Lunch Boxes and Travel Cups for Toddlers and Kids
Here at Lucie’s List, we take lunch breaks very seriously… which is why we ditched brown paper bags and set out to find the best containers and lunch essentials for our preschoolers and Kindergarteners to tote their sandwiches, snacks, and beverages around. Below are our top picks for preschool lunch bags, lunch boxes & containers, and sippy cups/water bottles.
Our Favorite Lunch Bags
I’m literally obsessed with back-to-school shopping (my dream shopping spree would be a close call between books and office supplies), and there’s something strangely special about picking out lunch bags for the school year ahead. I loved picking out my lunch box every year when I was a kid, and it’s so fun to be on the other end now as a parent… except for one small problem: my kiddos’ lunch bags have held up so well that they haven’t gotten to indulge in this once-annual tradition.
Here are our favorite lunch bags for preschool and daycare!
Skip Hop Zoo Kids ~ $15
These used to be tied for our top pick — and we still love them — but Skip Hop has since come out with a new version that we are less keen on (see note below). The older ones with the zip-close lid are still floating around (though there are fewer options for animals), and we highly recommend them if you can find one. They are high-quality and long-lasting, and have the added benefit of being machine washable, which is a HUGE perk since toddlers aren’t really ones for being neat and clean at lunchtime.
**Note: These classic zip-up totes are being slowly replaced by Skip Hop’s newer and more traditional-looking lunch bags, which retail for only $10 from Skip Hop directly (they are way more pricey at Amazon…). While the price is nice, we like the old ones better because they are easier to clean (new bags are NOT machine washable); easier for little kids to open and close; and easier for toddlers to see what they have rather than having to dig around inside to fish for various items. For now, the older zipper-style bags are still pretty easy to find.
Much like the LL Bean bag, these (older) Skip Hop lunch bags are lightly insulated and come ready-made for ice pack storage (it has an interior mesh pocket). We also like that the handle comes with a buckle, which makes it an easy add-on to backpacks, diaper bags, work bags, and whatnot. (I don’t know about all of you, but it’s usually me who’s carrying my kid’s sh*t into school!)
LL Bean ~ $19
We love the LL Bean kids lunch box, and we’re not the only ones — it’s also a top pick at Wirecutter, Good Housekeeping, Babylist, and elsewhere. This lunch box is durable and affordable — it’s the standard simple design, high-quality product we all know and expect from LL Bean. The interior mesh pockets are nice for storing extra snacks or ice packs, and the interior is roomy enough to store all the food your hungry toddler will need for a full day’s adventures. The zipper close is easy for little hands and holds everything in very effectively.
The inside wipes clean easily (Bean recommends spot cleaning only), and you can add your kiddo’s monogram for an extra $8.
Wildkin Kids Lunch Box Bag ~ $24
Another fab preschool lunch bag is the Wildkin Kids Lunch Box Bag, which comes in a standard rectangular shape and numerous fun prints. It has a mesh pocket for an ice pack inside and an exterior pocket/pouch as well. This one holds up pretty well but can be a little more annoying in the cleaning department. [See even more designs here.]
PackIt Freezable Lunch Box ~ $24 — Honorable Mention
This is a more fandangled pick! The PackIt has freezable gel built into its lining, so it functions like a little “portable refrigerator” — you can pack lunch in your own reusable ice pack, hah. It works like this: leave the lunch box overnight in the freezer, and then when you pack your child’s lunch in the AM, the insulated walls keep everything fresh for ten hours. This is the kind of multi-tasking product many parents adore. (Of course, if you’re in the pack-lunches-the-night-before camp, this may not be the best choice…)
We were always big fans of the PackIt lunch bag, which folds up for easy storage and has a velcro top, but we prefer this “box” for day care, pre-K, and elementary school because it’s easier for littles to see what they have and the zipper keeps everything more contained.
PlanetBox Carry Bag ~ $32
If you have the Cadillac of lunch boxes, the PlanetBox, then you might want to think about the PlanetBox Carry Case to go with it. It’s insulated with extra storage space for more ice packs, utensils, and a cup. And of course the PlanetBox fits inside perfectly. We like it because it’s easy to carry and makes for a practical appendage to the PlanetBox. We know it’s a splurge, but this just might make it to college. Fingers crossed.
Our Favorite Snack Containers
Lunch packing is an intricate art — slicing all the veggies, cutting all the crust, making sure cold food stays cold and hot food stays hot, packing it all neatly into one compartment… a good lunch box (and/or some top-notch lunch containers) will help you accomplish it all, making all your food prep efforts worth it and the midday meal a bit tastier.
What constitutes a good lunch box, you ask? It needs to be durable, leak proof, easy to use, lightweight, roomy, and a breeze to clean. Thankfully, there are a lot of options out there that fit the bill. Without further ado, here are our faves.
PackIt Mod Lunch Bento Containers ~ $16
These sleek lunch/bento boxes from PackIt are pretty sweet — they’re like a bento box hybrid. Each container comes with three dividers that you can use or not and/or move around depending on portion sizes. It’s lightweight, clear, and also dishwasher-, microwave- and freezer safe, yay!
*Note that the dividers are only leak-resistant (as opposed to leak-proof), so you may want to avoid more liquidy things like yogurt or apple sauce. The top, when snapped close, is leak-proof.
Lunchbots Thermal Insulated Food Container ~ $24
Is soup on the lunch menu this fall? Swap the lunch box for a food thermos and lunch bag. We love Thermal by LunchBots. With its triple insulation, the thermos will keep your little one’s food hot for 6 hours or cold for 12 hours. We also love that it’s short and wide — easy for kiddos to eat out of, and super convenient to fill. The stainless steel interior can hold up to two cups of food, and the leak-proof lid means you don’t have to worry about your child coming home with a backpack full of pasta sauce. Even the lid is made of stainless steel, which means no plastic touches the food.
Yumbox ~ $30
If your kid’s go-to packed lunch is a sandwich, this box is for you. You can fit a whole sandwich (with crust on), a side and snacks. Thanks to the molded silicone lid, you can even put yogurt, apple sauce and other liquid foods in there — it’s completely leak-proof (like, actually, really). You can remove the tray to clean it easily, and there’s only one latch, so little hands can open their lunch box with ease. We also love the playful designs that the boxes have on the inside, which are sure to make your kiddo’s lunch a whole lot more exciting!
Bentgo Kids ~ $39
This beloved bento box is a great option and has very few complaints — it holds up well, is drop-proof and leak-proof, and yet is still easy enough for littles to open and close. It comes with five packable compartments AND it’s both microwave and dishwasher safe.
*One thing to keep in mind: it’s probably best for younger kids (the roughly 2-4 year old crowd) since it features small compartments and overall doesn’t hold a ton of food. *If you want one with fewer compartments (4 vs. 5), there’s a box for that.
OmieBox Bento ~ $44
Struggling to pack hot foods without adding heft to your little one’s load? The Omie Box is here to help. What sets this lunch box apart is the removable insulated stainless steel thermos food jar designed to keep foods hot. Not planning on a hot lunch? No problem… Just take the thermos out. The other three compartments are great for sides and snacks. The built-in handle is a nice touch, allowing your little one to carry his lunch around without needing an outer bag.
The lunch box is easy to open, and the lid to the thermos was designed with tots in mind. That said, some reviewers say that it’s a bit difficult for little hands to open and close, so it may be a better option for older children.
PlanetBox ~ $59
The bento box from PlanetBox is a stainless steel lunch box with five compartments of different sizes, which is great if your child likes to have options for lunch (and/or keep different foods separate). The set includes the lunch box, two separate stainless steel containers for holding sauces or extra snacks, and a set of magnets to personalize the front of the box. The PlanetBox is dishwasher safe and toxic free, and it carries a 5-year warranty. Beware though, since it is made of stainless steel, it is on the heavier side and may be better suited for older children.
Best Cups for Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten
Not to brag (cough), but we know about sippy cups. We’ve written about how to transition from bottles to sippy cups and have logged countless hours assessing them to tell you what’s what in the Sippy Cup Smackdown.
But the best cup around the house isn’t necessarily the best choice for daycare or preschool. In an ideal world, the perfect sippy cup for preschoolers would be some kind of hybrid between a water bottle and sippy cup; it would be affordable, easy-to-use, lightweight, leak-proof, destruction-proof, toddler-proof, insulated, and dishwasher safe to boot.
There is also a trade-off in materials used… plastic is nice because it’s lightweight, but on the downside, it doesn’t keep the drink cold (especially in hot weather), can impart a plastic-y taste, and some are concerned about the safety of plastics (in general). On the other hand, stainless steel performs amazingly well, is safe, and cleans easily — but by god, it can get heavy! At the end of the day, it seems that most parents have a couple of high quality stainless containers for drinks – plus a couple of plastic ones as backup.
- Whatever you do — get that Sharpie out and write (and re-write) your kiddo’s name so it doesn’t get lost!! It’s a pain, but worth it!!
Though no one’s created the perfect solution for these concerns, here are our top picks for sending your kiddo off to school or daycare with her bevvie of choice:
First Years Take ‘n’ Toss Spill-Proof ~ $4 for 4 — Economy Pick
These First Years Take ‘N Toss cups are a nice option for toddlers who’ve just gone through the bottle to sippy cup transition but aren’t quite ready for the weight of a real water bottle yet just yet. These cups are cheap, easy, and pretty darn leak-proof. (The travel tops are a bit flimsy for our tastes, though.) Not perfect, but if you’re on a tight budget, they’ll work.
Nalgene Grip-N-Gulp ~ $10
If leakproof status is your biggest priority, the Nalgene Grip-N-Gulp is a top choice. Many parents who’ve tried tons of other options end up sticking with the Grip-N-Gulp for that reason alone, but it’s also easy to clean and super durable.
Contigo Autoseal Trekker ~ $14 for 2
If your little one has outgrown sippy cups but hasn’t outgrown spilling, this Contigo trekker water bottle is a great choice — and at $12 for a 2-pack, an affordable one at that. It features a one-touch AUTOSEAL lid that automatically seals between sips for mess-free drinking — no spilling, no leak. (This reviewer’s video demonstrates how it works.) Plus, the shape of the bottle is the perfect fit for tiny hands to hold and for most cup holders.
This BPA-free bottle is easy to clean and dishwasher safe. (Though, note that you cannot take the lid apart, so if you want to avoid mold from growing, you’ll need to immerse it with hot soapy water.)
Munchkin 360 ~ $13 for 2 — Honorable Mention
Munchkin 360 cups are always a leading contender when it comes to the best children’s cups, and although they’re not necessarily a top pick for preschool, we did at least want to mention them here since dentists everywhere recommend them as the best cup for oral health. You could opt to use these for school if you wanted (Brit does), especially since they’re a great bargain. Now that Munchkin makes lids (~$3 for 4) they’re more user-friendly for daycare and school. That said, these do leak when thrown on the ground or left tipped over.
Thermos FUNtainer ~ $17 — Editor’s Choice
The Thermos FUNtainer is a fantastic option. It’s a straw thermos with insulation that keeps drinks cold for up to 12 hours, so it can last through a full day of care or school. When the lid is closed (make sure it clicks!) the FUNtainer is leak-proof, and we like that the lid also keeps the straw covered when it’s not in use. (The lid is easy for toddlers to open and close, too.)
The FUNtainer has four parts, which come apart easily and are also easy to clean. Thermos suggests hand-washing them all, but each piece is top-rack dishwasher safe, so that’s a nice option. It comes in a range of fun character designs and a few different colors!
Klean Kanteen Kid Kanteen Sport Bottle ~ $17
The Klean Kanteen is another nice choice. It’s a single-walled water bottle with a pull-top silicone lid that parents and daycare workers alike say lasts for years. The Kid Kanteens are a standout for durability — one parent wrote on Amazon that they “take beatings wonderfully.” Nice. (If you want to put yours to the test, it also comes with a lifetime warranty.)
All the components here are dishwasher safe, and cleaning is generally easy, although a few parents have reported having trouble cleaning the tops.
Unfortunately, this bottle isn’t 100% leak proof, so we wouldn’t recommend throwing it mindlessly in your kid’s lunchbox or backpack. Lastly, the pull-top lids on the sport bottle can be tough for some toddlers to open and close on their own (the brand recommends it for kids ages 4+), but you could opt for the sippy top version (~$18) if you have a younger toddler.
Note: this version is not insulated.
Camelbak Eddy Stainless Steel Water Bottle ~ $24
The Eddy kids bottle by CamelBak is great for your kiddo’s school adventures. It features a valve that kids have to bite down on gently in order to release water. You can shut it off, which also means it’s spill proof. We love that it’s easy for kids to use and for parents to clean. All the parts come removable for you to clean easily and to ensure no mold grows in crevices and tiny corners. The stainless steel makes this CamelBak durable and more environmentally sound, which we also love, but it does also come in a plastic version (~$15).
That’s all we’ve got, parents, happy packin’!!!
I have both the LL Bean lunch bag and the Lands End one, and I have to say that the Lands End one is just a bit superior. Not only does it have a side pocket for water bottles, but it also has just a little extra room inside since I like to use the Orgalif bento lunch box inside. Also, the Lands End one can get embroidered with their name so no need to worry about it getting lost, and the top handle has a clasp so it can get attached to a backpack. I think the Lands End needs to be in your lineup as well!!
We really love our Pura insulated stainless steel bottles. You can swap out the top to meet your kids needs (straw, spout) and they don’t really leak even without the top. My son left his in a blackberry patch and I went back several times to find it.
Any thoughts on the Bentgo bento box? Ive heard good things but since you didn’t mention it (and I always trust your lists!) I’m wondering if I’m missing something? Thanks!
Hi Lindsey! It’s a well-loved box but we highly recommend that you go with either the YumBox or PlanetBox instead. The locking tab on the Bentgo breaks easily so you have to be gentle with it. The company is great and will replace it once but might not be worth the hassle for subsequent breaks.
PackIt Makes a zip around freezable bag too! It fits a Bentgo perfectly! It comes in a pink rainbow and unicorn print! It’s WONDERFUL!
Damn! I read last years info because we start school earlier in the south so we plan for a school a little earlier!
I have to say, as a teacher of 3-6 year olds, I hate the bento style boxes. The children at the 3-6 year old age have a very hard time (almost impossible) opening them independently, and at our school (unlike most, I know), we use real plates and silverware, and it’s very difficult for the children to move their food from the box to a plate. A thermos or simple container is so much better.
My kids need double-insulated steel because if their water bottles don’t have ice they don’t want water! We like our Contigo Kids Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Redesigned AUTOSPOUT Straw because no biting needed like the Camelback ones. I love my Contigo Autoseal, but worry about a toddler pinching lips or spilling if they tip it too fast.
We bought the yum box for our daughters after your recommendation foe the product previously but have found it not to be leak proof. You may want to try it out again with syrup, honey, ketchup, ranch dressing and the like before advertising it as leak proof. Our kids have repeatedly reported their lunch was ruined by packing yogurt, applesauce, dressings, etc., directly into the yum box.
Hi Diane, I’m so sorry you experienced this issue. I’ve been using YumBox for years and never experienced those issues with any sauces I packed. Was it just one box? Wondering if you got a lemon. If not, thank you for sharing and I hope you were able to find a solution.
What are your thoughts on the Pura Kiki as a water bottle?
Personally I did not have a good experience with them — they bowed on the bottom from my kids dropping them within two days and the parts (the lid) screeched when twisting it on. That’s just my personal two cents, though — I know they have a cult following. Another stainless steel option that’s not included here because it is *very heavy for little children is the Yeti kids rambler, which is crazy durable. I can safely say these could survive anything; ours have been through a beating and then some — for years. I love that it’s only three parts and all are dishwasher safe.
Thank you so much for your quick response! We have a Klean Kanteen that we love, so maybe we’ll just stick to that. Also, we did get the PlanetBox Rover for our son for daycare and the daycare loves it and so does he. When he gets older he’ll have fun with the magnets that come with it too.
Appreciate all the information you always provide us parents! I love getting my Lucie’s List emails in my inbox. Thank you so much for everything!
Thank you so much for your thoughts Brit! We have a Klean Kanteen that we love, so maybe we’ll just stick to that. Also, we did get the PlanetBox Rover for our son for daycare and the daycare loves it and so does he. When he gets older he’ll have fun with the magnets that come with it too.
Appreciate all the information you always provide us parents! I love getting my Lucie’s List emails in my inbox. Thank you so much for everything!
I absolutely loved our Pura bottles. I have several – the smaller ones, larger ones, and some of the double-walled. They’ve lasted through two of my boys and are going on 7 years old. They still work perfectly. I love that the spout, straw, and bottle nipple are interchangeable and replaceable. They also work with any standard size bottle nipple or sippy spout. Yes, they do tend to dent a bit if dropped, but the silicone sleeve on the older ones has saved the bottom many times. Honestly, my hardwood floors have been dented from the Pura drops more than the bottles have. We are a glass or stainless steel family wherever we possibly can, and these helped us avoid plastic for daycare, school, etc.
Avoiding plastics really should be paramount, not just a concern that some people have. It’s really hard to avoid entirely, but guiding away from plastic water bottles, bento boxes and lunch boxes is a great first step. There are wonderful stainless and glass/silicone wrapped alternatives. I hope you’ll consider this as you recommend products – Lucie’s List has been a wonderful resource for us.
From the American Academy of Pediatrics: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/2/e20181408/37584/Food-Additives-and-Child-Health?autologincheck=redirected
NYT Summary: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/23/well/chemicals-food-children-health.html