WHETHER it’s for summer family picnics, busy days at nursery or a special trip away, our line-up of the best lunch boxes for kids will ensure your little ones are packed and ready to go with tasty treats at all times.
When it comes to keeping kids happy, the importance of snacks can never be overstated and getting organised ahead of a big day out or for your child’s first day of school or nursery can be the difference between a happy child and a total public meltdown. That’s why a good lunch box is worth its weight in gold.
The choice and design of lunch boxes have come a long way in recent years and kids and parents are spoilt for choice with an array of options, from printed insulated bags and bamboo containers to intricate bento boxes made for miniature foodies.
The best lunch boxes for kids are made from recycled materials or BPA-free plastic, so you have no safety worries. It should be a good size, easy to clean, leak-free, lightweight and, essentially, it needs to look cool enough to be seen on the arm or in the school bag of a trend-setting youngster.
Our hand-picked line-up of 2021’s best lunch boxes for kids hits the spot on all points.
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1. Sistema Lunch Slimline Quaddie
- (AD) Sistema Lunch Slimline Quaddie, £6.99 from Amazon – buy here
You’d be hard pushed to find a parent who doesn’t have a piece of Sistema kit in their kitchen cupboard; low-priced, brightly coloured and functional to the max, the New Zealand brand is a power player.
This BPA-free plastic lunch box is well-designed for packed-lunch prep with four different compartments of different sizes to squeeze in all of your child’s favourite lunch bites.
The different sections make it slightly harder to clean, although it’s dishwasher safe, and while it might not be the most exciting to look at in our edit, it’s one of the best value, so you won’t be too gutted if it gets left on a school trip.
2. Smash Owl Insulated Bag
- (AD) Smash Owl Insulated Bag, £11.60 from Amazon – buy here
For a toddler lunch setup that has it all, this owl number takes some beating.
Made by major brand Smash, this best-selling bag features a main zipped-up sandwich compartment that’s wipeable, antibacterial and insulated, a small front pouch, perfect for hiding mini treats, and a side drinks holder that even comes with its own mini twist-top water bottle, which our three-year-old tester claimed straight away.
The small carry handle is great for toddlers, but one of the main selling points is the four gorgeous characters to choose from, including a ladybird and a llama, which parents and kids can’t get enough of.
3. Smiggle Galaxy Hardtop Curve Lunchbox
- Smiggle Galaxy Hardtop Curve Lunchbox, £16 from Smiggle – buy here
Saunter into the school dining hall with a new season Smiggle lunch box and playground kudos is pretty much guaranteed.
This cosmic unicorn creation delivers on many levels – it looks on point, naturally, but it’s certainly not all style over substance – the embossed, hardtop exterior means squished sandwiches are a thing of the past, its easily-cleaned two-tier design leaves plenty of room for lunch and snacks and our mini tester especially liked the removable shoulder strap, which means it can either be slung over your shoulder or squeezed into a bag.
It’s rather bulky, but that may be a positive to pre-teens keen to show it off.
4. Bee Happy Lunch Bag
- Bee Happy Lunch Bag, £5 from Sass & Belle – buy here
If there’s a print that’s hit the big time this spring/summer it’s bees, and this dinky insulated lunch bag is packed with them, making it an instant hit on the trend front.
Compact enough to easily fit into a school or nursery bag, yet a decent size to hold a sandwich and a few other bites, it’s so pretty you’ll want to pinch it for yourself.
The insulated lining keeps food cool and fresh and it folds flat for slimline storage. Its zip closure and carry handles are good for little hands and it’s easy to wipe clean, and while the design is simple, it’s the lowest-priced option we tested, making it a top buy.
5. Photo Upload Lunch Box
- Photo Upload Lunch Box, £17.99 from Getting Personal – buy here
Forget name labels, there’ll be no mistaking who this dinky lunch box belongs to after it’s personalised with a family snap or a sweet photo of your child.
It’s a super uncomplicated design that’s effortless to use even for the smallest of toddlers and its charm is undeniable – let’s face it, pop a special picture on almost anything and the “aawww” factor is guaranteed.
6. Monbento MB Tresor
- Monbento MB Tresor, £24.90 from Monbento – buy here
Combining the Japanese concept of a bento box – where bite-sized food is served up in multiple compartments – and the slick design of the French, this MB Tresor box is about as sophisticated and well-designed as kids’ lunch boxes come.
It has plenty of features too – it’s stackable with a larger bottom container that can be used for hot and cold food and two snack cups that slot in on top. It also has an airtight clip closure to keep food fresh, which, when combined with the assembly of the box, may be tricky for younger children.
It comes with a set of delightful illustration tags that can be used to customise the lid, which were a major winner with our 3-year-old and 6-year-old diners. It’s also BPA-free and freezer, dishwasher and microwave friendly.
7. Lego Brick Lunch Box
- (AD) Lego Lunch Box with Handle, £15.57 from Amazon – buy here
Lego fans, behold – this square lunch box shaped into a classic Lego brick is the ultimate lunchtime accessory.
While the box itself is pretty minimalist, the fuss-free design is exactly what makes it so striking.
It features a soft silicone handle, which our six-year-old tester enjoyed swinging confidently on his way into school, and the small clip that closes the lid is simple for kids to master, yet secure enough to keep lunch from spilling out.
It’s quite compact, so best for lighter lunches, but it’s dishwasher safe and most importantly, it’ll be the envy of all other Lego enthusiasts.
8. Frugi The National Trust Pack a Snack Lunch Bag
- The National Trust Pack a Snack Lunch Bag, £7.50 from Frugi – buy here
A hit with hip parents, frugi is a champion of organic, ethical children’s products and its range of Pack a Snack Lunch Bags come in a myriad of cute-as-can-be prints.
Each one is made from three plastic bottles, making them a winner on the eco front, and the large main pocket and mini front pocket are foil-lined, so they’ll keep your child’s lunch fresh.
We fell hook, line and sinker for the bag’s charming puffin print and our three-year-old tester enjoyed trying out the sturdy zips. Part of Frugi’s National Trust range which helps support the organisation, there are other coordinating products to match.
9. Thermos Funtainer Food Flask
- Thermos Funtainer Food Flask, £16.99 from Thermos – buy here
Ok, so this smart Thermos product is less of a lunch box, more of a container, but it’s excellent ability to keep food both hot for five hours and cold for seven hours have earned it cult status amongst parents.
We used it on a family day out and it delivered on its promise to keep food fresh and in our case, hot, but it was also leak-proof and the super wide opening made it stress-free to eat from.
The flask’s quality and performance justify its slightly higher-than-average price tag, plus, it’s the type of lunch time kit that will be used day-in day-out for years.
10. Prezzybox Dinosaur Lunch Box
- Dinosaur lunch box, £16.99 from Prezzybox — buy now
Just like school fashion is a great way to show off your personality, so is your lunchbox. Dinosaur fans will love this T-Rex head with its snappy jaws.
The lunchbox comes with a nifty handle that goes around the T-Rex's mouth, making sure that no lunch escapes.
11. Retro Food Truck Lunchbox
- Retro food truck lunchbox, £19.99 on Mzube — buy now
Nothing says "cool" like a retro food truck and so this lunchbox is just what you need to get tongues wagging in the canteen.
This tin lunchbox is designed in the style of a classic food truck and comes with a front-opening lid, carry handle and a lot of space for a big packed lunch.
The lunch box is resistant to rust and corrosion and is made from high-quality tin.
12. IKEA SMASKA Lunchbox
- SMASKA lunchbox, £3.75 from IKEA — buy now
Made from plastic, this lunchbox protects solid food like sandwiches, fruit and snacks without the worry of them ending up squished in the school bag. The lid is easy to open and close—you turn the ears (cute!)
It is made from the same plastic used in baby bottles and is recommended for ages 3 years and above.
One reviewer, who gave the product a 5-star review, says: "What a crazy, great storage item for kids. Really sturdy."
What to put in my kid's lunch box?
Children need to be getting a minimum of 1,600 calories a day and five portions of fruit. For lunch, you're looking at around 500 – 700 calories to fill those tummies.
The NHS Change4Life website has suggestions for healthy lunchboxes as well as having a "make your own lunchbox" tool. It suggests having a main meal, a portion or fruit or salad, something else such as yoghurt or jelly and a drink.
What foods should be avoided in children's lunch boxes?
Change4Life recommends that parents should cut back on crisps, spreads, sugar and cheeses. However, many nutritionists advise that everything in moderation is okay.
Cakes can be swapped for malt loaf, fruited teacakes, fruit bread or fruits not in syrup. Parents can also check for yoghurts that are low in fat and sugar to ensure a healthy lifestyle.
How to keep kids lunch boxes warm
If your lunch box isn't thermal, then there are other options for keeping food warm.
Double-wrap warm food in cling film and foil to keep it from going soggy. You can also warm the lunch box in boiled water if it's a steel lunchbox and line the bottom of it in paper towels.
It's always best to use a Thermos lunch box for warm lunches. Pour boiling water into the Thermos and rinse it out—the heat from the water will help insulate the food being put into it.
Where to buy kids lunch boxes
Lunch boxes can be bought from supermarkets and specialised stores for kids. Stationers such as Paperchase are also known for stocking lunch boxes for children and adults alike.
Tescos normally stores lunch boxes alongside its kitchen utensil aisle, with a selection of own-brand and high-street brands on offer. Smiggle is known for its back-to-school offers of a backpack, pencil case and lunch box.
What is the best lunch box?
For the price, it has to be the IKEA SWASKA. Not only is it the cutest box we've ever seen but it comes under a fiver.
For keeping warm food hot and secure, we think Thermos is the way to go. However, it's not one for those on a budget.
Smiggle often has the best back-to-school offers for kids, with matching sets of backpacks and lunch boxes.
Can you wash Smiggle lunch boxes?
Smiggle lunch boxes can be cleaned by using a damp cloth. A washing machine could damage the lining of the product and it isn't recommended by the brand.
Other lunch boxes can be sterilised or rubbed down with a damp cloth. Many are dishwasher safe.
We’re all about helping you find the best products at the best prices, so follow the link if you want to check out more of Sun Selects’ recommendations.
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