Hi Cool Mom Picks, I know you’ve tested so many lunch boxes every year and I was hoping you could tell me what you think really are the best lunch boxes. I want something I don’t have to get rid of at the end of every year! And it should be sturdy and cute, so not just practical. Thank you! – Anna R
Hi Anna! Well, you’ve come to the right place because wow, have I tried a lot of lunch boxes over the years between my two girls (they’re teens now!) and I definitely have some strong opinions about what I would buy again.
And actually, which bags I have bought again.
While these lunch bags won’t last for all of eternity, these are the 5 I’ve found that you can count on to get you through the year and beyond — provided, of course, your kid isn’t dragging it through mud puddles and snowbanks (or at least yogurt smoothie spills on the cafeteria table or day camp picnic benches) every day.
While a couple of them may cost a little more than the big box store specials, I find that the investment will pay off for the environment and your wallet in the long run. – Liz
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– Links and prices updated for 2021 –
These lunch bags hold up just beautifully, and my kids are hard on their bags! I used this Union Jack lunch bag for my kids for 6 straight years (!) and while it wasn’t used every single day, it was in great shape right up until they outgrew it. (Although full disclaimer: mine is navy, not red.) The neoprene keeps its shape, and — hooray — they’re washable by hand or machine.
I’d stick with the darker colors, as with all lunch boxes and bags if you really want to minimize that not-so-new feeling. Check out designs like the rocket ship, the Captain America-esque star and stripes, the brown bear, and shark. You know how kids love sharks. Though that Miss Kitty lunch bag sure is adorable.
These have been staple in our roundups of the best lunch boxes and bags for kids since we first discovered them. I continue to love the more artistic, out-of-the-ordinary designs, like woodblock style foxes, robots, vintage rockets, llamas and colorful graffiti (new for 2021), sharks, and occasional artist collabs. And the construction is A+++.
They’re made of coated raw linen which means they have that great fabric look, but wipe clean pretty easily and really resist stains and dirt. The new versions of the small cooler bags also include a removable insulated interior and, yay — the exterior can now be machine washed on gentle. (Though I haven’t tried it.)
The small cooler bags have a depth that can hold a whole lot — especially good if your kids require after-school snacks along with their lunch. The more conventional soft lunch boxes are terrific too; nice and compact for stuffing into backpacks in the morning.
Oh…and be sure to visit us.soyoung.ca — you can imagine the confusion if you type it in a different way.
As far as big brands go, major props to PBK which really has the classic lunch bag down. It’s soft but structured, well designed with a smart mesh pocket inside, insulation, and an incredibly convenient water bottle pouch on the outside. The fabric is wildly durable but again, I’ve learned to go with the darker bags.
They have all kinds of fun designs, whether your kids are into mermaids, superheroes, sports, animals, or just their own cute names or initials. Though I have to give props to their whole Disney collab collection — while the Rey lunch box is now one for eBay (sniff), new for 2021 are some cool Star Wars lunch boxes that harken back to comics, and glow-in-the-dark Marvel lunch box designs.
While kids will probably outgrow the characters before the PBK lunch boxes wear out — this is one that just might be in rotation for a good many years.
My love for MilkDot goes back to 2009, when I first discovered these smartly structured, insulated lunch bags at the NY Gift Show. They brilliantly collapse flat when not in use, but have more structure than your typical soft bag — smart, should your kids tend to bonk their lunch bags around and bruise the apples and bananas inside. Plus they hold a whole lot of stuff!
Even when you’re kind of taxing the construction with lots of snacks and food (think about what you may do to an expandable suitcases from time to time) I’ve found these snap right back without looking frayed, which is why I definitely rank them among my best lunch boxes.
They hold up really really well — like two to three school years if you take good care of them. And the designs aren’t so easily outgrown as characters, which I really like.
Patterns will show dirt and wear less than the solids, of course so see if your kid is crushing on the stripes, shown here.
If you’ve got kids who are outgrowing the cute designs, or you’re thinking ahead to the days that they will, I’m a stalwart fan of Built NY lunch bags, including their classic Gourmet Getaway neoprene lunch tote, which is a lunch bag with similar shape and construction as Dabbawalla, only with more sophisticated designs.
They also happen to go on sale for as low as $15 or $17 on Amazon, in more than a dozen styles and colors.
Neoprene is just so convenient and durable, so I recommend it highly as far as lunch bags, if you’re cool with a soft bag with less structure.
One of my favorite options though is no longer! The Convertible Placemat Lunch Bag was so smart — it unzipped to become its own placemat and I’m sad they no longer seem to sell it.
Bu whichever you go with it’s wonderful that you can machine wash your lunch box, which, like the other best lunch bags on this list, gives you even more years of use.
Yay for good investments.