So you have your bento box all dressed up with somewhere to go. How are you going to get it there? Most likely in a lunchbox or some type of lunchbag or cooler.
For the 3rd chapter of my "Tools of the Trade" series we will be talking about lunchboxes and cooler bags. :)
There are soooooo many, oh SO many choices in this area. Unlike a lot of other bento-y items, lunchbags are a component you can find locally and pretty easily. And not just find them, but have a huge variety to pick from.
I get asked often about what type of lunchbox I use for my kids to carry their bento boxes in. This post is your answer. ;-)
Whenever someone asks me to recommend a lunchbox my first recommendation and #1 tip is to choose a lunchbox or lunchbag that will hold the lunch upright, and not tip it on the side when carried by the handle.
This is an example of what I don't recommend for bento box toting.
It pains me to say this, because I really, really, REALLY liked these lunchboxes. They are from Costco. They are very well insulated, have a removable liner for cleaning, come with a ice pack AND a stainless water bottle.
They feel really well made, zip nicely, the handle has a cool rubber grip. There is a mesh pocket on the side (presumably to hold the stainless water bottle) and a pocket on the front that would work well to hold a snack. The size is great. I really, really, REALLY liked these lunchboxes (did I say that already?). I bought one for both of my boys. So what's the problem? The problem is the way it is carried. It would tilt the lunch on the side, making it not an ideal choice for bento. I might keep one of these for my anti-bento Owen boy, but I just don't see it being a good choice for my bento-carrying Ethan.
Now for some examples of what I *do* recommend. :)
This is the lunchbox my little girl used last year for preschool.
I bought this on Amazon. It's adorable. It held her Sassy box lunches perfectly. This lunchbox did not have any insulation in it whatsoever, however. It was the layer of pink plastic on the outside and white plastic lining and nothing in between them. This worked okay for her school days because her lunch only sat for a couple of hours and was stored in a cool classroom (and with an icepack). This lunchbox wouldn't have cut it under other circumstances. I never used this lunchbox if we were going to the zoo for the day, for instance, where the food had to sit longer in a warmer environment.
Another lunchbox that had similar functionality to the piggie lunchbox is this one:
Now I love this lunchbag because it is made from re-purposed materials that would otherwise sit in a landfill for the next millenia. But like the piggie lunchbag, there is no insulation (though this one is better in that department than the piggie one). This lunchbag is pretty narrow. I can squeeze a Sassy Box in there, but the best bento box for this lunchbag are the narrow two-tiered type bento boxes.
One of the reasons why this post has taken me so long to get posted is because I kept finding new lunchbags to add to the post! Like these ones for instance, found recently at Target.
There were other animals available too. Each one comes with a tiny matching icepack (really little, not sure how helpful it would be to keep a lunch cool, honestly.)
This particular lunchbag shape really resembles a purse. I tried out a few of our boxes and I found the Sassy boxes and our narrow two-tier type bento boxes fit perfectly in here.
They are made of neoprene. I haven't used neoprene bags before, so I don't know how well they insulate or hold up. I actually ended up returning these... though Ethan insisted he'd like to use the elephant for school, I wasn't so sure. He'll be in third grade and I worry that he'll be teased. sigh.
A new lunchbag I really love is this one by Paperchase.
It seems to be made very well. Very nicely insulated. This is the only design it seems to come in. Such a pity, because it really seems to be practically perfect in every way. It's a keeper.
These lunchboxes were also bought at Costco, but they were purchased about 11 years ago! (Wow!!!). My husband and I used them to carry our lunches to work. They have obviously held up really well! So well in fact that this red one is actually the lunchbox Ethan used all last year for 2nd grade! I'd pack his morning snack in the top section and the bottom held his bento lunch nice and flat. There was enough room for an icepack and depending on which drink container I used, it would fit to the side, otherwise I'd put it in the top with his snack. All of our bento boxes fit in this. I didn't get EasyLunchboxes until the school year was almost over, but those fit snugly in there too.
I don't see this style of lunchbox often, but I do see them around occasionally. Pottery Barn Kids has a style that is the same as this (though narrower and a little smaller, EasyLunchboxes wouldn't fit in them but other smaller boxes should).
Speaking of EasyLunchboxes, their line of lunchbags is another good option for bento.
Ethan will be using this lunchbag this year. He's picked the red one. It's easily large enough for his bento lunch, a nice snack, ice pack(s) and drink.
If you have trouble finding at bento-friendly lunchbox is the back-to-school section of lunchboxes, try checking out the area where year-round lunchboxes are kept. Target has a lot of good options in theirs.
While these types of boxes may not have as much kid-appeal, I feel confident in saying that these ones will hold up much better than 90% of the kiddie-geared ones. We usually end up wearing out those kiddie lunchboxes by mid-year. Ethan went through two different kiddie lunchboxes his 1st grade year, just totally wore them out to where lining was ripping out and seams were coming undone. That's part of the reason he carried my old lunchbox for 2nd grade. ;-)
I think if you are lucky enough to be able to shop for lunchboxes in person, and you are planning to pack bentos, a really smart move would me to take your preferred bento box(es), ice pack and drink containers with you to see how they will fit. It's a little bit of a hassle, but a well-functioning lunch system goes a long way in easing some of the frustrations that can come along with packing lunches.
1. lunchbox/lunchbag that will carry contents upright.
2. well insulated (if necessary for your needs)
3. will easily fit all contents (without straining zipper or seams)
4. label your bag clearly with child's name in case it goes missing!
For more "Tools of the Trade" lunch supply topics check out:
"tools of the trade, part 1: picks"
"tools of the trade, part 2: boxes"