If your child brings lunch to school, a quality lunch box is a must. After all, they’ll be toting it with them every weekday for nearly ten months. A lunch box can help keep their food organized, at a safe temperature and make it easy for them to transport everything.
Lunch boxes for kids come in two categories — a traditional box or bag that has a large open space for you to put food in, or a bento-style box that has separate compartments for different food categories. Ultimately, the type you choose for your child comes down to their needs and preferences. “I recommend using both if you can,” says Malina Malkani, a registered dietician nutritionist who works with families and kids. “Most hard shell or bento-style lunch boxes don’t have a slot for an ice pack, while soft bags do. So you can place your hard shell box into a soft zippered lunch bag with an ice pack to keep everything cold.”
Below, we rounded up some top-rated kids lunch boxes, bento boxes and food containers across popular and Select reader-favorite brands.
Our top picks
- Best overall: PackIt Freezable Classic Lunch Box
- Best lunch bag style: Simple Modern Kids Lunch Bag
- Best bento style: Bentgo Kids Prints Bento-Style Lunch Box
How we picked top-rated kids lunch boxes
To pick lunchboxes for kids, we looked for highly rated options that prioritized the following expert-recommended factors:
- Insulation: For most kids, their lunch box or bag will stay in their backpack until it’s time to eat. An insulated lunch box can help keep food cool until it’s time to eat. “I like to prioritize lunch boxes that have space for an ice pack,” says Malkani. All of the lunch boxes and bags we chose have interior pockets to accommodate an ice pack. Bento-style boxes do not have space for ice packs, which is why Malkani prefers to place these in a lunch box that can fit one.
- Easy to clean: Spills and leaks happen, so Malkani recommends making sure a lunch box or bag is easy to clean before you purchase it. Look for stain-resistant materials like vinyl, coated polyester or hard plastic, all of which are easy to wipe down. All of the bento-style lunch boxes we chose are also dishwasher-safe.
- Kid-friendly to open: “For younger kids, parents should check that lunch boxes are easy and not too time-consuming for little hands to open,” says Malkani. Features that can help with this include two-way zippers and easy-to-lift latches.
Highly rated lunch boxes and bags for kids
To help you narrow down your options, we rounded up some highly rated lunch boxes and bags for kids that feature child-friendly designs and insulation that can keep food and drinks cold for hours.
With two layers of insulation and a 3.5-liter capacity, this lunch box from Hydro Flask is designed to keep food cold for hours, according to the brand. It has an interior band designed to hold an ice pack, and it comes in kid-friendly colors like Iris (a shade of purple), Grasshopper (a bright green) and Geranium (a bright red). This lunch box has a 4.6-star average rating from over 680 reviews on Amazon.
This soft-sided lunch box from L.L.Bean, which makes some of our favorite backpacks for kids, has a spacious interior with a 5-liter capacity. The brand says the lunch box’s internal mesh pocket can hold an ice pack to keep your child’s food cold throughout the day. It comes in a variety of colors, including green, neon pink and teal, and for an additional charge, you can also add a monogram to the front of the lunch box to ensure your child knows which pack is theirs. It has a 4.5-star average rating from more than 1,100 reviews on L.L.Bean’s website.
With a 4-liter capacity, the rectangular bag can hold sandwiches, snacks and more, and the brand says it’s triple-insulated to keep food fresh. Depending on your child’s preferences, there are dozens of patterns to choose from, including a unicorn pattern and a dinosaur theme. This patterned lunch bag has a 4.7-star average rating from more than 1,100 reviews on Amazon
This PackIt lunch box can be flattened and placed inside the freezer overnight to help the walls — which equip non-toxic cooling gel — stay cold enough to help keep food and drinks cold for hours, according to the brand. In addition to a soft-sided zip interior that can hold a kid’s bento box and a 12-ounce drink, the lunch box has a slim exterior zip pocket that can hold ID cards, napkins, wipes and more, and its buckle handle lets your child clip it onto their backpack, PackIt says. Available in over a dozen kid-friendly patterns, the lunch bag has a 4.8-star average rating from more than 1,400 reviews on Amazon.
If you’re looking for a splurge option, this lunch bag from YETI uses the same rubber foam insulation as many of its soft-sided coolers to keep food cold (though ice packs are sold separately). It’s equipped with a magnetic Thermo Snap closure to ensure a consistent temperature, and the size of the bag can be adjusted using its hook-and-loop grid, according to the brand. This type of closure may be more difficult for younger children, making this a better option for tweens and teens. Available in 15 colors, the bag has a 4.7-star average rating from over 2,000 reviews on Amazon.
Top-rated bento boxes and lunch containers for kids
Bento boxes and containers can keep your child’s food compartmentalized and prevent a giant mess when they’re at school. Both bento boxes and containers can be used on their own or inside a lunch box — since most are not insulated, it’s better to put them inside a lunch bag.
Bentgo makes some of our favorite bento boxes for adults, and its Bentgo Kids line has just as high of ratings — this lunch box has a 4.7-star average rating from over 56,600 reviews on Amazon. It has five compartments with ideal serving sizes for kids ages 3 to 7, the brand says. The tray is both microwave-safe and dishwasher-safe, according to Bentgo, and you can choose from more than a dozen designs, including Safari, Unicorns and Space Rockets.
If you prefer to meal prep at the beginning of the week, this bento box set comes with seven reusable containers, each of which has three compartments for snacks, sandwiches and more. The plastic containers are microwave-, freezer- and dishwasher-safe, though the brand says they’re not entirely leakproof, so it’s better to use them for solid foods that won’t spill. The Youngever Bento Lunch Boxes have a 4.6-star average rating from more than 3,500 reviews on Amazon.
This bento lunch box has a 4.5-star average from over 2,500 reviews on Amazon. It comes with a removable BPA-free plastic insert that has 5 compartments and is dishwasher-safe, according to the brand. The snap lid is easy for little hands to open and it has a silicone seal to help make it leak-proof, says Simple Modern. This option comes in 22 kid-friendly prints, including Paw Patrol, Frozen, Spiderman and more.
This bento box has three compartments, one of which fits an included stainless steel thermos that can keep foods like soup and pasta warm for up to 6 hours, according to the brand. THe other two compartments are insulated to keep food cool, allowing you to pack both hot and cold items. The lid of the bento box snaps closed and has a rubber seal around the edge to prevent leaks and it is made from BPA-free plastic, says Omie. This bento box has a 4.5-star average from over 11,700 reviews on Amazon.
What to keep in mind when shopping for kids lunch boxes
As mentioned, there are two popular vessels to pack a child’s lunch. The first is insulated lunch boxes, which are zippered cases you can fill with containers and bags of food. The second is bento-style boxes, which are cases that have different built-in compartments for foods. To determine the style that will be best suited to your child, experts recommend considering the following factors.
- Your child’s needs: When assessing different types of lunch boxes, think about how much food your child eats during the day. Bento-style boxes can be a good option for younger children, as they tend to have compartments for smaller portion sizes, says Malkani. They also allow you to include many different items. “Getting kids to eat a variety of foods can be a hard job for parents, says Jodi Danen, a registered dietician nutritionist and the author of Super Simple Cooking For Kids. Offering up a variety of items can be a good way of making sure they eat. A regular lunch box, on the other hand, allows you to pack bigger items and items that may not fit into a compartment (like yogurt or banana), says Danen.
- Other items they may need: Bento-style boxes tend to fit only food. If your child needs a water bottle, napkins or flatware, a lunch box may be a better option, says Malkani. If you are packing items that need to be kept cold (such as deli meat or yogurt), a lunch box or bag may be a better option because they often have room for an ice pack, something most bento boxes can’t accommodate. As Malkani points out, you can always put a bento-style lunch box into a zippered lunch box with an ice pack and other needed utensils.
- The amount of wear and tear it will face: Does your kid have a tendency to spill things? Do they cram their backpack so full of stuff that a sandwich may get squished in there? If so, a plastic bento-style lunch box may be a good fit. “Hard shell lunch boxes are generally easier to clean,” says Malkani. They will also protect food a bit better than a soft shell bag.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Malina Malkani is a registered dietician nutritionist and author of Simple and Safe Baby-Led Weaning.
- Jodi Danen is a registered dietician nutritionist, the founder of Founder of Create Kids Club and the author of Super Simple Cooking For Kids.
Why trust Select?
Morgan Greenwald is a former senior editor for Select on NBC News.
Mili Godio is an updates editor for Select on NBC News.
Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two experts to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for kids lunch boxes.