Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

What are you Packing? Bento Style Lunch Box {REVIEW}

September 23rd, 2013 · 42 Comments · What to Buy

Bento Style Lunch Box Review

If I’ve packed over 400 lunches in bento boxes, do I get to be an expert yet? (Maybe 500?)

That’s two years straight for one child plus a month for two children, plus many odd days for summer camp, road trips traveling with the whole family, and excursions like zoo trips and baseball games.

It feels like a lot of lunches, and I have some pretty strong opinions about the bento style lunch boxes, both stainless steel and plastic, that I’ve been able to run through the gauntlet the past few years.

I hope you enjoyed last week’s reusable sandwich and snack bag reviews, and today we’ll finish up equipping you for a no-waste lunch.

Bento Lunch Box Reviews

Bento Lunch Boxes for review - stainless steel and plastic (18) (475x317)

When I first reviewed my initial bento style lunch box three years ago, I got crabby about the fact that one of them wasn’t quite tall enough to fit a large, stacked sandwich made with my thick and inflexible homemade sourdough bread – so I think it’s pretty ironic that I never have bread in the house anymore and don’t really “do” sandwiches. The box is now perfect for us.

I’m listing these more or less in order of preference, favorite to least favorite. It turns out the two I’ve had for a few years rate higher in my book than the others. I’ll be honest and say that certainly there’s a chance familiarity plays a role in my favoritism, but it could also be that I already had the good ones and shouldn’t have branched out. Winking smile

Bento Style Lunch Box: Lunchbot

Lunchbot (475x317)

Found at: Lunchbot, Amazon, Life Without Plastic
Current price: $17-21.50
Material: 18/8 stainless steel
Number of compartments: 1-4; we have the trio (pictured above, linked to Amazon) and quad, 20 fl. oz. or 600 mL

Roast Chicken and Rice Pudding lunch fb

How it works:

Stainless steel is fastened together (soldered?) to make dividers in these rounded rectangular boxes. The lid fits on tightly, but not watertight, and I’m sure if you dropped the whole thing it would go flying off (we luckily haven’t had that problem yet). I find it hard to decide sometimes between the two larger sections in the trio and having one more section numerically with the quad.

Car lunch for an adult

Advantages:

  • No plastic at all
  • Longevity – ours are still in perfect shape, as nice as when we started using them three years and one year ago (I added the trio last fall).
  • Dishwasher safe – why I would choose the stainless lid without paint, every time (the paint coming off is the only sign of wear)
  • I enjoy the structure of having a certain number of boxes to fill and actually really like when they’re all the same (no decisions on which is the better place for which food)
  • Very easy to open and close fully
  • Fits well in many shapes and sizes of lunch box
  • Deep enough to fit a whole muffin

cold leftovers example

Disadvantages:

  • Liquids or liquid-y things like mustard, juicy tomatoes, etc. run under the divider walls, which are not soldered to the floor of the box.
  • They don’t “nest” in the cupboard (although with lids on they stack nicely)
  • Not much flexibility in size of compartment if you just have one box (but this does not bother me, hardly ever! I like four squares…)

Real Food School lunch example (8) (475x356)

Star Feature: Uncomplicated eco-friendly option, just the right size for my K-3rd graders with a yogurt on the side.

pumpkin pancakes with yogurt cheese (6) (475x317)

Major Drawback? Not being water tight would bug some people, and the inner corners can be tough to clean with some foods, but the dishwasher does a pretty good job.

Bento Style Lunch Box: ECOlunchboxes 3-in-1

ECOlunchbox 3-in-1 (475x317)

Found at: ECOlunchboxes, Amazon
Current price: $25
Material: food-grade stainless steel 205
Number of compartments: 3 (1/2 cup in the smaller container, and the whole thing is 4 x 5.5 x 2.5″)

How it works:

There’s one large rectangular compartment on the bottom and a matching size on top, then an optional small rectangular box with a lid that can fit in the top compartment (but not the bottom). The top is the lid for the bottom, and its lid is secured in place by two large clips on either side that hold the whole thing together.

ECOlunchbox 3 in 1 w cheesy beef and mac and tomatoes

Advantages:

  • Eco-friendly material, no plastic at all
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Longevity – after 3 long years of lots of use, everything still is going great. For the first time, just a few days before I wrote this post, one of the clips fell right off. I just about freaked out, but it slid right back in and seems to be in fine shape now – woo hoo!
  • Super easy to open, except the little box is sometimes tough for small fingers. Kids also know with 100% certainty when it’s closed properly, so no leaks in the lunch box between lunchtime and home.
  • Flexibility – you can use just the large top portion, just the small box, both of those together, just the top and bottom, or all three. That’s cool and very handy sometimes.

ecolunchgear lunch example egg salad (2) (500x375)

Disadvantages:

  • The bottom of the top compartment has been the lid for the base during the travel to school…so it can be messy to set aside on the table.
  • It drives me nuts sometimes when I realize I put something in the bottom that would go well with the little box and then it won’t fit. If I could redesign it, I’d give the base another half inch to allow the extra box container to fit in either top or bottom.
  • Doesn’t quite fit humongous sandwiches on homemade bread – but that doesn’t really matter to me anymore around here!
  • Not leakproof, although darn close. I trust the small box with applesauce or dip.
  • Lots of pieces to keep together and store; don’t “nest.”

Star Feature: Flexibility of sizes, no plastic, and knowing for sure that it’s closed all the way

Major Drawback? Can be a little tall for flat lunch boxes (but still fits fine), the gooey bottom thing. Somewhat pricey.

Note: You can also buy other styles (not stacking) and even the little rectangular inserts a la carte. It would be very handy to have more of those around, come to think of it…

Bento Style Lunch Box: Ziploc Divided Containers

lunch example in Ziploc divided container (22) (475x317)

Found at: Amazon, Target, other retailers
Current price: 2 for $6.78
Material: BPA-free polypropylene plastic
Number of compartments: 3 (small 4 fl. oz/100mL, medium 6 fl. oz/175 mL, and large 22 fl. oz./650 mL)

How it works: Classic Ziploc container lid, but all three compartments are individually leak-proof – unique among the containers I tested!

I picked these up at Target last month because folks reminded me that not everyone can afford the up front investment of stainless steel, and I wanted to see how they compared. You can find a very similar style under the Easy Lunchboxes brand (at Amazon, currently 4/$13.95 – 7 colors, but the description says they’re not leakproof!).

lunch example in Ziploc divided container (2) (475x317)

Advantages:

  • 3 leak-proof compartments
  • Very roomy
  • Easy enough for even kindergarten fingers to open
  • Dishwasher safe (top rack)
  • Only two pieces – simple to put together and anyone can put them away without being confused
  • Stack nicely in the cupboard “nested”
  • UPDATE: Reader notes that they’re inexpensive enough to replace if kids (or, ahem, husband) forget to bring them home. Good point!

Grain-free Real Food Lunchable

Holding the egg salad are a small Kids Konserve stainless steel container on top and the ECOlunchbox insert on bottom.

Disadvantages:

  • Plastic
  • I question the longevity – in my experience with Ziploc containers, within a year to a few years, the lid will start to crack. Dropping can be a disaster. UPDATE: My 5-year-old daughter, who is an incredibly careful little girl, came home with a big chunk missing from the main compartment one day. That was 2/3 of the way through the first school year, and I’d estimate that I use these only once every 2 weeks. Not a good track record!!
  • Cleaning – they might be dishwasher safe, but they take up a lot of space and always come out wet, so you have to hand dry or find a place to air dry anyway. We generally default to hand-washing plastics to prolong their life.
  • A bit large for all 4 lunch boxes we happen to own (but this is obviously debatable depending on your lunch box style) – readers say they fit in most standard kids’ lunch boxes perfectly.

Bento Lunch Boxes for review - stainless steel and plastic (13) (475x317)

You can see relative size of the Ziploc container here: it’s about as big as the Planetbox Shuttle plus its open lid (right column center) – meaning total space for food is about twice as much.

The way we pack lunches, with a yogurt always included, makes these a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it’s so cool to be able to put the yogurt right in the box. On the other hand, it’s harder to make yogurts for a few days “assembly line style” because these are so huge, and also there’s only two compartments left after the yogurt takes one, which kind of cramps my style. Silicone dividers (found on Amazon) for the big section are handy if you’re not packing a sandwich.

That said, this format is still my favorite after the two stainless ones I enjoy most.

Tacos for lunch fb

Star Feature: The leakproof compartments can’t be understated. Price is great.

Major Drawback? Longevity and size.

The Healthy Lunch BoxLooking for ideas to fill your bento boxes and wish you knew what was in all those yummy pictures? I gathered up 45 recipes that are NOT sandwiches and are perfect for any age! Whether you are gluten-free or simply looking to get out of the PB&J rut, you’ll find something for the kids, spouse, or even yourself. Having grab-and-go lunches is perfect for summer outings, too!

Get the whole premium package with bonus printables and Kindle/Nook files right HERE.

 

Other “Bento Boxes”

After a few years of packing lunches and sharing occasional photos and ideas, people began to ask me this summer if I would do an official comprehensive bento box review. I contacted a few companies that came up when I searched for other “bento boxes,” and I got some new lunch kits and bento boxes to test out.

A friend was visiting soon after I received all the goodies, and I spread them out and showed them off. After every one, she came to the conclusion: I don’t see how they’re any better than the hinged lunch boxes with the thermos inside that we used to use in elementary school!

And she was right. With all of these, you still have to find a place for your drink outside the box. You still need an additional carrying case for most of them, one that will fit an ice pack and a drink. If you had little containers to populate the old-school lunch boxes, lunch would actually be more contained in one box and still just as “reusable.”

Sometime, new and improved/eco-friendly isn’t always actually better. I’m not crazy about any of these styles – even though they’re just fine as lunch boxes go – but I really have to list them randomly because I’m not sure any are above the others. UPDATE: Readers disagreed with me about one in particular; see the comments for more discussion! Let’s take a look:

Bento Style Lunch Box: Laptop Lunches

laptop lunch box (4)

Found at: Laptop Lunches, Amazon
Current price: $23.99-$29.88
Material: HDPE and PP BPA-free plastic
Number of compartments: 4 (volumes: 1.25 cup, 1.67 cup, .75 cup and .67 cup)

How it works:

One large rectangular lunch box holds four small compartments of various sizes, two of which have lids and two don’t, plus a smaller dip container with a lid. There’s a slot along the edge for utensils but nowhere for a drink. The lid is hinged and latches by sliding one piece of plastic under another strip of plastic until it hooks together.

laptop lunch box (1) (317x475)

Advantages:

  • Leakproof compartments (the 2 with lids)
  • Can move containers in different layouts
  • Dishwasher safe, top rack only
  • Lots of space for food
  • Easy to stack if you have multiples
  • Microwave safe if you need that for work – but mic’ing plastic still is not okay in my book! I send 2-cup Pyrex glass containers with my husband.

Disadvantages:

  • Plastic
  • You have to stay on top of which lids go with which containers so you don’t pour yogurt into one that doesn’t have a lid.
  • Very difficult for young children to open the outside container: We had a training session where my 8yo taught my 5yo how to open the box. After many tries she finally got it, but she still couldn’t open the box once she got to school with it. The inside containers can be tricky too.
  • I worry that the plastic hinge on the exterior box won’t last very long, but I don’t have anything to back that up. It just looks sensitive and thin. I stand corrected! Multiple readers in the comments let me know that their Laptop Lunches have lasted a very long time – that’s great!
  • Coming out of the dishwasher, everything is wet and needs to be laid out to air dry anyway – all potentially EIGHT pieces of interior containers and lids, plus you already have to wash the outer box separately since it would take up far too much space in the dishwasher.
  • Lots of pieces to keep track of and no nesting possible. Corrected by readers again – you can nest if you have more than one. Great!
  • Large box but still no room for a drink or ice pack, so you still need an insulated lunch box, and a big one at that. Laptop Lunches does sell a few styles of lunch boxes that will fit a drink and ice pack with the box.

egg salad, veggie nuggets, grapes and yogurt - Laptop lunchbox (1) (475x310)

Star Feature: The volume/space for food is nice and big, and the four compartments are good sizes and easy to use – although not appropriate for sandwich packing.

Major Drawback? If you’re going to store and wash all those plastic pieces anyway, you might as well have a lunch box that can hold your beverage, so I’d just use a bunch of plastic Ziploc or Glad containers and a big lunch box instead. UPDATE: Readers totally disagreed with me on this because Laptop Lunches does sell great lunchboxes that hold the drink, and folks really like them especially for adults and older kids. That makes a lot of sense since my kids are still younger, so perhaps that’s why I liked the other options better. If you’re cool with plastic, you might really like Laptop Lunches.

Bento Style Lunch Box: Leaflet Tight Box

Leaflet Tight bento box (475x317)

Found at: Allthingsforsale.com
Current price: $8.99
Material: poplypropylene BPA-free plastic, ABS plastic (lid)
Number of compartments: 3, removable (500 mL total)

How it works:

The box has 3 small dishes that can only go in one way but are removable. The lid has two flaps that click down on the sides, and the box itself is watertight – I just tested it to make sure – but each individual cup would not be.

Homemade Meat and Cheese Lunchable (3) (475x317)

Advantages:

  • Easy to open and close
  • Watertight – if you wanted a small rectangle box for something fluid (but not with the inserts)
  • Fairly easy to clean – dishwasher safe top rack, although we don’t wash the lid

Disadvantages:

  • So small! Notice that this has less capacity than just the one large compartment of the Ziploc container. It’s just perfect for my 2-year-old, but comes close to inadequate even for my kindergartner with a yogurt on the side.
  • Plastic is always a concern over stainless steel. The lid is made of ABS, which is an acronym for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a copolymer thermoplastic manufactured from the polymerization of Styrene and Acrylonitrile in the presence of Polybutadiene. Hmmmm. The Wiki article on it never mentions food uses. Not crazy about that.
  • Lots of pieces to wash and keep track of; won’t nest but will stack for storage.
  • The boxes only fit in exactly one way because of the rounded edges, so it’s just not as quick to put together for storage as it could be.
  • I worry about the longevity of the moving parts on the lid. When I chatted with Shaina of Food for my Family after reading her lunch reviews with interest, she mentioned that her kids had easily broken a few lids of that style.
  • Comes with a fabric bag that is next to useless for actual lunch packing – we need an insulated lunch box and room for a drink, at least, if not supplemental containers.

Star Feature: The locking lid is nice.

Major Drawback? Did I mention this is too small for anyone over 3 or 4 years old? If I wanted a box that had 3 compartments, I’d go with Lunchbots stainless steel in a second.

Note: Allthingsforsale.com (Bento USA) has quite a number of other options, including some stainless steel versions that I would have preferred to test out over the plastic box I received, and this plastic one or this one (affordable plastic version of the Lunchbot in my estimation) would negate most of my negative reviews of the small one while retaining the positives. Between that and the fun accessories, it’s worth browsing.

Looking for something to label all your containers and bottles so that if they get left behind they find their way back to you? Look no further than Mabel’s Labels. While I did receive a sample to test, I’m now a believer! After three years of near-daily use in lunches and through the dishwasher, the labels look the same as the day I put them on. I think I’ll need more as each kid enters school!

 

Bento Style Lunch Box: Planetbox Shuttle

Planetbox Shuttle (1) (475x317)

Found at: Planetbox.com
Current price: $39.95 ($34.95 without bag)
Material: stainless steel
Number of compartments: two plus a round “dip” container with a lid

Planetbox simple lunch (1)

How it works:

The bottom is all one piece of stainless steel with a hinged lid that adds a bit of headroom to each compartment (which are not watertight from each other or the exterior). The dip container fits in either space and has a lid with a silicone seal. A large clip keeps the whole thing closed, and it comes with an insulated bag and magnets for the top.

School Lunch Planetbox Squooshi

Advantages:

  • Safe materials, no plastic
  • Easy to open and close (except the dip container can be tricky)
  • Dip container can be super handy!
  • Dishwasher safe, but a bit tricky to fit sometimes because the lid is attached (not dip container lid)

Disadvantages:

Planetbox Shuttle in case (3) (475x317)

 

  • Size – the Shuttle is Planetbox’s “snack” size, and it really doesn’t measure up for lunches, although I’ve been able to use it for my kindergartner with a yogurt on the side. I wouldn’t recommend this size though, and the larger size is holy-cow-expensive.
  • Price
  • The carry case is cute and insulated, BUT there’s not really room in it for anything else, and who needs an insulated snack bag only? If you do, Planetbox is perfect, but I need room for an ice pack, a drink, and more food!
  • The magnets are distracting – they go under the clip a bit, which isn’t attractive, they’re not exactly fun to play with, and you have to take them off to wash and then keep track of them to store. I’d like to see a Planetbox with no magnets and no case and see if it competes better with the Lunchbot, which I would choose hands down over this version anytime. I’d also love to try the larger Planetbox to see if I like it better – it does have a leakproof container that fits right in, so it may be the perfect all-in-one solution, but man, is it pricey!
    Planetbox simple lunch (2)
  • I hope the longevity of the hinge would be acceptable, but I can’t be sure…
  • We just realized this week that water gets under the silicone seal of the dip container while washing, and although at least you can take it out to dry, it’s one more little piece to bother with while hand-washing things.

 

Star Feature: Safe material, easy to open and close

Major Drawback? Too small, too expensive – the next size up can be purchased for $39.95 without any extra cups or a bag…but that’s still pricey in my book.

Bento Style Lunch Box: Monbento

Monbento lunch box (3) (475x317)

Found at: Monbento.com
Current price: 28.90 (pounds? I don’t do much with currency exchange…)
Material: BPA-free plastic
Number of compartments: 2, one with a divider (34 fl. oz. total/1 L)

How it works:

Two long rectangular compartments, each with its own lid, stack on top of each other with one final lid on top and an elastic band around the whole thing. There’s a small divider that you can put anywhere you like in either of the compartments to create a second space to separate the food.

Monbento lunch box (2) (475x317)

Advantages:

  • Big enough to suffice
  • Cool set up with the stacking
  • Microwave-safe with vents, if you need that for work (but mic’ing plastic is NOT on my list of okay activities!)

Monbento Lunch (3)

Disadvantages:

  • Plastic
  • Difficult to open lids, even for me as an adult
  • Lots of parts to keep track of; not all that easy to stack with the top lid being rounded (unless you store that one separately)
  • Can be rather tall for some lunch boxes
  • Mine has French words on the top – for kids for whom appearances are important, this one is pretty dated. BUT most of the styles are the same price and are solid colors, very attractive.
  • Pricey

Star Feature: Roomy, unique stacking

Major Drawback? Plastic and hard to open; mostly I just don’t see a reason to go with this one over some of the others.

Options for Yogurt on the Side

As I’ve mentioned above, we have a homemade yogurt in the lunch box just about every day. Other than Laptop Lunches and the Ziploc containers, all the boxes need a  little help sending something fluid like yogurt. Here are some we’ve used:

cold leftovers example smaller

DSC08573 (475x356)

Life Without Plastic small stainless steel containers, shown above: Our ultimate favorite. They never leak, anyone can open them, and they’re just the right size. The bowl is dishwasher safe and the lid isn’t hard to wash. We’ve had the one I used almost every day for my son for 3 years and I just ordered a half dozen more, because my husband is sick of the glass containers leaking and he wanted the good stuff, too.

glass containers for lunch

Pyrex or Anchor Hocking Glass One-Cup Containers (top left and right): These work okay, but every so often they leak and they’re certainly heavier than stainless steel. The lids will only last a few years before getting cracks in them, even without much dishwasher cleaning. They’re also quite difficult for a child to open the lid and often would urp yogurt out during the opening process. My son requested “no more!”

The newer Anchor lids (green, below) which I ordered from Mighty Nest are better, a bit easier to open and close. I would look for a stack of 4 of them at a local store, since the prices for a singleton online seem exorbitant!

Real Food School lunch example (6) (475x356)

Ziploc one-cup Plastic containers: Pretty much the same performance as glass containers but lighter and the lids break faster. Plastic is always a slight concern, even though it’s BPA-free. You just never know what will be the next issue discovered in plastics. These twist-on lids seem like they would cause fewer problems, if plastic is the best option for you.

School Lunch Ziploc with Squooshi

Squooshis: I reviewed Squooshis HERE, and they’re really fun for my kids to have in their lunches. We freeze yogurt/fruit smoothies in them. (Also pictured above in the Laptop Lunches and Planetbox sections)

lunch example in Ziploc divided container (17) (475x317)

Kinderville silicone popsicle molds: Frozen yogurt smoothies are great in these, easy to eat, the kids can get them open (and closed, thankfully!), and they fit – just barely – inside a Ziploc divided container. My review is here. (Another brand many use: Norpro, found on Amazon)


Bento Accessories

Lunch Box Bento accessories

I never thought I would enjoy having cutesy accessories for lunch packing, which already seems to take too long and be such a chore. My husband’s first comment was, “Looks like more dishes to wash to me!”

Sandwiches without bread for lunch (26)

To some extent, he’s right. On the other hand, I’ve found I really appreciate having the little silicone cups, although the medium sized ones I reviewed are not a great size. The tiny ones are nice for dips but can still get a mess on the lids. I’d rather have something slightly larger to really separate foods. Having a package on hand will add a lot of versatility to whatever box you choose.

Meat and Cheese Crepes with Cutouts (1) (475x317)

I enjoy the tiny cookie cutters and simply rinse and air dry, so they’re not much more work, although I do have to think about using them.

Homemade Meat and Cheese Lunchable (16)

The food picks and toppers are fun and cute, and my 5yo daughter loves using them like a fork. (Here they are on Amazon.)We also coordinated the colors with the “color days” in kindergarten as they practiced their colors, a nice connection to the school curriculum.

Rainy Day sausage, pears, vegs and guac fb2

I’m sad to admit that I haven’t used the CuteZCute Food Deco Cutter (found on Amazon) even though it is incredibly cute and looks fun. I forgot about it the few times I packed pancakes, rarely have cheese big enough, and really don’t do sandwiches. However, the reviews on Amazon are pretty positive, so if being cute is your thing – this is a fun indulgence to have on hand. (I did use the bear shape to separate foods in a bento box, so it’s still getting some use!)

Sandwiches without bread for lunch (31) (317x475)

What About Hot Food?

We do have a couple thermoses around and send a lot of soup in the winter. My son used this one all last year and my husband uses this one, which is bigger. The Kids Konserve brand is great for little hands because it’s so narrow:

I discuss a lot more about properly prepping the thermos and how to heat the food so it really stays warm in The Healthy Lunch Box along with tips on keeping food cold all day.

The Winners: What Would I Buy?

If I was starting from scratch, I’d get a Lunchbot brand or two for sure and consider an ECOlunchbox as a backup with a Life Without Plastic container for yogurt. I would get some food picks, one set of stainless steel food cutters, and silicone muffin cups, probably as stocking stuffers because they’re fun and I always need more little stocking stuffer ideas that aren’t completely junky. If I needed extras or didn’t want to invest in stainless, I think I’d go to Target and grab some Ziploc containers but keep the stainless ones on my own Christmas wish list!

You can survive with one of each, but having two per child is a lot easier so you don’t have to rush to get the dishes done every day AND so you can bulk pack or pack the next day’s lunch while the child is still at school.

What are your favorite lunch container options? Would you/do you use the cutesy accessories?

More Healthy / Green Lunch Packing Ideas:

Are expensive gadgets and specialty foods really worth the cost? Read these super-thorough reviews to see if the item you have your eye on passed the KS tests and truly lives up to the hype.

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Disclosure: I received some of these boxes free for review for the purposes of this post, although no money changed hands. Some were three years ago, and the Lunchbot trio and Ziploc boxes I purchased. A few links in this post are affiliate links, from which I will earn commission if you make a purchase, but it doesn’t cost you any more: ECOlunchboxes, Lunchbot, Monbento, Mabel’s Labels and Amazon. See my full disclosure statement here.

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42 Comments so far ↓

  • Bethany W

    Wonderful review, Katie! My only question … what do you use for transporting hot foods, like soup? Curious what thermos items have passed muster in your home.

    Have you played around with Lunchbots’ leak proof containers much?

    Jen @ Eating My Vegetables Reply:

    The discussion of thermos items has come up many times with friends, and pretty much all of them are tricky – you really have to pre-heat or pre-cool the container, and then tighten it to just the right tightness, otherwise they are too hard to open. I just have a standard thermos brand one, but I’ve heard the same story about all of them.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Bethany,
    I’ll turn it over to Laura at MOMables for that one: http://www.momables.com/how-long-is-it-safe-to-keep-food-hot-in-a-thermos/ She did the real testing! ;) I just have two different ones, the one at Life Without Plastic for the husband (lifewithoutplastic.com/) and this one for the kids: http://mightynest.com/shop/reusable-gear/food-containers/insulated-food-containers/stainless-steel-thermos plus a similar shape/size that I grabbed at a garage sale. I like that the kids’ one is narrow; I don’t think they could open the larger one b/c their hands wouldn’t span far enough. Jen is right about the tightness, though – it’s worth it to practice with the child to see if they can open it independently. I’m curious to see how it goes with the new kindergartner since we haven’t tried hot soup yet…

    And no, I haven’t tried Lunchbots’ new ones, but I’m curious! They look like they’re constructed like the Leaflet Tight one above.
    :) Katie

  • Jen @ Eating My Vegetables

    Not that you want to try another place, but I’ve been looking at these: http://store.kidskonserve.com/ they look fairly decent on price, claim to have leak proof lids (and replacement lids) and I like the sizes. Of course, I’m not looking for packing lunch for school, just all of our typical running around.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Hi Jen! I actually do have a few of the Kids Konserve round containers, but I feel that they’re hard to open and harder to close (read: yogurt everywhere). That is the brand of thermos we have though! :) Katie

  • Christina

    We’ve been using the planetbox lunch boxes for a year now. They were really expensive, and have lasted great without any issues. I do wish that I had more flxibility now, though. The bags are gross, and we need new ones, but I kind of want to have a few options for packing lunches, and those only fit their lunch boxes. I do like having lots of small compartments–forces me to put lots of options in each lunch, not that they eat them anyway….
    One question: What bags do you use? Would the lunchbot fit in standard bags? I guess I have years and years of school lunches in my future, so it wouldn’t hurt to invest. I hate having to turn the lunch boxes around so quickly!
    Also, I’ve started to use a cuisinart mixing bowl with a lid for my lunch more often than not–big salad.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Christina,
    The Lunchbot fits in every bag we have – all of which were just grabbed at garage sales. I’m a $1-2 price range kind of girl! I should take a pic of the ones we use and post on Facebook this week – they’re nothing special, but you could see sizes. :) Katie

  • Maria

    Very interesting! My kids pack their own lunches, and prefer the easy lunchboxes over their planet boxes (the only one who prefers the planet box is my oldest, because the planet box (full size) has more room.

  • liz

    ZWe lovelove our laptop lunch set – and have for five years! No hinge breakage. Your friend is not wrong, that the outer “sleeve” is the same ashaving a lunchbox, but the sleeves are way more professional for a working parent. Anyway, they actually do nest by size – we have all of ours in three stacks. Biggest (it only comes with bento buddies and is twice as big as th ebig one you have, for salads) big, small, and dip containers are in tthe topmost big. My 2 yo is….stubborn….and can open them but most of the kids at Sunday school can’t .

    I do wish they weren’t plastic, but everything else is absolutely perfect. We love the total flexibility of the container sizes.

    Stephanie M Reply:

    We have had our Laptop Lunchboxes for 5 years as well. I had to replace one lid ($1) that the dog took off, but it has held up super well for us. It was a required school supply item at our preschool for kids who stayed all day. The 3 year olds needed help opening at the beginning of the year, but they caught on fairly quickly.

    I find that they nest very well, except I put the lids separately. The outer container gets a rinse if it needs one, but I only send the containers through the dishwasher on Friday because we use them every day.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Liz,
    Ah, I can see how having multiple sets would give a lot of flexibility – and what, really, no He-Man and Thundercats at work??? ;) Good point about that, and I’ll update the post with your notes so I’m fair to Laptop Lunches!

    Also – I think I have a 2yo who would get along great with yours. ;) Katie

  • h

    So, great article…but in the end…what is the winner? I want something not too expensive and not plastic…which container wins?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    H,
    If you want no plastic, I’d get a Lunchbot hands down, and if you like to send yogurt or fluid stuff, grab a Life Without Plastic container for it. They’re great!! :) Katie

  • Annette

    We use the ziplock with easy lunch box. This has worked great for us for 5 years. I have had to replace both the Tupperware and the lunch bag but I like the size of them. My kids eat A LOT! We also use a thermos for hot foods.

  • Cinnamon Vogue

    Great review. I wish there was a thermos Bento box in one rectangular container in the adult and child sizes to take hot food and not have to reheat it.

    Kids are messy with multiple thermos Bento’s that are stackable, so a single square or rectangular Bento thermos is the best. Bento’s I think were designed for cold food.

    Of course I prefer the stainless steel Bento boxes but it is useless for hot food, which is what I like to eat.

    Ultimately for most people a reheat able plastic square Bento boxes (even though plastic is bad) is the most practical since most parents/adults do not have the patience to make hot food in the morning for their children’s or their own lunch boxes.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I wondered if anyone made a square insulated lunchbox, and found some round ones that stack and lock together: http://casabento.com/shop/en/2152-zojirushi-bento-box-beige.html and http://casabento.com/shop/en/369-bento-box-zojirushi-classic.html

    They look cute! :) Katie

  • Tiffany

    Thanks for your review! You proved several of my theories about some of the boxes I checked out. We settled on the Ziploc containers. No, I’m not thrilled they’re plastic but the fact that each compartment is leak-proof and my kindergartner can open it with ease totally gives it the win. Also, most bento boxes I’ve seen don’t have a very straight forward way of keeping things chilled, which bothers me. Plus, I swear Ziploc made that specific size based on the standard size of your typical kids lunch box, fits snug as a bug in a rug. The large compartment fits a juice box and half sandwich perfectly.

  • LB

    OMG. I love you. Thank you so much for this posting/review. I was hesitant to jump into stainless bento boxes because of price, but the glass we have is so heavy and sometimes tricky to open for my kids (and I am just waiting for their school to tell me they can’t bring glass, or some such thing).

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    LB,
    Right back at ya – and you will love the top 2 stainless, and they’ll last forever! :) Katie

  • Susan

    We also have the LaptopLunch box (but only for outings as my boys are just 3 and almost-5). I love it, though the plastic is not my favorite. It’s big enough to pack lunch for both my kiddos and we have also the lunch bag with water bottle and pockets for ice packs and cloth napkins.

    You CAN put a sandwich in the larger box that doesn’t have a lid – cut it in half and stack it or cut it into quarters and put them in vertically (does that make sense?) You may have to cut the crusts off depending on how wide your bread is, and no, it wouldn’t work with thick-sliced homemade bread.

    I love the little picks – I think my oldest would absolutely love them!

    My husband uses the Ziploc containers for his lunch, and I love that they are cheap enough to easily replace if (when) he forgets to bring them home. I just picked up a set of two of the large silicone muffin cups in the Target Dollar Spot yesterday!

  • Amy K

    We purchased the laptop lunch kit when my now 8th grader was 4 years old! We bought the bag with a drink holder on the side (& space for an ice pack inside) & an extra set of inside containers. There was never an issue with opening the box. The set was passed down & my youngest is using it for the 3rd year. We did buy a new bag for her as she wanted a more girly outer. No comlaints whatsoever here!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Amy,
    Wow, thank you for sharing – I’ll definitely update the post to be more fair to Laptop Lunches. Sounds like people really like them! :) Katie

  • Amy D.

    I have been making bento for years and I must say that I much prefer the boxes WITHOUT the dividers. I am able to utilize the space so much better. When I do need a divider, I use lettuce leaves. I do still use silicone cups for fruit (“dessert” in my bento), though.

  • Stephanie

    We bought the medium sized Planetbox kit. It came with a carrier, two extra cups with lids, magnets and the lunch box itself. It is a tad but expensive but it’s more food than my first grader will normally eat, so he eats whatever’s left for an after school snack. There’s also a place in the carrier for a drink (I use Klean Kanteen insulated wide mouth) and a snack or napkin. I think it will last a good, long time. I wash it in the dishwasher but don’t use the extra cup that came with it. Oh, and I bought the plain white magnets and let my son decorate them with his fave Batman stickers.

  • IndianaAnna

    We mostly use the Ziploc divided containers and this year I also got a couple of the Goodbyn Bynto containers. You can see a photo here http://instagram.com/p/eZlFq8IjgU/. I wasn’t sure I would like them, but I’m actually liking them better than the Ziploc. We also have two of the pottery barn spencer bento boxes. They are just OK. I use them on Fridays when I pack lunchable style “momables” lunches. You can see a photo of those here http://instagram.com/p/XKIg_5IjlJ/

    Linda Reply:

    Hi Indianna Anna, I am currently looking at buying the Spencer Bento lunch boxes (as I think they might hold enough for morning tea and lunch) for my children at school but wondered why you said they were only “ok”. I really wanted a stainless steel one, but the sizes don’t seem to suit the insulated carrier we currently have (which lasts around 12hours). The spencer bento seemed like the next best option for us but now I am hesitant from your comment. Can you elaborate?

  • LaRee

    I found there http://www.amazon.com/Smart-Planet-3-Compartment-Silicone-Collapsible/dp/B0051XRYF0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1380327237&sr=8-3&keywords=silicone+lunch+box+set at Ross or TJ Maxx a few months ago (for $10 instead of $20+), and have been LOVING them. My needs are slightly different, we homeschool so I don’t send lunches to school, but on music lesson day we need to eat lunch as we drive, so I had been using, and loving, the ziplock containers for that (one piece to hand to each kid out of the cooler, and one piece for them to hold on their lap and eat from). This is the same idea but bigger, I think it will last longer (as you suspected, over time the ziplock containers were showing wear and I figured it was a matter of time until one cracked), and collapse when we’re done).

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Those are cool! :) Katie

  • Helen

    In Australia you can get Decor Tellfresh Quarters from Woolworths/Coles and its a great product, perfect for dividing food types.

  • Carrie

    I appreciated this article so much, as I’ve just spent all evening looking up lunch boxes. I do have a random question….are any of those large enough to hold an entire unpeeled banana? It looked like a few compartments might, if it wasn’t for the curve of the banana! It’s not something I can leave out of my little guy’s lunch :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Carrie,
    Good question! I’m pretty sure that stacked green one could in a full compartment, and for a smaller banana, the Ziploc main compartment would do, too, but then you’re out of space for a lot of other things. The Laptop lunch box would if you left out 2 of the containers…personally, since a banana comes in its own “package,” I just tuck it in the lunchbox outside of the bento. ;) Katie

    Katharine in Brussels Reply:

    Hi Carrie and Katie,
    It can be nice to put a banana inside a box to avoid bruising in transit. You could try cutting the banana in half and putting it into the box, w/ or w/o lemon or lime juice or a splash of sugar and salt mixture to prevent browning. Here in Belgium banana containers are sold everywhere since schools ask parents to put the snack in a seperate bin, and this way the container has the child’s name instead of writing it on the peel.
    Thanks to Katie for this informative comparison.

  • Leora

    Thank you for this review! Now what I want to know are your recipes! Mini pancake sandwiches!!? So cute! Everything looks so delicious and nutritious : )

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Leora,
    Well thank you! :) I make pancake sandwiches with any leftover pancakes we have on hand and PB and honey. Easy peasy! One of our favorite recipes (mine because it has tons of veggies and the kids because they’re nice and moist) is this one: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/recipes/orange-vegetable-pancakes/

    I also have a whole book of lunch recipes, right here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2013/08/20/the-healthy-lunch-box-ebook/

    Hope that helps a little! :) Katie

  • Lisa

    I’ve been using the PlanetBox for a couple of years now (the bigger one), but I find that every fall I’m resentful of being forced to buy only the PlanetBox carrying bag because the darn metal box is too big to fit into any of the lunchbags sold by regular retailers.

  • Denise

    We love and use http://www.bentgo boxes. Great storage. Easy to clean and use!

  • Julie

    I have the lunchbots. I like the one and two compartment size, but gave up using the three compartment size because the lids are so impossible to get off, even adults can’t get it off.

    I think your review of the planet box is a little unfair because the shuttle isn’t meant to be their lunchbox size, the larger size is. I have been using the larger size for both my kids for the past three years (about to start our 4th year with them) and I can’t say enough good things about them. The quality is great. My kids love picking out the magnets they want, the bag that comes with it is PERFECT for carrying the lunch box, plus a water bottle, and a snack for snack time. I love the varied compartment sizes. And I just throw the silicone seals in the dishwasher with the rest of the lunchbox.

  • Kevin

    Very extensive summary. Thank you! I’d like to add a comment, however. You mention solder several times in the review. One of the basic components of solder is lead. It is toxic and should never be used in any item coming in contact with food. I am certain that none of the products listed here contain solder. Do not attempt to seal box compartments yourself with solder or any other material not approved for food contact.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Good call, thanks Kevin! I definitely don’t know everything – so however they attach the metal to metal must not be solder! :) Katie

  • Aline Costa

    I purchased the lunchbots quad and was super disappointed. a)too small for my 6 and a half year old, and b)the lid would pop open EVERY time. I don’t know if it was just mine, but she would have no lunch at school, because everything was disgusting. Did you ever have that happen with your lunchbots? And do you use the lunchbags that let your lunchbots lay flat, or do they lay upright? My daughter’s lunchbag is upright only, so i’m unsure if that could have been the reason. Although, no excuse!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Aline,
    Oh no, that’s so disappointing!! :( Our lunchboxes really do let the box lay flat, so I’m guessing that’s at least 50% of the discrepancy. The lid never seemed *that* loose, but perhaps slight manufacturing differences make them behave differently. We always have a yogurt next to the Lunchbot, but with the amount of time they have to eat, my kids both “fit” into it just great until this year, my 9yo upgraded to a larger size. But I’m sorry they were a poor fit for you in two ways! I wonder if the company would do anything for you? They are a small US company… Good luck! :) Katie

    Aline Costa Reply:

    I ended up returning the lunchbots. I wanted it to have worked so much!

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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