** Please note! Since this was originally posted in 2016, some of the products I recommended are no longer available. I will update at some point, but in the meantime, I have taken down a couple pages in this section detailing lunchboxes and cold lunch packaging. **
My two most frequently-asked questions (besides “What recipes do you use?” – which I’ve been addressing plenty – and “Did you notice you made Beyoncé cry when you stood next to her because of your abnormally-striking good looks?”) are:
1.- How do I pack a hot lunch, if my kids have no microwaving capabilities? (Follow-up question frequently is whether or not my kids have refrigeration capabilities at school.)
2.- What lunch-packing containers do you typically use?
One question clearly leads to the other, and since it’s absolutely no good to slave away over a hot stove (or a warm pack of tortillas) for hours if your food isn’t packed safely enough for your kids to eat.
Because here’s the thing: my main objective is that the food be safe to eat. Plenty of people are “pretty sure” their lunches’ temperatures are “okay” because they “feel cool,” or “warm,” or “edible.”
But, surprise surprise! Despite “warm” and “edible” and “super-nummy” being great coloquial terms, it turns out, they’re not highly scientific. The FDA and the CDC both have very specific recommendations on the exact temperatures and length of time your foods should sit out (by the way, no more than 2 hours at room temperature, and no more than one hour if your “room temperature” is 90 degrees or above, which currently is more similar to my dehydrator’s temperature than my room’s). They even say terrifying things like, “bacteria can double every twenty minutes at room temperature,” things that make you throw up a little in your mouth at the thought of what your lovingly-prepared meal may be doing to your sweet little cuddlebugs.
But guys, I love all that shit. Regulations, and rules, and recommendations regarding safety concerns. I mean, really. I live in a NICU. I was born to sweat the small stuff.
So I’ve put together a breakdown of the best hot and cold food containers I’ve tried, so that you don’t have to. I’ll tell you what I personally use, and why. And I’ll show you why lunchboxes themselves are a bit more secondary, and frequently even a self-explanatory, choice – once you make a decision regarding containers themselves, the lunchbox will follow easily, But I have a breakdown on them, too. So read on!
And as a side note, all of these products are BPA/Latex/Phalate/PVC/Nitrosamine-free, in case you’re wondering. All of the stainless steel is 18/8, which means it won’t rust. All their packaging states that they are top-dishwasher-rack safe (unless otherwise noted in my description), although they all technically still recommend hand washing. But you know me – I hate working extra, so I throw everything in the dishwasher. It’s a well-known fact that just about anything will do better when washed by hand, but for-the-love-of-post-call-sanity, I’m washing how I’m washing, so I apologize if my opinion is unfairly skewed by that. Anything that requires gentle scrubbing with the wings plucked from a pre-pubescent fairy by the light of the moon on the fourth Saturday in February (if there happens to be a fourth Saturday that year) is going to get lots of side-eye glances from me.
I own and happily use all of the containers I describe here for you. They all work, and you will be fine under the right circumstances with any of them. However, if you don’t think you can take another second of wading through my never-ending drivel, and just want to cut to the chase to know what my absolute preferences are, here’s the short list:
- For hot foods, Funtainer Food Jar or Stanley Food Jar (sorry, you do need to make this decision yourself based on the details).
- For the rest of your lunch, and cold entrees, EasyLunchboxes system: containers, lunchbox, and mini dippers. Close second: PlanetBox.
- Funtainer water bottles
Now, read why (and what else I like)!