Here at Lucie’s List, we take lunch breaks very seriously… which is why we’re ditching the brown paper bag and setting out to find the best containers and lunch essentials for our preschoolers and Kindergarteners to tote their sandwiches, snacks and beverages around. Below, you will find our top picks for preschool lunch boxes, lunch bags and sippy cups.
Best 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 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!
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 high-quality product we all know and expect from LL Bean. The mesh pockets on the inside 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.
These are a very close second to the LL Bean lunch bags in terms of quality and durability, but they 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. You can also match it to a Skip Hop backpack (see also: our Favorite Backpacks). Seriously, little kids love picking their special animal from all the fun choices. I can’t even pick a favorite.
Much like the LL Bean bags, these are lightly insulated but come ready-made for ice pack storage, and the zippers are easy for preschoolers to zip open and closed. We like that the handle on this one 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!)
If you need ice packs, the Bentgo Ice Lunch Chillers Ultra-Thin Ice Packs (~$9 for a 4-pack) are a solid choice. Reviewers say they keep cold even in ultra-hot conditions (Vegas, baby!) and they fit inside all the picks here.
PlanetBox Carry Bag ~ $25-$30
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.
Another fab preschool lunch bag is the Zoli Nomnom (and everything Zoli, for that matter). We LOVE the Nomnom because it keeps the food/beverage UPRIGHT in the bag (vs. lying flat), which is better for certain types of foods (thermoses, for example). It can also hook onto a larger bag, like a backpack, so you can carry it in one piece. Zoli makes a matching backpack we love called the MiniStash. See the full lineup here. Meg’s girls use and love these!
PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag ~ $18 — 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” — no ice packs necessary. The bag folds up to look like a wallet, and you leave it overnight in the freezer for 12 hours. Then, when you unfold it and pack your child’s lunch, the insulated walls keep everything fresh for ten hours. This is the kind of multi-tasking product many parents adore.
On the downside, it’s hand wash only, and some users complain that the Velcro wears pretty quickly (especially in the hands of toddlers). Note, too, that compared to zip-closure, Velcro is less reliable for containing spills or leaks.
Best Lunch Boxes
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 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.
Yumbox ~ $29
If your kid’s go-to 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. 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 is sure to make your kiddo’s lunch a whole lot more exciting!
PlanetBox ~ $55
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. 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 kiddos.
U Konserve ~ $16
This sleek lunch box from U Konserve is another great eco-friendly alternative to plastic. We particularly love the moveable and removeable divider, allowing you to adjust portion sizes and divvy up your little one’s food accordingly. The box comes with one divider, but you can purchase more of them to customize (check out their full line of food storage). The clear lid is also a nice touch for you and your Mini Me to see what’s inside.
Some customers have reported the tops to crack over time. To avoid that issue, the brand recommends keeping the lid out of extreme temperatures. Note also that the dividers aren’t leak-proof (though the lid is), so you’ll want to avoid packing things like yogurt or apple sauce.
OmieBox Bento Container ~ $39
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, more agile kids.
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.
Best Cups for the Lunchbox
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:
Thermos FUNtainer ~ $15
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!
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. This version is not insulated. If you want to go with the insulated bottle (~$25), note that it can’t go in the dishwasher.
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.
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.
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.
Contigo Autoseal Trekker Kids Water Bottle ~ $12 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.)
First Years Take ‘n’ Toss Spill-Proof Sippy Cups ~ $4 for 4 — Budget 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.)
Munchkin 360 Cups ~ $12 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.
That’s all we’ve got, parents, happy packin’!!!