Ah, school lunch. It’s a much-needed respite that fuels learning and is the one time in the school day when your kid isn’t going to get scolded for gabbing with friends. It’s also the the time when food is swapped and mystery meat cafeteria servings are studiously avoided.
Whether or not your kid brings a packed lunch can be influenced by a number of things: the quality of the school’s cafeteria (or if there even is one), dietary needs or just plain preference on the part of your child. No matter the reason, the end goal (for parents, anyway) is the same: a healthy meal that can be packed ahead of time and stay fresh until lunch period.
That starts with a quality lunchbox. Today’s models are a huge step up from the brown bag of yore — and are more than just a means of transporting food from home to school; they’re also an insulator that can keep food fresh and safe from light drops and backpack smushing. Bento-style lunchboxes, in particular, make it easier to pack a variety of healthy foods. The style you choose may also be affected by how often your child packs lunch: is it every day, or just on field trips, or when Salisbury steak appears on the menu? Whatever your family’s needs, here are your best bets.
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1. Skip Hop Zoo Kids Insulated Lunch Box
Skip Hop’s brightly-colored “zoo” of insulated lunch boxes is a way to bring fun and personality to lunch time. Toddlers can choose a favorite animal like monkey, owl or unicorn. Parents will love details like a name tag, insulated interior and place to stash utensils and an ice pack. The top handle is also adjustable and can be strapped to backpacks or strollers.
Pros: This insulated lunchbox comes in a variety of bright colors and animals that will delight younger kids, while a roomy interior gives you plenty of space for extras like juice boxes or bags of crackers or chips.
Cons: Trays and containers for things like sandwiches or soup are sold separately.
2. OPUX Premium Insulated Lunch Box
Older kids may have aged out of character lunch boxes, but their needs are still the same: a healthy meal that stays fresh till lunch time. The roomy insulated main compartment of this OPUX Premium Insulated Lunch Box can hold up to six standard soda cans, giving them plenty of room for sandwiches or leftovers and sides. The side pocket is large enough to hold a can of seltzer or small reusable water bottle. And while they may have aged out of zoo animals or characters on their lunch box, the bright colors still give them room to show their personality. A top strap also includes a buckle, to make it easy to hang from backpacks or bags.
Pros: A roomy compartment perfect for older kids will stick with them for years, and a top strap makes it easy to hook to backpacks.
Cons: There’s no separate insulated pocket like in some other lunch boxes.
3. Bentgo Kid’s Lunch Box
Bentgo’s bento-style system makes packing a variety of foods for younger kids easy. The five compartments include a larger slot for entrees like sandwiches or pasta, and smaller side compartments can be loaded up with sides like crackers, fruit, veggies and more. A center compartment is good for dips and spreads. The latch and seals are leak-proof, and the rubberized edges keep it safe from the occasional drop.
Pros: Bento-style tray encourages your child to eat a variety of foods and ensures ideal portions for children up to 7 years of age.
Cons: It isn’t insulated and doesn’t have a handle, and it requires a separate bag for an ice pack and oversized foods like a whole apple or bag of chips.