She’s a hard road finding the perfect lunch box, and let me tell you, I’ve been giving it a shot.
Lunch boxes are my current obsession. I trawl the internet for them. I scour shops for them. I stare at them at school and preschool. And here’s what I think now: the perfect lunchbox or lunchbag depends on your situation. I no long believe in one box to rule them all. But, the good news is there’s some really great lunchboxes around.
So – if finding the perfect lunchbox isn’t possible, what should you look for in a great lunch box?
Bigger isn’t always better but it is important.
There are some HUGE lunch boxes out there and kids don’t really need them to be that big – especially preschool children who are more likely to pick at a few things than gobble the lot. If you’re looking for a compact box, we’re fans of the Yumbox, or the Purple Princess. If you want something that fits a bit more, try the Bentology Laptop box.
One thing I have noticed about lunch boxes is that some can be quite shallow. I’ve found this tricky – especially for including fruit. It’s definitely worth considering whether you put whole fruit in your box before you buy as many boxes simply wouldn’t fit a whole apple or orange. The Goodbyn Hero is a great option if you’re looking for something a bit deeper.
Can you wash that baby?
Not all lunchboxes are made equally when it comes to cleaning them. A lunchbox that’s easy to wash and dry will make your life a million times easier and there’s nothing nastier than grimy corners.
Sometimes bento boxes can be a pain in this respect so check that you’re able to get into all of the corners of any box you buy. If you use a dishwasher, look for lunchboxes that are dishwasher safe, such as the Silicone Collapsible Bento and also that fit easily into the dishwasher. A lunchbox that sits awkwardly and takes up half of your dishwasher is more hassle than it’s worth.
I’ve run into a whole range of opinions on this. Some people prefer one large space so they can fill it with whatever they want. Larger spaces can give more flexibility and can be particularly useful if you include packets of food or larger pieces of fruit. Other people (ok, me) like divided spaces. Partly, the divided spaces appeal to a sense of order that I very occasionally engage, but I find you don’t have to wrap things, as they don’t run into each other. Much better for the environment
For older children, compartment boxes aren’t always practical. They usually take a more substantial lunch to school, and the food items don’t always fit into the specific compartments.
Again – the source of great angst for me! I’m not wild on plastic cling wrap etc so I like little containers. But I do get sick of washing them and keeping track of their lids. My kiddos are under very stern instructions about the containers for their lunch boxes and I check them like they’re the crown jewels.
It’s a fine balance and partly depends on what type of lunches you give your children. If it’s mostly a sandwich and fruit, you probably don’t need lots of containers. If you like to give lots of bits of things, you’ll want to go for a bento-style box. For the ultimate in container options, the Goodbyn Portions On-the-Go, is probably more container than box!
Hinges and latches
Hinges are a vexed issue in lunch boxes for me. We had a bad run a while ago when we bought several hinged boxes in a row and they quickly disintegrated. So I’ve been pretty down on hinged boxes.
But, if your children are anything like mine, they’ll need a lunch box that has a lid attached. If the lid can be peeled off completely, it can also be left on the tennis court, or thrown out with the afternoon rubbish!
You do, of course, get what you pay for and I’ve come across several hinged boxes that do seem to go the distance. I find hinged boxes are trickier in the dishwasher but maybe you’re not as lazy as me when it comes to washing your boxes.
For the ultimate in lunch box hinge hardware, check out the very cool PlanetBox lunchboxes. Their stainless steel comes with a 5 year warranty!
Related to hinges is latches. If you’ve got small children with little fingers, it’ll be important to look for a lunch box they can open by themselves. It’s a fine line, though, between boxes that open easily and those that fly open unexpectedly!
Lunch box covers
They’re an additional expense (and some are quite spendy) but I’m a fan of lunch box covers. They keep food cooler, protect the boxes and also stop the boxes coming open in the kids’ bags. Ew.
So there are some things to think about if you’re thinking about buying a new lunchbox for your kids. Finding the perfect lunchbox will depend a bit on your needs and the age of your children but we hope these suggestions help you to find one that is right for you.
Insulated lunch boxes
Keeping your child’s lunch cool not only makes it taste better, but it keeps their food safe, especially if their bags are hung out in the sun all day. Yoghurts, cheeses and cold meats are all foods that need to be kept cool, but your child will also appreciate fruit or sandwiches that aren’t hot and withered.
Insulated lunch boxes come in 2 basic styles. One has a zip open lid which sits flat like a standard lunch box, and the other is more like a bag with an opening at the top. Younger children like to be able to see all their lunch at once and make a choice, so a lidded version is probably better. Older children are quite happy to rummage around in an insulated bag. One down side of insulated bags is that you can’t just chuck them in the dishwasher or sink, as they need to be kept really clean or they tend to go mouldy.
Another option for chilling is the new resealable pouches on the market. You can chill drinks and smoothies in the pouch and throw this into a lunchbox to keep the other food chilled. We love the Kai Carrier pouches in our household and regularly add a smoothie to the school lunch.
Lots of lunch boxes come with their own drink bottle, and while this seems like a nice feature, the only real benefit is that they’re small enough to freeze and use to keep the lunch box cool. Very few lunch boxes come with practical sized drink bottles, because they’re designed to sit inside the box. Keeping the box and bottle together is a nice idea, but it often means your child has a whopping great lunch box just to accommodate their drink bottle.
The main exception to this is insulated lunch bags, which often have a reasonable size drink bottle attached to the side. Having the pocket on the outside means your child can keep their box and bottle together, without having their drink take up valuable lunch space inside.
Where do I buy a lunch box from and what will it cost?
Large department stores like Farmers, K Mart and The Warehouse all have a good range of lunch boxes, and specialised plastic stores like Payless Plastics and Plastic Box have plenty to choose from. Most supermarkets also have lunch boxes in their homewares aisle, but the range is usually limited to a few basic styles.
There’s an increasing number of online stores specialising in lunch boxes. These often have a great range of quality lunch boxes in many colours and styles. Many of these sites also provide lunch ideas and recipes.
Lunch boxes vary in price from approximately $6 – $80 (yes, true!). You can purchase standard plastic boxes from emporium type stores for just a couple of dollars, but you will get what you pay for, and they probably won’t last. Buy quality, and buy once!
More useful articles
Check out our full New Zealand lunchbox reviews by Kiwi Families page.
For great advice on what to put in those lunch boxes check out our healthy School Lunches article.
Also, see our article on Labelling to keep those new lunch boxes safe and make sure they come home again!