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.
See also: School Lunch Thermoses and Ideas
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 Toddler Lunch Box ~ $10 (on sale for $8 on Skip Hop)
These used to be tied for our top pick — and we still love them — but Skip Hop has recently come out with a new version that we are less keen on. What we love: they have adorable zoo animal faces on them, they’re insulated, have a nice-sized interior with additional pockets for utensils, etc. We also love the clip-on carry handle making it easy for kiddos to attach to their backpacks or carry separately. On the downside, While the price is nice, we like the older model better because they were 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.
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.
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…)
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 Lunch / 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, leakproof, 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.
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 applesauce. The top, when snapped close, is leak-proof.
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 ~ $29
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) and with a freezer pack to keep things cold, there’s a box for that: the Bentgo Kids Chill Lunch Box.
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 ~ from $42
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, portable, 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!!
- Label, label, label… We love Oliver’s Labels, which offer a vast selection of playful designs for kiddos to choose from.
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:
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. Perfect for the daycare and preschool/preK crowd!
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 $14 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 in hot soapy water.)
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!
We’re also big fan of the 16 oz big spout iteration of the FUNtainer. Bigger means more water, and there are fewer parts to clean and fewer crevices for mold to grow in.
We are big fans of the Owala water bottles, and now they’ve come with an equally awesome water bottle just for kids. This double-insulated, stainless steel water bottle can hold 14 oz of liquid and comes in many bright and fun colors. Like the Owala for adults, it has a flip-top with a hideaway straw and locking lid (to keep all those icky germs away when not in use). Good news for kids like mine who shove their water bottles in their backpacks: when locked, this water bottle is leak-proof. Yay! The Owala is BPA and phthalate-free and can keep liquids cold for up to 14 hours. On the downside, however, only the lid is dishwasher safe; you’ll need to wash the cup by hand. If your kids are a little bigger and want the 24 oz version (which you can either sip through a straw, or “swig” through the spout), here it is.
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).
Dishwasher-safe and toxin/BPA-free, the Hydro Flask is an easy-to-care-for and safe water bottle pick for kids (and adults, too!). Made out of stainless steel, this cup is extra durable (perfect for little people toting it to and from school) and promises to keep drinks cool for 24 hours. Bonus: the rubber gripper at the bottom makes it easy for little hands to hold (read: not accidentally drop over and over again…). My kids each have one, and they’ve lasted us for years. Also comes in a 20 oz version.
That’s all we’ve got, parents, happy packin’!!!