All the Tools You Need for Packing Lunches This Year

All the equipment you need to make and transport meals with ease.

Whether you’re making wholesome school meals for little ones or simply want to get into the healthy and budget-friendly lunch box habit yourself, it’s important to have the right equipment. After all, what good is a homemade sandwich that gets squished in a backpack or freshly brewed coffee that spills during your commute? (Before I had our favorite glass storage container and winning travel mug, these snafus happened to me often.) By investing in some key pieces of equipment, you’ll be able to make and transport meals with ease and do away with lunchtime disappointment for good.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

Our new favorite passed every test and looked good doing it. Its clear, lightweight Tritan plastic material stayed as clear and stain-free as glass, and its audibly snug seal didn't leak, even when we turned the container upside down and shook it hard. It held a generous amount of chili, and its low profile helped foods chill or heat up more evenly than did deeper containers. Microwaving chili was easy and neat, with lid vents that let you leave the container fully sealed while keeping splatters contained and extended rims that stayed cool for easy handling. Its flat top made for secure, compact stacking in the fridge or freezer. One quibble: While we like that the gasket is attached so we don't have to fuss with removing it, you do need to clean carefully under its open side, as some testers detected very slight fishy odors. It's also sold in sets, in varying sizes.

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Our winner had the largest capacity in the lineup, with two 4-ounce containers that could be used together or separately—the latter option allowing us to pack different foods or prep two meals at once. Both containers were more than 2 inches deep, so it was easy to stir in and eat from them without spilling. The airtight lids sometimes required a bit of strength to remove, but we didn't mind because it was the only container that never leaked. This plastic model retained a barely noticeable sardine smell after one wash, but that faded after a second wash. This model is available in a variety of colors.

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With a plastic lid that latched easily and securely and an airtight, leakproof seal that didn't drip or let moisture in, this container is our top choice for glass storage. Its ⅜-inch-wide, soft, square silicone gasket was easy to remove and replace for cleaning, and the faintly fishy odors it retained disappeared after rewashing. The plastic lid showed a slight orange tint after the chili test, but this faded as the container went through more dishwashing cycles. It also resisted warping and emerged intact at the end of testing. The 8-cup container, which looked like a glass loaf pan, held plenty of food, though we'd prefer a slightly flatter, wider shape to help foods heat and chill a bit more uniformly.

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Testers raved about this travel mug, which not only kept coffee hot and cold for far longer than any other mug we tried but also was the easiest to use. Slim from top to bottom, it was comfortable for hands of all sizes to hold, open, and close, but because the opening is narrow, we had to aim a little more carefully when filling it. A simple push of a button popped open its lid, exposing the clean drinking spout within. Testers also loved that this leakproof mug came with an equally easy-to-use locking mechanism, which provided good insurance against accidental spills. Just a few minor durability issues: Like the other models, it dented when dropped, and it smelled of coffee even after several washes. Also worth noting: Because it’s so good at retaining heat, you may want to cool your favorite beverage to the temperature you prefer before sealing the mug or you risk a very hot surprise on your first sip.

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This water bottle struck a happy medium: kids liked that it was easy to drink from and parents liked that it was easy to clean. It had a straw-free cap that allowed water to flow freely, as well as a cap lock that prevented accidental spills. It didn’t break or leak when dropped repeatedly or inverted and shaken. It also didn’t retain any smells or odors after the green smoothie test. The kids liked its grippy silicone sleeve and carrying handle that made for easy transport and found its lid easy to remove and put back on.

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Our winner had the widest mouth in the lineup, which made it simple to fill—no spills or drips. The screw-on lid had a wide, arched handle that was easy to grip and turn, though users occasionally took an extra few seconds to get the lid on track. We liked that this model was dishwasher-safe and had no extra parts to remove during cleaning, and it survived three indoor drops despite its 2½-pound (filled) weight. It's also available in a 16-ounce size, if you prefer a lighter load.

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This straw set came with two 8-inch-long and two 10.5-inch-long straws. Both were very comfortable to drink from, thanks to their 3-inch-long silicone tips. Because the silicone tips were detachable, both the straws and the tips were easy to clean. The 8-inch straw fit comfortably in a glass, a to-go cup, and a travel mug and came with an effective cleaning brush that had plentiful bristles and a grippy handle. These sturdy straws did not dent when we placed a weight on them for an hour and ably punched through the lid of a plastic to-go cup. The 10.5-inch-long straw is ideal for to-go cups and tumblers larger than 16 ounces. The downside is that this set did not come with a carrying case (OXO said it plans to release a set with one later this year); however, we felt that its performance, easy cleanup, and durability outweighed this drawback.

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Produced by the same manufacturer as our winner, this slightly smaller bag performed nearly as well. Like our winner, it had a zipper lock that sealed easily and tightly, helping keep food free of freezer burn and preventing leaks—it kept water contained except when dropped. And like our winner, the bag got a touch wrinkled after extended use. But while it was widemouthed and fairly roomy, this flat bag lacked gussets, preventing it from standing up and making it harder to fill.

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These wraps provided a happy medium between a strong seal that kept food fresh and a relative lack of waxy residue left behind on our hands and bowls. Though cleaning them still took some scrubbing, they were easier to clean than their much stickier counterparts, and they resisted stains for the most part. They held up to washings well, retaining their clinging ability after more than 10 rounds of cleaning.

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This bag protected food from freezer burn and ice crystals for more than two months, and it stayed intact when filled with tomato sauce and dropped. But the band of thicker plastic under the double zipper was on the short side, making the bag a bit difficult to prop open and fill. And the side seams on the zipper enclosure itself were less sturdy than those of the product’s older version, tearing more easily and allowing some water to leak into and out of the bag.

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By pressing a large button on the top of the machine, you can quickly and easily carbonate water along a spectrum from mildly fizzy to very bubbly. An internal mechanism latches on to the water bottle and releases it gently. The machine is sturdy and fairly compact, and the water bottles are a convenient size.

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