Get Ready for Back-to-School Season with These Tools

You can be sure this equipment won't fail you.

Summer is winding down, which means that for many of us the school year is gearing up. Maybe you’re a parent in need of a good travel mug for the morning drop-off or you’re looking for a leak-free bento box for packing wholesome school meals for your little ones. Or perhaps you simply want to get into the healthy and budget-friendly lunch box habit yourself. Either way, we’ve got you covered. All the items in our guide this week have made the grade in our kitchen tests, so you can be sure that they’ll work well for you.

—Carolyn Grillo, Senior 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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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 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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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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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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These inexpensive pouches have wide openings and can stand on their own, so they were quick and easy to fill. We also appreciated their clearly visible fill lines, which prevent spilling, and the space to record the contents and date on the pouch. One tester who used these with his 1- and 3-years-olds liked the pouches so much he asked if he could keep them. Though this model was easier than other models to clean, you still have to rinse the spout and pouch thoroughly before placing it in the dishwasher so it stays open during the wash cycle.

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