The lunch box has a surprisingly rich history dating back to the 1880s when working men took their lunches to their jobs in metal containers.
Children’s lunch boxes followed shortly afterwards and by the 1930s were covered in popular icons of the time, like Mickey Mouse. Since then kids have been able to put their midday meal in boxes, tins and bags of seemly endless description – adorned with every pop culture moment including The Beatles, the Spice Girls and Peppa Pig.
Today kids’ lunch boxes are still in demand – for school and for weekend picnics. Many remain straightforward – a simple box and lid – while others are full of compartments, trays, draws and pockets.
We think the best lunch boxes for children need to tick a few boxes. They need to be generously proportioned without being too cumbersome to carry, secure so as to avoid leaks or spills and they need to be an object that children will want to use.
How we tested
We tested our lineup of boxes over the course of two to three weeks (before the summer holidays) – always with our classic school lunch of sandwich or wrap, chopped fruit, Babybel and some mini cheese biscuits. Our trusty testers were aged between four and 15 years old and didn’t hold back when it came to telling us what they thought.
The best kids’ lunch boxes for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Liewood arthur lunch box: £26, Kidly.co.uk
- Best for keeping food fresh – Frugi pack a snack lunch bag: £16, Welovefrugi.com
- Best bento box – Munchkin bento box: £21.50, Kidly.co.uk
- Best for smaller children – Sebra lunch box: £10.95, Scandiborn.co.uk
- Best budget buy – Rex London nine lives lunch box: £5.95, Rexlondon.com
- Best unicorn lunch box – Sophie Allport unicorn lunch box: £10.50, Sophieallport.com
- Best temperature control – M&S dinosaur print lunch box: £12, Marksandspencer.com
- Best designer option – Tommy Hilfiger red lunch box: £45, Next.co.uk
- Best for carrying a water bottle – Cath Kidston dinosaur jungle kids lunch bag: £18, Cathkidston.co.uk
Liewood arthur lunch box
This box is so simple but one of our favourites. It has a stainless steel base with three compartments – one large part, which can easily fit a sandwich (complete with crusts inside), and two other smaller parts for fruit, biscuits or cheese. There was no squashing or squeezing necessary and we felt that portions were in no way compromised.
The lid – made from silicone – is entirely detachable and seals everything in perfectly (not liquids, mind you), making the inside airtight. This can be washed in the dishwasher and feels solid, strong and built to last. A variety of pastel shade lids are also available.
Frugi pack a snack lunch bag
Best: For keeping food fresh
This lunch bag (21cm x 18cm x 7cm) is one of the best we looked at – not least because of its foil lining which helps regulate temperature and keep food fresh. There is plenty of room – you could easily fit two sandwiches in there and more. We really appreciated the little pocket on the front, perfect to separate the morning’s snack from the lunchtime feast. Best of all, you can give it a wipe after use and at the end of the week sling it in the washing machine.
Munchkin bento box
Best: Bento box
This box really means business: not only is it a compartment lover’s dream, but it also contains stainless steel cutlery that has its own fixed space inside and a carry handle to boot. The cutlery means you aren’t limited to sandwiches – say hello to pasta, risotto or salads – and makes lunch a more grown-up experience.
Our seven-year-old tester was delighted with this and carried it rather like a briefcase, safe in the knowledge that nothing would leak out. The only downside was the weight. Even when empty this is a heavy object which might be off-putting for children who have to walk to school.
Sebra lunch box
Best: For smaller children
This beautiful little box (17.5cm x 16.5cm x 7.2cm) serves retro aesthetics as well as lunches. Inside there are two compartments and the lid clicks open and shut easily enough for very young children to master. This is ideal for small lunches or snacks – anyone with a hearty appetite might want something a little bigger.
Rex London nine lives lunch box
Best: Budget buy
This is such a sweet little box (17cm x 7.5cm x 13cm) for younger children. It’s bright, jolly and has an upper tray which proved endlessly exciting to our four-year-old tester, who was also delighted by the buckle. It’s dishwasher safe and easy to fit into any school bag.
Sophie Allport unicorn lunch box
Best: Unicorn lunch box
A typically gorgeous design by Sophie Allport, this pretty bamboo box (18.5cm x 12.5cm x 6.5cm) is secured by a fabulous pink ribbon that fits snugly around the middle to keep the contents in place. There’s one singular compartment, which was fine for our five-year-old who doesn’t mind different foods not being separated, but if your youngster likes things just so this might pose a problem. The biggest hurdle for us is that our tester thinks this box is too good for sandwiches and wants it to be her jewellery box…
M&S dinosaur print lunch box
Best: Temperature control
This bag (19.5cm x 8cm x 26cm) is the best choice for hot days or classrooms – its insulation technology will keep food as fresh as possible throughout the morning, which means meat, yoghurt and cheese will all last until lunch. We tested it on two consecutive hot days – packing the lunch up at 8am and can confirm no sandwiches were spoiled by midday. This is roomy, cheery, practical and won’t break the bank.
Tommy Hilfiger red lunch box
Best: Designer option
This lunch box, made from 100 per cent recycled polyester and complete with a logo shoulder strap is an ideal choice for image-conscious teenagers. Our 15-year-old tester plumped for this one, which has a thermal lining for keeping the contents fresh, not to mention a carry handle on the top. It can fit plenty in and will be really useful during the holidays for family picnics.
Cath Kidston dinosaur jungle kids lunch bag
Best: For carrying a water bottle
Not many lunch boxes make space for drinks, which is why we were so delighted with this bag which boasts a generous mesh pocket for bottles – who doesn’t want their food and drink kept close together?
The inside has a foil lining to stop contents spoiling and the main compartment of the bag zips up cleanly and tightly to prevent spills. Our tester, age seven, loved carrying this as a shoulder bag and we have to say it having this long strap makes it easier to tote around and harder to leave lying around. Aside from all this, Cath Kidston’s prints just get lovelier and lovelier (even when they feature dinosaurs).
Verdict: Kids’ lunch boxes
We just loved the Liewood arthur box: no frills but beautifully made, pretty, practical and easy to care for. Our pick of the soft lunch boxes would be the Frugi while the Cath Kidston bag gets a big thumbs up for portability credentials.
For the latest discount on kids’ back to school essentials, try the links below:
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IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
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