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Updated August 2022
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Buying guide for Best insulated lunch boxes

Lunch boxes aren’t just for school children. If you want to save money during the work week, packing a lunch is one of the most economical steps you can take. Paper bags are okay, but if you want your food fresh, consider investing in a insulated lunch box. Insulated lunch boxes will keep your food close to the temperature they were prepared at, so they’re effective at preserving anything from salads to soups.

With all the insulated lunch boxes on the market, there’s quite a bit to choose from. To narrow your search, consider your desired lunch box size, lunch box style, and any features you might want, such as extra compartments or a shoulder strap. Some insulated lunch boxes are machine washable while others aren’t. Certain models are also better at keeping food at a balanced temperature.

Regardless of your choice, an insulated lunch box can help you avoid eating out at lunchtime. They’re great to have on hand for summer picnics, too. Read on to learn more about insulated lunch boxes and our favorite picks.

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An insulated lunch bag comes in handy when you want to take a six-pack of beverages on the go. In fact, many are made explicitly for this purpose.

Key considerations


Insulated lunch boxes range in capacity, from 12 ounces up to 16 quarts. For the single user, a box that holds 12 to 20 ounces typically suffices. Larger sizes are ideal for family outings: beach trips, long car rides, picnics, and such. Additionally, a larger insulated lunch box can accommodate drinks, utensils, napkins, and other extras.


Health experts recommend that perishable items such as poultry, fish, or eggs be stored under 40°F. A well-insulated lunch box is made from layers of insulated material such as plastic, fabric, or vinyl. Look for a lunch box that can close completely, either with a zipper or Velcro, to maintain the temperature of your food.


Insulated lunch boxes are made from a thick, hard-to-tear outer layer such as vinyl, nylon, or heavy fabric. Silicon is another popular material. Note that vinyl and plastic lunch boxes aren’t always machine washable like some fabric lunch boxes are.


Neutral shades like black, brown, and grey are common for adult lunch boxes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t branch out. You can find lunch boxes in bright colors like pink, yellow, and green. Your color choice is a matter of personal preference and the environment in which the lunch box will be used. But a simple black bag still has many pros, one of which is hiding food stains.



If your lunch goes a step beyond the simple sandwich, storage containers may be necessary. Fortunately, some lunch boxes include small storage containers. Others have several compartments inside, making it easy to pack a complex lunch. Compartments can include space for a water bottle or canned drink, space for utensils, and even a tiny slot for vitamin supplements. But for simple sandwich lovers, there are plenty of insulated lunch boxes that mimic a traditional paper lunch bag in design.


Some insulated lunch boxes are made with vinyl, lead, BPA, and other materials that harm the environment. For the eco-conscious, several insulated lunch boxes are made with a PEVA lining, which is a chlorine-free alternative to vinyl (also known as PVC). With a plethora of options on the market, it’s not hard to find a lunch box that will keep your food fresh without harming the environment. These bags are available in varying sizes and colors, too.

Insulated lunch box prices

Rest assured, buying an insulated lunch box won’t break the bank. You can buy a decent model for anywhere between $15 and $40, depending on size and other factors.


Between $15 and $25, you will find plenty of no-frills, straightforward lunch boxes. Most lunch boxes in this price range will carry up to 32 ounces of food, if not more. Many contain extra compartments. For one person’s meal, this should be adequate.


If you need enough space to store food for two or more people, the $25 to $35 range provides more options. Here, you’ll also encounter lunch boxes with more features, such as specialized compartments, small storage containers, and reusable ice packs.


The average insulated lunch boxes will meet your needs for under $40. You’ll run into more expensive lunch boxes if you care more about the designer of the bag and its aesthetic appeal — or if you’re looking for a military-style lunch box, which the average person won’t need for an ordinary lunch.


  • Handles are helpful. If you plan to pack your lunch box with food, consider one that has a handle on each side for easier carrying.

  • Look at dimensions before buying. This way, you can avoid being unpleasantly surprised by food containers that don’t fit.

  • Save room when you can. Foods such as chips, canned foods, and other non-perishable items don’t require refrigeration. You can save room in a small lunch box by keeping those items at your desk or in your work bag instead.
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Fruit, when sliced, is perishable. A whole apple or orange will keep much better, whether it’s inside or outside your insulated lunch box, than a sliced apple or orange.


Q. Do insulated lunch boxes require refrigeration?

A. No. A well-insulated lunch box doesn’t need to be refrigerated. (Keeping an ice pack or gel pack inside will help keep foods cooler, however.) Besides, if fully closed, the lunch box would actually insulate the food from refrigeration.

Q. Can insulated lunch boxes keep food frozen?

A. No. Insulated lunch boxes mimic refrigeration by keeping food cold. If you store a frozen item in an insulated lunch box, it will eventually thaw, albeit at a much slower rate than if it were left on a countertop.

Q. How long can I expect an insulated lunch box to last?

A. It depends on how well the bag is maintained and the frequency at which it is used. An everyday insulated lunch box, with good care, can last a few years. Of course, less tear-resistant models may not make it that long. And, if it is subject to rough handling from children, the bag may last even less time.

Q. How do you clean an insulated lunch box?

A. Several lunch box models are machine washable, so it’s an easy matter of tossing them in the washer. Otherwise, a rinse with soap and water will do just fine. Baking soda can help remove tough stains; just make sure it won’t damage your lunch box material.

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