and are easy for kids to open. Stasher is also a member of 1% for the Planet and is a certified B corporation, a member of a network of for-profit companies that meet a rigorous set of social and environmental standards.
(Photo: Bee's Wrap)
These sandwich wraps are a natural alternative to plastic wrap, made from organic cotton coated with beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin. Bee's Wrap products do have a beeswax scent that fades after a few uses. Wash, dry and reuse for up to a year—then compost when you're done.
(Photo: Wean Green)
These colorful containers are made from tempered glass that's much stronger than regular glass—meaning it's less likely to break. They are leakproof and the perfect size for yogurt, salsa, hummus and dips.
(Photo: U Konserve)
These stainless-steel food storage containers feature leak-resistant lids. The three containers nest within each other for compact storage. U Konserve is a member of 1% for the Planet, a network of environmentally conscious companies and brands, and has pledged to donate 1 percent of sales to nonprofit organizations that benefit the environment.
(Photo: Hydro Flask)
This insulated food storage container will keep hot soups hot and cold smoothies cold until lunchtime. It's made with professional-grade stainless steel, so it doesn't retain or transfer flavors. These containers are great for bigger school-age kids, since the lid size is a bit wide for small hands to open.
We use mason jars for everything. This nifty lid converter lets you convert your mason jars into snack packs. Store dips or apple sauce in one compartment, and veggies or fruit in the other. The snack pack is made from recycled BPA-free plastic and comes in two sizes for regular and wide-mouth mason jars.
(Photo: Pura Stainless)
This stainless-steel and silicone water bottle is 100-percent plastic-free. The smart design allows you to adapt the bottle to your growing child and can convert from baby bottle to toddler sippy to kid's straw or wide-mouth sport top simply by swapping out the lids. With the flat cap accessory, you can even use the bottle as a food storage container.
(Photo: Fit & Fresh)
These are the best ice packs because they stay plenty cold until lunchtime, but they're slim so they don't take up too much room in the lunchbox. We like these better than soft-sided ice packs because they are sturdy enough not to get punctured (because who wants yucky goo all over their lunch?).