The 5 Best Kids Lunch Boxes of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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If your child brings their lunch to school, you’ll be making—and your kid will be eating—around 180 lunches this school year. So you’ll likely appreciate a durable lunch box that’s easy to clean and convenient to pack. Hot Pack Lunch Box

The 5 Best Kids Lunch Boxes of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

After testing a dozen lunch boxes over the past several years (a process that included packing countless lunches for our own kids), we determined that the L.L.Bean Lunch Box is the best insulated fabric model that will last the school year and beyond (it’s one of our favorite lunch boxes for adults, too).

If you prefer a bento-style box with rigid compartments, we recommend the plastic Bentgo Fresh Lunch Box and the Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel Lunch Box; the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Lunchbox is also a worthy splurge.

We packed lunch boxes with a wide variety of foods and snacks to see how well a full kids meal fit inside.

We filled plastic and metal lunch boxes that claim to be leakproof with water and shook them to see if any liquid escaped.

We dropped the boxes from waist height onto concrete to evaluate their ability to withstand wear and tear.

We smeared tomato sauce inside each box and left it overnight to see how difficult the stains were to clean.

This roomy, soft-sided insulated lunch box is made of rugged materials, and it fits nicely in a backpack. It’s also easier to clean than many competitors.

This expandable version has the same features and durability, with the option of about 2 inches of additional depth (which is useful if you regularly pack drink cans or large containers).

The L.L.Bean Lunch Box is our favorite insulated bag because of its proven durability and reliability. This lunch box is made of the same hard-wearing nylon as L.L.Bean’s much-loved backpacks. And its smooth interior is easier to wipe clean than the interiors of many other models with exposed seams and crevices that trap food and residue. It has plenty of room for multiple containers and a food thermos, and the interior mesh pocket can hold an ice pack to keep contents cool. If you need even more room, L.LBean has an expandable version, which unzips to provide about 2 extra inches of depth. As with all of its gear, L.L.Bean covers this lunch box with a one-year satisfaction guarantee. Among the box’s few flaws: Its soft sides don’t do much to protect fragile foods, getting tough stains out can be challenging, and its mesh pockets are likely to catch on things and rip.

This insulated lunch box comes in the widest variety of styles we’ve found, and its reinforced sides make it easier to clean and more protective of fragile foods than the L.L.Bean Lunch Box.

The Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Classic Lunch Box is similar to the L.L.Bean Lunch Box in construction and quality. But the Pottery Barn bag comes in a greater number of designs that may appeal to your kid, including Disney princesses, action heroes, and dinosaurs. Its reinforced sides protect soft fruit and crunchy snacks better than the L.L.Bean model’s soft sides, but they can easily become indented. This lunch bag is the only one of our picks that does not come with a warranty.

This plastic bento box is easier for younger kids to use and has fewer parts to deal with, but it’s less durable than our other bento picks.

Bento-style lunch boxes have convenient compartments within a rigid case to keep foods separate, protected, and nicely organized. The streamlined Bentgo Fresh Lunch Box is our favorite plastic bento for kids for a few reasons. For one thing, it has a versatile layout: It comes with an optional divider that allows you to customize the compartments. And it’s compact enough that it doesn’t crowd a backpack but still comfortably holds plenty of food for an elementary-age kid (including a whole sandwich, which some other bentos can’t hold). The Bentgo Fresh has fewer parts for kids (and adults) to contend with than other bento lunch boxes, which means fewer lost pieces. And the removable, dishwasher-safe inner tray makes for easy cleanup. (Ideally, the external box should be washed by hand.) This plastic bento does have durability issues, however, as the latches and hinges are especially susceptible to breaking. Our testing has shown that it typically lasts a school year or two, but it’s unlikely to hold up for many years. (It’s covered by a two-year warranty.) If you’re looking for something that will last you longer, we’d lean toward the stainless steel Bentgo Kids box, though that version is more expensive.

We like this stainless steel bento even better than its plastic counterpart, since it’s likely to last you longer. It’s a little pricier, though.

Much like the plastic Bentgo Fresh, the Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel Lunch Box is conveniently compact but has a roomy and intuitive layout plus a totally leakproof silicone seal. The entire bento-style box can go on the top rack of a dishwasher, which makes it especially convenient to clean (with the plastic Bentgo, only the internal tray is rated dishwasher safe). The stainless steel Bentgo Kids box proved more durable in our own long-term testing than the plastic Bentgo Fresh—we’ve encountered no damage or broken parts—though some Amazon reviewers have complained about broken clasps and hinges. Like its plastic sibling, this Bentgo Kids box can work with or without an additional carrying case, and its sturdy metal construction helps increase its longevity. The box comes with a five-year warranty, three years longer than the coverage on the plastic Bentgo.

This stainless steel lunch box is the most durable of our bento picks, and it’s easy to clean since it can go straight into the dishwasher.

Many people who have bought the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Lunchbox immediately concede that it cost more than they had ever expected to pay for a lunch box. Yet in the same breath, they extol its durability: The Rover lasts years and shows wear less readily than any of our other lunch box picks. Its simple steel construction also makes it ultra-easy to clean, as you can throw the whole thing into the dishwasher. The Rover comes with two round lidded containers that nestle inside the compartments, one large and one small, and more sizes and options are available for purchase. For easier portability, you also have the option to buy an insulated bag that has room in the outer pockets for a kid-size thermos or water bottle, as well as additional food containers. (Other styles of carrying cases for the Rover are also available.) Although the Rover’s tray has no seals and is therefore not fully leakproof, the included lidded containers are. This PlanetBox model also has one of the longest warranties among our picks: five years.

To get a sense of what makes a great lunch box for kids, we interviewed parents, children, and teachers; studied reviews from Good Housekeeping, Kitchn, and Brit+Co, among other media outlets; and sifted through hundreds of reviews for highly rated bags and boxes from retailers including Amazon, Macy’s, Target, The Container Store, and Walmart.

Sonjia Hyon has worked as a fact checker and researcher for several publications, including T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She was an editor and writer for The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School cookbook and the research editor for the book Formerly Known As Food, and she has a PhD in American studies. Sonjia is also the author of Wirecutter’s guides to full-size strollers and travel strollers. While she was researching and writing this guide, Sonjia regularly packed lunches and snacks for her then-preschool-age daughter.

Anna Perling, who contributed reporting to this guide, also wrote guides to lunch boxes for adults, travel mugs, thermoses, graters, and soda makers for Wirecutter, and she religiously packs her lunch.

Arianna Flores wrote the 2022 update of this guide. She has covered a variety of topics for Wirecutter, from essential oils to NutriBullet blenders. When she worked part time as a nanny during college, she packed and unpacked dozens of lunches. (She loved her nanny kids’ PlanetBox lunch boxes so much, she wrote an entire ode to them.)

Many kids need a durable lunch box for school, and often for camps, field trips, family outings, and everyday use, as well. After considering the wide world of lunch boxes, we concluded that most families are best served by one of two main types: soft insulated fabric bags or bento-style boxes.

For kids in grades K through 12, access to refrigeration for packed lunches is uncommon. A soft, insulated lunch box that can hold ice packs will keep foods at safe temperatures, and these bags are often lighter and less expensive than other types of lunch boxes. Small food-storage containers are a useful, reusable option to easily portion and separate foods for placing inside an insulated lunch box.

Many families like that bento-style boxes can cut down on plastic waste and items to wash, and in contrast with insulated bags, many bentos can go in a dishwasher. Bentos also keep foods organized, separate, and un-smushed. They can double as a tray for kids to eat from, and overall they offer kids a pleasing presentation. Some bentos can work in combination with an insulated bag or an ice pack to keep foods cool, and many caregivers find that bento-style lunch boxes are easy to label and stack in a crowded refrigerator.

There are numerous ways to pack your kid’s lunch, but for this guide we focused on two popular, versatile types of vessels: insulated lunch boxes (zippered, padded cases that you fill with containers or bags of food) and bento-style boxes (usually hard-plastic or metal cases that have built-in compartments or come with separate containers).

During the research we did for our original guide to the best adult lunch boxes, and our additional research for this guide, we found that lunch boxes for kids need to have several attributes:

Durable: Kids can be tougher on lunch boxes than adults. A good lunch box should be able to stand up to at least a school year’s worth of daily use, including being shoved and squeezed into a backpack or dropped on the ground. Zippers, latches, and hinges shouldn’t break, even after lots of rough use.

Leakproof: Many bento-style boxes are designed to be leakproof and have a lid seal to help keep foods discretely contained in their designated compartments—saucier foods shouldn’t seep into other areas or outside the container. For kids who store their lunches haphazardly (or upside down) in cubbies or backpacks, a seal is key for preventing leaks. (Note, however, that some bento boxes, including one of our picks, are not designed to hold saucy food.)

Easy to clean: Lunch boxes should be stain resistant, and they shouldn’t have crevices or loose-fitting linings that trap crumbs or other residue. Insulated boxes, which require wiping or washing by hand, may be less convenient to clean than bento-style boxes, most of which can go in the dishwasher. Some bentos have parts that require hand-washing, and models with many small compartments or tight corners are more challenging to hand-wash than those with larger compartments and rounded corners.

Easy to use: Lunch boxes need to be easily transported either by hand or on a shoulder, or strapped onto or stuffed into a backpack. A handle makes them easier to carry or to pull out of a bag. Young kids should be able to open and fully close any latches or lids on their own. We prefer bento boxes with single, attached lids to those that have multiple containers and detached lids (which are easier to misplace).

Appropriately sized: A lunch box shouldn’t be so big that you end up packing too much or leaving too much room for containers to rattle around inside. And it shouldn’t be so small that you can’t pack a reasonably sized lunch. For bento-style boxes with compartments, the sections should be of useful sizes.

Appealing in design: Some kids care more than others about what their lunch box looks like, so a wide range of styles and colors is a bonus (but if the options are limited, that isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker). We’ve found that many kids like the presentation that bento boxes offer.

“Most kids respond positively to the ritual of eating a well-packed, visually pleasing lunch.” —Yuki Chikudate, preschool teacher

Bento-style lunch boxes are ideal for younger kids for two reasons, according to Yuki Chikudate, a preschool teacher in New York City. First, because small kids are still working on skills to unpack a lunch, it’s easier for caretakers to help them unpack a lunch that requires opening only a single or double latch. Second, even though it might not matter to some kids, “most kids respond positively to the ritual of eating a well-packed, visually pleasing lunch,” said Chikudate. It’s easier to create an appealing presentation with a bento-style box than with a jumble of small containers and baggies.

Relying on research from Wirecutter’s main guide to lunch boxes, we initially pulled together an additional list of 22 lunch boxes that are recommended for kids. Using the above criteria, online reviews, and feedback from our interviews with caregivers and kids, we whittled the list down to the following six highly rated lunch boxes for our first round of testing:

For our 2019 update, we tested three new lunch boxes:

In 2021 and 2022, we tested the Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel Lunch Box, in addition to continuing our long-term testing of all our existing picks.

For testing, we relied on the same methodology we followed for our general lunch box guide. We evaluated how well different lunch boxes fit a packed lunch with multiple components, including a sandwich, yogurt, carrots, hummus, apple slices, and grapes. To see how comfortable the bags were to hold, we tried any adjustable straps and handles. We also looked at how easy the containers were to seal and whether they remained closed during a long commute or when jostled in a bag. To test the lunch boxes for leaks, we filled the plastic and metal containers with water and shook them at different angles. For a durability test, we dropped the bento boxes and plastic food-storage containers from waist height onto concrete. Finally, to test for stain resistance, we splashed a tablespoon of tomato sauce inside each box and let it sit overnight before attempting to clean it.

With the use of ice packs, insulated lunch boxes or bentos with insulated containers should help keep food at cool (and appetizing) temperatures for a few hours. But in our testing for this guide, as well as for our main lunch box guide, we found that very few insulated lunch boxes could consistently keep food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit after two hours, which the USDA recommends for perishables. Other lunch box reviewers have reported similar results. (The USDA recommends that hot food stored in insulated containers be kept at 140 °F.)

We placed Fit + Fresh Cool Coolers ice packs above and below a plastic container filled with ½ cup of milk at around 33 °F. Using a food thermometer, we tested whether any of the insulated lunch boxes could keep the milk below 40 °F (the temperature the USDA recommends for perishable foods) after two hours outside the fridge. None of the insulated lunch bags we tested for this guide could do this, even with two ice packs inside. If you’re concerned about your child’s lunch spoiling, pack shelf-safe milk (ultrahigh temperature, or UHT, pasteurized milk in aseptic packaging) and opt for nonperishable foods instead of, say, a turkey sandwich.

This roomy, soft-sided insulated lunch box is made of rugged materials, and it fits nicely in a backpack. It’s also easier to clean than many competitors.

This expandable version has the same features and durability, with the option of about 2 inches of additional depth (which is useful if you regularly pack drink cans or large containers).

The L.L.Bean Lunch Box is one of the most durable insulated lunch boxes we’ve tested, as well as one of the easiest to clean. Its basic, lightweight zippered design makes it simple for little kids to use themselves, it’s the ideal size for placing in a school backpack, and it provides plenty of space for a kid-size (or even an adult-size) lunch. An expandable version, which unzips to create an additional 2 inches of depth, offers even more capacity and might be worth considering if you regularly pack drink cans or larger food-storage containers. The L.L.Bean has several pockets for an ice pack or extra snacks, plus insulation that keeps foods cool (though our tests found that no lunch container may be able to maintain foods at lower than 40 °F). You can choose from multiple solid colors and bright patterns.

The L.L.Bean Lunch Box’s hard-wearing nylon exterior is the same weatherproof material the company uses in its backpacks, which are our favorite backpacks for younger kids and have proven to be durable. During our tests, its tidy construction and minimal seams in the interior lining helped to keep it in better shape for longer than other models that were more sloppily made. The interior also recovered better from getting poked with sharp-edged objects than that of the Pottery Barn Kids lunch bag, which showed indentations more readily and thus looked shabbier quicker.

The streamlined, lightweight design of the L.L.Bean Lunch Box makes it a good choice for kids who ride a bike or take public transit and need a lunch box that fits in a bag or backpack. Like most of our picks, it has a handle, which makes it easy to carry by hand or to pull out of a bag. Its soft sides also make it easier to cram into an already crowded pack than a lunch box with reinforced sides (such as the Pottery Barn Kids box) or a hard case (such as our bento picks).

This lunch box is roomy enough to hold a drink, a sandwich, and multiple snacks. Small food storage containers or a food thermos 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 should pack soups or other liquids only in a leakproof container, such as a thermos.

The invisible seams on the L.L.Bean Lunch Box make it easier to wipe clean than models with exterior seams and folds, though it’s not quite as easy to clean as the Pottery Barn Kids bag, which has stiff, molded sides and is the most convenient model to wipe down quickly. Bags like these are generally not designed to be machine washed (see more in the Care and maintenance section below).

The exterior mesh pocket is great for holding fragile snacks like chips or a granola bar, if the child is carrying the lunch box by hand. The interior mesh pocket on the lid helps keep an ice pack in place. For $8 more, you can have the lunch box monogrammed (or you could just put a label on it). The lunch box comes with a one-year satisfaction guarantee.

In our most recent tests, tomato sauce left a light stain on the L.L.Bean Lunch Box’s white interior. Although the seam-free lining is one of the easiest to wipe down, this lunch box can be challenging to keep perfectly clean.

Because the L.L.Bean Lunch Box has soft sides, fragile fruit like bananas and peaches may need their own container to avoid getting smashed in transit. If you prefer an insulated box with reinforced sides, try the Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Classic Lunch Box.

This insulated lunch box comes in the widest variety of styles we’ve found, and its reinforced sides make it easier to clean and more protective of fragile foods than the L.L.Bean Lunch Box.

Like our Pottery Barn Kids backpack pick, the Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Classic Lunch Box comes in dozens of kid-friendly styles, including designs with unicorns, real-life creatures, Harry Potter, and superheroes from the Marvel universe. Pottery Barn Kids makes six types of lunch boxes and bags; we prefer the Classic size, which has about the same capacity as the L.L.Bean Lunch Box.

The Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Classic is slightly squatter and more square than the L.L.Bean soft lunch box. But the main difference between the two lies in the former’s stiff sides, which prevent sandwiches, chips, and fruit from getting crushed (as they might in the latter).

The Pottery Barn Kids box has two-way head-to-head zippers for its main compartment, which gives it a slight edge in convenience over the L.L.Bean lunch box and its single zipper. Like the L.L.Bean box, the Pottery Barn Kids box has a water-repellent lining, but instead of being a thin sheet of vinyl, that lining is made of a molded foam called PEVA. The smooth interior was somewhat easier for us to wipe clean than that of the soft-sided L.L.Bean box because it didn’t bunch up or fold. However, the surface did get easily marked and indented by sharp objects.

Two strips of webbing on one side of the Pottery Barn Kids lunch box allow you to loop it through the compression straps of certain backpacks made by the same company. Or, using a carabiner, you can hang it from attachment points on those packs or other packs. The side mesh pocket best holds a short water bottle, but as parents we interviewed noted, the mesh is likely to tear and rip within a year.

Although the external zippered pocket is too flat for storing most food, it’s convenient for tucking in utensils, napkins, or a note. We like that the pocket is made from the same fabric as the exterior of the lunch box, which makes it more durable than the mesh pocket on the L.L.Bean Lunch Box. Like the L.L.Bean model, the Pottery Barn Kids box has an internal mesh pocket for stowing an ice pack, a bag of chips, utensils, or napkins.

If the numerous Pottery Barn Kids lunch box designs don’t appeal to your child, you can find additional options in a slightly larger lunch box from Pottery Barn Teen. Like the L.L.Bean box, all of these lunch boxes can be monogrammed (for an additional $15), but they also have a name label inside.

This plastic bento box is easier for younger kids to use and has fewer parts to deal with, but it’s less durable than our other bento picks.

The Bentgo Fresh Lunch Box has the most versatile layout and most convenient organization of any bento-style box we tried—it’s capable of holding plenty of food for an elementary school student while remaining compact and reasonably lightweight. It was one of the few bentos that didn’t leak in our tests, and even young kids had no problem opening and closing its simple latches. We found that the Fresh’s removable, dishwasher-safe inner tray made it an especially easy bento to clean. (The outer shell should be washed by hand when necessary.)

At 1.3 pounds, the Bentgo Fresh is lighter than other bento boxes we’ve tested, and it’s compact enough to comfortably stow in a kid-size backpack or inside some insulated lunch boxes, including our main pick, the L.L.Bean Lunch Box. The Fresh’s layout makes packing a variety of foods easy. It has a large main compartment, and it can fit an average-size sandwich without your needing to cut the sandwich in half or lop off the sides. Alternatively, you can use a removable divider to separate the main compartment into two parts to hold rice or pasta and a protein, for example. Two smaller compartments are well sized for fruit, nuts, pretzels, or sliced vegetables. Unlike our other bento picks, the Fresh has a tray that is removable (and microwavable), so kids can eat from it directly on the table, like a plate.

In our tests, the Fresh was one of the few bento boxes that did not leak. The Fresh’s rubber seals did an excellent job of keeping most juices and oils from seeping between the compartments or out of the box. The Fresh’s interior compartments, with or without the removable divider, kept foods nicely separated. (Note that you can’t pack pure liquids, such as soup, in the Bentgo Fresh; for those, you should use the OmieBox or a food thermos.) In our tests, younger kids had an easier time opening and closing the Fresh’s latches than they did those of our other picks, and that ease of use also helps prevent messy leaks.

The Bentgo Fresh is made of BPA-free, phthalate-free plastic, and it is thus more resistant to stains and smells than the L.L.Bean and Pottery Barn Kids lunch boxes (which are lined with permeable vinyl). Compared with the designs of our other picks, the Fresh’s removable tray makes it easier to dump leftovers directly into the compost or garbage. The tray is top-rack dishwasher safe, but the case is hand-wash only; overall, we found this lunch box reasonably easy to clean. You can purchase extra internal trays if you want to prep and store multiple days’ worth of lunches, or if you don’t run your dishwasher every day. The lunch box comes in six colors.

The Fresh is the most affordable bento box we recommend, which means you aren’t likely to shed as many tears if your kid accidentally misplaces it. However, its lower price does bring some trade-offs. We’ve heard feedback indicating—and we’ve seen for ourselves—that this box can break easily. We still think it’s a good option if you need something to last only a school year or two.

Bentgo has a responsive customer service staff (reachable by phone or online) that people rave about. The company offers replacement dividers if you happen to lose yours, and each lunch box comes with a two-year warranty (with proof of purchase and prior registration) covering manufacturer defects.

The rubber seal on the Bentgo Fresh is not replaceable, with many online reviewers reporting that it grows moldy over time. And the Fresh is not insulated, so it’s best for lunches that don’t need to stay cool. (The Bentgo Kids Chill Lunch Box incorporates an ice pack into the box, but we haven’t tested that model yet.)

Since we first published this guide in 2018, we’ve heard complaints that the Bentgo Fresh lacks long-term durability, and in supervising editor Hannah Morrill’s personal experience, the lunch box failed to last into a second school year. In addition to weak latches, reports say that the hinges can break, and this is exacerbated by the box’s design: You have to carefully lift the lid over the 2-inch spine to properly place it on top of the food tray—if you try to latch it closed with the lid out of place, you strain the hinges at their weakest point. Although Bentgo’s two-year warranty does offer a measure of protection and recourse should anything go wrong, many folks would prefer to avoid the hassle of getting a replacement.

We like this stainless steel bento even better than its plastic counterpart, since it’s likely to last you longer. It’s a little pricier, though.

If you want all the perks of the Bentgo Fresh Lunch Box, our favorite plastic bento-style lunch box—and if you have a little extra room in your budget—the metal Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel Lunch Box is even easier to clean than the plastic one (because the whole thing can go in the dishwasher), and it’s held up better for some of our testers. The box is sleek and leak resistant, with a three-compartment layout and a separate silicone cup that can fit into either of the two larger compartments.

At 1.3 pounds, the stainless steel Bentgo Kids weighs the same as the plastic Bentgo Fresh box and less than the 1.6-pound steel PlanetBox Rover, our upgrade pick, which is pricier. (We also recommend a different stainless steel Bentgo—with fewer compartments—in our guide to the best adult lunch boxes.) One Wirecutter staffer who has used both the plastic and stainless steel kids Bentgo boxes has found that the metal box holds up better over time than the plastic box and holds an equivalent amount of food. But another staffer, senior editor Courtney Schley, said that after one year of use, one of the hinges broke. “The hinges are just riveted on,” she explains, “unlike the PlanetBox where they’re attached with pins.”

The silicone-lined lid of the steel Bentgo Kids helps keep the box leak-free, which is an uncommon perk in the world of metal bento boxes. Our upgrade pick, the PlanetBox Rover, does not have a seal and is thus less suited for use with juicy or saucy foods than the steel Bentgo Kids. (Bentgo makes an optional insulated lunch bag that can fit its boxes, but we haven’t tested it. This box should also fit in our insulated lunch box picks.)

Because this Bentgo Kids box is metal, you can just stick the whole thing in the top rack of the dishwasher, though the company advises that washing it by hand instead helps to preserve the box’s silicone seal, hinges, and lid color. Since it’s a one-piece box, you don’t have to worry about cleaning individual pieces. And though it’s mostly silver in hue, Bentgo offers five color options for the lid and the inner silicone lining.

Whereas the plastic Bentgo box has a two-year warranty, the stainless steel version has a five-year warranty.

The Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel Lunch Box is pricey. It isn’t quite as expensive as the PlanetBox Rover, the other stainless steel bento box we recommend, but it is more of an investment than most of the other picks in this guide, and it won’t necessarily last as long as the PlanetBox Rover.

Some Amazon reviews of the Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel focus on the box’s latches malfunctioning, though Bentgo says it made improvements to the design of 2022 boxes.

This stainless steel lunch box is the most durable of our bento picks, and it’s easy to clean since it can go straight into the dishwasher.

If you spring for the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Lunchbox and its matching insulated bag when they're not on sale, you’ll drop nearly $100 on your kid’s lunch box. But that high price buys unrivaled durability. One parent of four on our staff said one of her kids has been using a Rover for at least four years, with no signs of wear and tear. “My grandkids could be using this lunchbox,” she says. And numerous reviewers on Amazon write that they’ve used theirs for as long or longer, and that the Rover still looks brand-new.

This heavy-duty, stainless steel lunch box is about the size of a letter-size piece of paper and 1½ inches thick. Unlike the Bentgo boxes, it has no silicone or rubber seals to prevent leaks (or to eventually grow mold). In our tests, water flowed freely from one end to the other, so (as with our other bento picks) we would avoid putting anything liquidy in the compartments.

Instead, those items can go in the two included small round containers with silicone lids, which were leakproof in our tests. The larger container is 3½ inches in diameter and about 1¼ inches tall, and the smaller container is 1¾ inches in diameter and about 1¼ inches tall (the right size for a dipping sauce). Both can fit inside the bento box or in the Velcro-secured pocket of the cloth carrier bag. Although the included containers do, in theory, increase the options for which types of foods you can pack, Wirecutter supervising editor Ingela Ratledge Amundson pointed out that keeping track of those vessels and their corresponding lids can be a challenge: “Since I could never seem to find them when I needed them, I basically just trained myself to pack dry foods only in the PlanetBox.”

Because the Rover’s lid doesn’t have rubber or silicone seals, it doesn’t get suctioned on, unlike with the Bentgo boxes, and we found that a 2-year-old could easily unhook the metal latch to open the tray. The manufacturer says neither the lunch box nor the containers are designed for use with hot foods. The Rover is shallower than either of our Bentgo picks, and the compartments can be more limiting, especially if you typically pack larger sandwiches or, say, tortilla chips.

The Rover’s simple stainless steel construction makes it easier to clean than any of our other lunch box picks, bento or insulated. This was one of writer Arianna Flores’s favorite things about the Rover when she nannied two kids who used the box; it took her all of 30 seconds to dump food scraps from it into a compost bin and then run over the box with a sponge. The box can also go in the dishwasher, top or bottom rack. However, it’s not microwave-safe.

The box survived our drop test with minor scratches. For protection and added convenience, we recommend buying a carrier for the Rover. The company sells bags and cases in a range of styles, including an insulated lunch sack and a non-insulated tote. We’ve tested the Rover with the classic insulated bag, which comes in a variety of colors and patterns and has a padded handle, roomy pockets that can hold additional food containers and a small water bottle or thermos, an interior mesh pocket that fits a slim ice pack, and elastic bands for utensils. The bag with the lunch box inside fits in a kid-size backpack, with room left over for schoolwork and other gear.

Each PlanetBox Rover box comes with your choice of decorative magnets to personalize the exterior; additional magnets are sold separately. The company recommends removing the magnets before putting the box in the dishwasher; Ingela has run her son’s magnets through the dishwasher a few times by accident and can report that they emerged looking a little sad and wrinkly but otherwise fine.

One of the common complaints about the PlanetBox Rover is that, at approximately 1.6 pounds, it’s too heavy for younger kids. The Bentgo Fresh and the Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel are each a few ounces lighter, though if weight is your main concern you may prefer an insulated lunch bag like the 6-ounce L.L.Bean Lunch Box instead. A handful of reviewers also mention that their Rover developed rust spots, but the company offers a five-year warranty and should replace the lunch box promptly. Some of our readers have pointed out that kids can lose their lunch boxes frequently, and they worry that the promise of durability isn’t worth the price if the box is doomed to vanish a few weeks into the school year. If your child tends to be absent-minded, or your kid’s daycare or school doesn’t have a reliable lost-and-found system, this might not be the lunch box for you.

If you’re packing hot or cold food for small kids: The plastic OmieBox (pictured above) comes with an integrated insulated food jar. As a result, it’s the only bento-style box we found that can carry hot and cold foods. The vacuum-sealed container—which didn’t leak in our tests—can keep foods like pasta and soup warm or foods like yogurt or cottage cheese cool.

We used to list the OmieBox as a pick in this guide, but we encountered some online reports of flimsiness and a lack of durability over time (and some Wirecutter staffers concurred). We were also concerned that it just didn’t hold enough food for older kids. OmieBox recently issued a redesign, which—among other tweaks—increased the food jar’s capacity from 6.5 ounces to 8.5 ounces (or slightly over a cup) and the outside dimensions from 7 by 7 by 2.5 inches to 7.5 by 8.5 by 3 inches. After testing this new model, Courtney noticed that the expanded size made it possible to fit a regular sandwich (cut in half) into the main compartment. Still, we’ve concluded that the overall capacity of this lunch box might be best suited for preschool-age kids.

Supervising editor Marilyn Ong has been using OmieBoxes for her three kids since December 2021. The lunch boxes have held up well through regular dishwasher cycles, and their many pieces are still in good shape (though it did take some time for her family to adjust to the number of parts each box contains). She also runs the containers under hot water before packing to make sure her kids’ food stays warm until lunchtime.

If you have a small child or a child with a small appetite: The Bentgo Kids plastic bento-syle lunch box is similar to the Bentgo Fresh bento we recommend but holds less. This box also was a previous pick in this guide, and we still like it, but over time we repeatedly heard that it didn’t hold a big enough lunch for the typical elementary-age or even preschool-age kid. The Bentgo Kids has smaller compartments than the Bentgo Fresh, and—unlike that box—it sports grippy rubber material around the exterior’s outer edges, which is designed to absorb impact and protect the box if it’s dropped. We have found that kids especially like the tiny middle compartment, perfectly sized for a tiny treat.

If you want a small plastic bento box that costs less: The Munchkin Lunch Bento Box has a five compartment setup like the Bentgo Kids but with slightly larger food sections, meaning it holds more and can theoretically be used beyond preschool. It’s easy to open with one latch, is surprisingly sturdy for the price, and is dishwasher safe (but takes some toweling or drying rack time to get totally dry). The box comes with two stainless steel utensils—a spork and a spoon—that snap ingeniously into the lid. Though if you lose one, Munchkin doesn’t sell replacements. Lead editor Rachel Hurn has been using this box for her now-five-year-old since she started daycare at 2. “The only reason I recently bought a new lunch box (the Mackenzie Classic) is because my daughter’s camp wants one that’s insulated. I quickly understood why: Previously the Munchkin had gone straight from our fridge to the daycare or preschool’s fridge, but at day camp, it leaked sticky red juice all over my daughter’s bag when I packed fresh-picked strawberries on a hot day.”

A great lunch box can become even better with help from a cast of supporting players. Here are some reusable bags, containers, and utensils from our other guides, as well as from Wirecutter staffers’ personal experience. We’ve found that these items make packing lunches more convenient for adults, and they make the lunch experience easier and more fun for kids.

Less wasteful than disposable zip-top plastic bags (and easier to use than washing and reusing zip-tops), Stasher Reusable Silicone Bags—a Wirecutter pick from our guide to reusable alternatives to plastic—are available in a range of sizes and appealing colors. They seal securely and can hold everything from snacks and sides to leftovers. Also, they’re freezer and dishwasher safe. The only drawback is their high price ($55 for a pack of four at this writing), though they do occasionally go on sale.

Pliable Bee’s Wrap beeswax wraps—another Wirecutter pick—cling to themselves, making it easy to transport sandwiches, fruit, and veggies. Although they’re not airtight, in our tests these wraps performed just as well as plastic wrap for short-term use (about four days). They require gentle hand-washing and should last about a year with proper use. Note: These may be better suited to older kids, who will remember that they’re not disposable.

Made to transport an array of foods, the Miniware GrowBento set comes with a double-coated stainless steel bento box (for things like pasta, sandwiches, cut-up fruit, and salads) and two leakproof silicone pods with lids that work well for dips and sauces. They are dishwasher and freezer safe. “We’ve been using them every day for at least three years, and they are in great condition. They’re really convenient,” said Courtney, who acknowledged that the set is expensive. Of course, it’s not necessary to buy dedicated lunch containers. Plastic Snapware containers—a top pick in our guide to the best food storage containers—are lightweight, leakproof, and dishwasher, freezer, and microwave safe. They’re also versatile and designed to stack away easily, and their snap-on lids are simple to operate. We like the 1.21-cup size for lunch-packing purposes; this assorted Snapware set also comes with a 2.5-cup option, which could work well for larger portions.

To help customize the compartments in her kid’s bento boxes, Wirecutter product design director Tabitha Rodrigue recommends using silicone baking cups like the dishwasher-, freezer-, and microwave-safe Amazon Basics Reusable Silicone Baking Cups. The small, flexible containers can help keep dry and wet foods separate and allow you to play with the layout of your box.

What if your kids (or you) have a habit of, er, misplacing lunch boxes? Senior staff writer Nancy Redd recommends the budget-friendly Freshmage Bento Lunch Box Containers, which are available in three- and four-compartment configurations, “for parents who just can’t stand to lose another $25 container.” Microwave, freezer, and dishwasher safe, these plastic bento-style boxes are stackable, reusable, and at this writing priced at $9 for a set of three. “These containers got me through a discombobulated and environmentally unfriendly first grade,” Nancy said.

A food thermos is the tidiest and most reliable way to tote hot and liquidy foods. The Thermos Funtainer Food Jar, our food thermos pick for kids, comes in lots of colors and patterns, is dishwasher safe, and typically costs about $10 less than the other thermoses we recommend. Some families prefer the LunchBots Thermal since its wide mouth—nearly an inch wider than that of the Funtainer Food Jar—is so easy to eat from. The Zojirushi Stainless Steel Food Jar, our top food thermos pick, is another great option. Its 12-ounce size makes sense for kids, and it performed better than almost every other food thermos in our tests at keeping foods hot (or cold) for six hours or more. It also has a screw-on cap that’s easy for little hands to operate. (Zojirushi recommends hand-washing since the thermos’s insulating capability can degrade in the dishwasher.)

Supervising editor Marilyn Ong opts for the OmieBox Kids Utensils Set with Case—a reusable, dishwasher-safe plastic fork and spoon that, when not in use, nest together in a silicone case with an attached strap. “My kids do pretty well with the system, since it’s easy for them to put the utensils back in. So far, they’ve lost one fork, but I consider that pretty good,” Marilyn said.

Most insulated lunch boxes are neither machine washable nor dishwasher safe. Manufacturers recommend 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 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 that you clean it immediately with a little soap and water.

As for a bento box with a rubber or silicone seal around the lid, such as our picks from Bentgo, ideally you should hand-wash the box to avoid potential deterioration in the dishwasher. Wirecutter staffers, however, have washed both Bentgo boxes on the top rack without a problem, and Bentgo says that the metal box is dishwasher safe, though the company recommends hand-washing. For optimal cleaning practices, consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

Like the Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Classic Lunch Box, the insulated fabric Lands’ End ClassMate EZ Wipe Lunch Box we tested (now called the Lands’ End Insulated EZ Wipe Printed Lunch Box) had a molded foam interior that gave it a firmer shape in comparison with our favorite L.L.Bean box. With use, however, the separate lining started blistering in the corners, and we found the box too large for a kid’s lunch.

The L.L.Bean Flip-Top Lunch Box is larger than our pick, the L.L.Bean Lunch Box, but it has a similarly rugged outer shell and an easy-to-wipe inner lining. It’s more structured, and it doesn’t fit as neatly into backpacks or totes.

The PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag has decent reviews on Amazon, but we’ve read customer complaints stating that the inside becomes covered in condensation and gets food wet. One of our editors has personally used this lunch bag, and they said it was difficult to clean. It also needed to dry completely before refreezing, otherwise the zipper got icy and failed to work.

The insulated fabric Wildkin Lunch Box 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 plastic Bentgo Classic Lunch Box 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 the stain was difficult to remove.

The plastic Bentoheaven Premium Lunch Box has only two large compartments and flimsy, toylike utensils.

For young kids, the Ecolunchbox Three-in-One Classic is a nice, compact stainless steel option. The metal containers are easy to clean and dishwasher safe. This lunch box didn’t suffer any dents or permanent damage in our drop tests, but we ruled it out because it’s not leakproof, and it’s too small for older kids.

The Fit + Fresh Bento Lunch Kit has clip-in ice packs that fit within a zippered, insulated lunch box. In our experience, though, the quality of the materials felt subpar, and the small containers and lids were easy to lose and less convenient for organization. Since summer 2022, it seems to be out of stock.

The stainless steel LunchBots Large Cinco Bento Box comes in many sizes, configurations, and layouts, with a variety of lidded bowls that can fit inside. But it felt flimsier than our other stainless steel bento box picks, and the unattached lid could get lost more easily.

We did not test the metal Pottery Barn Kids Spencer Stainless Bento Box because its compartments were small and limiting, and the box’s thin plastic lid looked less durable than the material on our bento picks.

Similar in design to the plastic Bentgo Kids, a former pick in this guide, the Yumbox Panino plastic bento-style box is too small for many kindergarteners and older kids. The plastic was also thinner and less rugged than we’d like.

The Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless Lunch Jar is a next-level bento box with multiple interior containers. It can work for hot or cold foods. But it’s too large for school use and too complicated for younger kids since it needs to be packed in a specific way to close securely.

This article was edited by Courtney Schley and Kalee Thompson.

Sonjia Hyon is a freelance researcher and writer who has worked in marketing, cultural programming, higher education, and food. Most recently, she contributed to the writing of The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School. She has a PhD in American studies and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her daughter, Nico.

Arianna Flores was an updates writer at Wirecutter covering kitchen and appliances. She’s a native Texan, and her journalism on a variety of subjects has appeared in Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, and the San Antonio Report.

Anna Perling is a former staff writer covering kitchen gear at Wirecutter. During her time at Wirecutter, she reported on various topics including sports bras, board games, and light bulbs. Previously she wrote food and lifestyle pieces for Saveur and Kinfolk magazines. Anna is a mentor at Girls Write Now and a member of the Online News Association.

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Salad Lunch Container Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).