The days of brown-paper bagging are long gone – it’s all about sustainability, temperature control, and smart packaging. Following are our favorite ways to pack lunch this year, with both kids and adults in mind!
Whether you are sending your kids off to kindergarten for the first time 🙋♀️, have a growing teenager to feed, or have to pack lunch for yourself or a spouse who’s headed to the office – making lunch can be a daunting task.
Following are our favorite things to help streamline the process, including recipes and assembled meal ideas, what to pack them in, and how to make packed lunches special (if you like that sort of thing!).
As always, please share your favorite packed lunch tips in the comment section below. We always welcome the input!
FAVORITE LUNCH BOXES
Below are some noteworthy lunch boxes, listed by category.
🧒🏻 Packing for kids
The Bentgo has been Emily’s go-to for her kids’ lunch. It’s chock-full of small compartments to pack a variety of food in smaller portions. The clasps are easy to open but also close tightly for leak prevention.
These boxes come in appealing colors and patterns for $29.99, and the insert can be removed for easy cleaning. Bentgo also sells a lunch bag to hold the lunch box and comes with freezer packs to keep the contents of the box cold.
🔥 Packing Hot Food
The classic Thermos brand has hot food containers for both kids and adults, starting at $24.99. These are great for a hearty, hot meal. Pottery Barn teen also has great colors and patterns (on sale at time this was written for $14.99).
The OmiBox is unique because it has a hot container within a bento-style box, and so it is a popular choice. You can even remove the hot container if you are only packing cold foods the day. It’s a great concept, although I did find the hot compartment to be tricky for small hands to open without assistance. It’s also on the more expensive side at $44.95.
💧 The trick with the hot containers is to pour boiling water into the container and let sit, covered, for five minutes to warm up the container before putting in your hot food. If packed in the morning, it will still be warm at lunchtime.
💁🏼♂️ For bigger kids and adults
Bentgo has a stackable option (priced from $24.99 up) to keep ingredients separate. It’s especially designed for salad bowls and keeps toppings like croutons crunchy. Use the variety of compartments to try new salad ingredients to make them extra tasty and fulfilling–hard boiled egg, nuts and seeds, cheese, or even cold rice noodles and quinoa.
Planetbox is made of stainless steel and is known for being eco-friendly. The company even sells magnetic silverware to go with the lunch box. Comes in various sizes and compartment functions, but the best sellers run from $30-$40.
👜 Lunch Bags
There are a variety of insulated lunch bags that you can use to keep foods cool, or even to store one of the above-noted lunch boxes.
The YETI box will keep your food optimally chilled and is our sturdiest and most expensive option at $80. It’s water resistant and will ensure your food doesn’t break or smush. It is marketed to both adults and kids, but we envision this for someone who works or eats outdoors—or for someone who tends to drop things! (Ann self-admittedly thinks the latter reason is why this one would be good for her!)
If you or your family member is sport-minded, check out what Nike and Adidas have to offer. And for fashionistas, Modern Picnic went all out with their line of fancy purse-like lunch bag options. Vera Bradley also has some fun patterns at a more affordable price point.
🍴 Don’t forget about snacks & silverware!
Bumkins has these great reusable snack bags in fun colors. They are well regarded for their kid-friendly designs and packaging.
Emily also snagged this silverware from Amazon because she finds the reusable, kid-friendly plastic versions to be too difficult to actually stab the food. We prefer something a little more substantial!
FAVORITE QUICK ASSEMBLED MEALS TO PACK
Here are some quick-to-assemble meal ideas that may inspire a new addition to the lunch rotation!
- Tacos/Burritos – Pack them deconstructed and let them build their own! Include a soft or hard shell, rice and/or beef, chicken, fish, some chopped tomatoes and/or lettuce, peppers, shredded cheese, and beans! Feel free to use these Baked Tacos as filler inspiration.
- Grain Bowls – Fill the large lunch box compartment with a room temperature grain (rice, quinoa, or couscous), and then the other compartments can be filled with favorite add-ons – vegetables, proteins, crunchy nuts, seeds, or crisps, and a dressing or sauce of choice. Use this Build Your Own Veggie and Grain Salad as inspiration.
- Soups – A warm soup is great on its own but packed with a side of bread or croutons, rice, garnishes, or other soup toppers can make it more fun! This Shortcut Beef Vegetable Soup is classic and comforting on cooler days.
- Salad Wraps – Similar to a salad or rice bowl, keep ingredients and dressings separate. Add a large wrap for lunchtime assembly. We like to start with a Caesar-style base (romaine lettuce or kale and shredded Parmesan and tomatoes) and then add a protein like rotisserie chicken and a store-bought dressing or the dressing on Jacks’ Favorite Kale Caesar Salad.
- Boats – use a hollowed-out bell pepper, cucumber, or even hard-boiled egg white as a “boat” or vessel for fillings like chicken or tuna salad, hummus, or deviled egg salad. A large lettuce leaf works for these Thai-Inspired Beef Lettuce Wraps.
- Dips – Yogurt, hummus (make your own!), nut/seed butter, tzatziki (make your own!), can be the centerpiece of a satisfying lunch. Use it in combination with fresh fruit, vegetables, granola, pita crisps, etc.
For a quick assembled lunch at home, I like to keep some fresh mozzarella in the fridge. I slice it thin, plate with tomatoes and basil (I know many of you have these in your garden!), and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Then, I use whatever I have on hand to jazz it up, like avocado, leftover pasta, chicken, bacon, or crusty bread. The options are endless.
Looking to throw in something pre-packaged that’s also tasty and has nutritional value to boot? Here are some ideas:
- Hummus cups (Sabra is one brand that comes with thin pretzel dippers)
- Roasted seaweed snacks (Annie Chung has a line at local supermarkets)
- Bars – Ann’s favorite is the original RX bar, especially the peanut butter flavor. She enjoys a chewy bar with minimal ingredients and good flavor. (Note that RX has a newer, protein-enhanced line called PLANT, which isn’t a favorite because it’s crumbly and tastes strongly of protein powder.) Emily’s favorite bar is LARA because they are very dense with nuts and fruits and manage to taste great without additives.
- Clementines, which are naturally sweet, seedless, and easy for even young kids to peel. As a bonus, they come in their own all-natural package and smell terrific too!
- Green Olive Packs – Trader Joe’s single-serve manila olive packs are popular with Emily’s kids as well as their friends.
- String cheese or other packaged, single-serve cheese
- Nuts/seeds/dried fruit of any kind and flavor, including trail mix!
- Freeze dried fruit or vegetables are simply the fresh produce without its water and can be a hit with those who love crisp or crunchy snacks.
- Fruit leathers–an updated version of fruit roll-ups which are 100% fruit
- Popcorn–Enjoy plain or top with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan or other fun flavorings.
IDEAS TO SWITCH UP THE ROUTINE
If you’re looking for variety or to incorporate some new items, here are some ideas specifically for the kids in your world:
- Try breakfast for lunch. Think French toast squares, fresh fruit with yogurt, or even quiche.
- Try a peanut butter (or seed butter) and jelly sushi roll! Remove the crust from a slice of bread and flatten with a rolling pin. Spread the PB&J on top, then roll it up and cut into 4 pieces. Chopsticks optional. 😉
- Some people like to cut sandwiches or fruit into shapes or other designs. There are food and rice design kits or onigiri kits if you’d like to get creative, but cookie cutters work well too!
- Wondering what to put in that last little compartment? Every once in a while a cute note or drawing may make your loved one smile.
- Add one new thing along with other items you know they will eat. This way, they can have familiar foods to maintain a full belly, just in case the new item isn’t a hit right away. Don’t be afraid to try again if they don’t like it the first time. They may be more open to it if they see it again.
- Ask for help in choosing items for the lunch box. This way they will know what to expect–and they may even want to help you prepare it!
❤️ With all of that in mind, good luck packing lunch this year. We hope these ideas make it a little more fun. And as always, please share your favorite lunch packing tips below – we can all learn from each other!