I Traveled Around the World to Find the Perfect Lunch Box for My Kids so You Don’t Have To

published Mar 6, 2024
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Kid school lunch bento box set, healthy food options for toddler and young kids. Finger food lunch ideas for kids.
Credit: Tanya Consaul Photography / Shutterstock

I am the chief lunch and snack packer in my household. I grumble about it from time to time (and by time to time, I mean weekly), but if I’m being completely honest the daily ritual is both grounding and satisfying. My wife will swoop in as needed, but she finds the empty sections in bento boxes daunting, whereas I view them as helpful creative prompts. Place a protein in the large slot to anchor the meal, flanked by some salty crunch in the form of crackers or chips, and then cap it off with sliced veggies and fruit in the remaining smaller sections and boom — done. I may or may not also rely heavily on my talented colleagues’ kid-friendly lunch roundups, time-saving prep tips, and grocery shopping lists for inspiration.

While my wife and I are in agreement that I am the official provider, the delivery method for said lunches has been a real bone of contention between us. She’s questioned my lunch box of choice more than once, to which I usually respond with an invitation for her to take over the task permanently. Please note that I am still doing it daily. 

Admittedly, we were equally opinionated and a bit Goldilocks-like in our critique and quick dismissal of the containers we encountered in our lunch-packing careers. Reasons for elimination from the rotation are as follows:

  • Too big
  • Too small
  • Not enough compartments
  • Short dividers leading to spill-over into other sections
  • Hard to clean
  • Too heavy overall

The Bento Lunch Boxes We Tried Out (and Why We Stopped Using Them)

At the start of this journey, OmieBox and Bentgo were our trusty stalwarts but were eventually retired due to wear and tear and because my oldest daughter wanted something “a little more mature.” After researching the best bento boxes (and what to stuff in them), I settled on the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Lunch Box for both of my kids. They liked the accompanying decorative magnets (mermaids, ftw!) and I was keen on the amount and variety of sections in the box, plus the available accessories (magnetic utensils, additional containers, and a carrying bag with handle). 

The boxes delivered on their promise and we definitely got good use out of them. The only downside was that they were made of metal, which made them very durable but also added weight to the girls’ backpacks. Toss in water bottles, a few library books, and a change of shoes on a bad-weather day and the bags were prohibitively heavy for small bodies. 

We tried out some lighter plastic alternatives, but they either leaked or didn’t offer a sufficient barrier between foods. With one particular road test, I was NOT prepared for the crime scene that awaited me during unpacking. I wish I could unsee what a few interloping raspberries did to those unsuspecting pretzels and that poor turkey sandwich. After a very thorough cleaning and apologies issued, the container was banished from the kitchen and now houses hair ties, barrettes, and clips in a bathroom drawer.

How Sistema Containers Became Our New Go-To Snack Boxes

Throughout our quest, there has been one constant in my family’s revolving door of food containers: the Sistema Small Split TO GO container. While it’s not large enough for a full lunch, it is my go-to snack box because of its compact two-compartment design which is both lightweight and keeps contents separate. No messy mingling of tastes and textures and no added weight to an overstuffed backpack!

I don’t know why I overlooked the brand in my initial round of research, but I am happy to report that we are now all Sistema, all the time, thanks to a recent trip to New Zealand. I popped into a Pak’nSave with a friend for a few groceries and gleefully exited the shop with an armful of options that will keep my kids in organized lunches through high school. Oh, and also enough Whittaker’s to result in overweight bag fees on the flight home, but I digress. 

I genuinely had no idea I was in the Sistema homeland when I wandered into the food storage aisle that day. I am certain I emitted an audible gasp when I first laid eyes on the neatly stacked shelves of smartly designed reusable boxes, bins, and drink bottles. Why do I love them?

  • Lightweight
  • Offered in a range of modular combinations and styles
  • Stackable and nestable design makes for easy fridge and cabinet storage
  • Dishwasher-safe (top rack only)
  • Microwave-safe (without lid)
  • Freezer-safe
  • Sustainably made in New Zealand with food-safe and BPA-free materials

Unlike me, you do not need to hop a flight to the southern hemisphere to get one! While the variety is a little more limited in the United States, retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, and others carry the line in a range of shapes and sizes. Sadly, my luggage could not accommodate all, but here’s what did make the cut.

1 / 3

Overall, the box is very light with three nice-sized compartments and ample space for a second layer of removable trays (perfect for holding utensils, string cheese, or granola bars). The set also comes with one yogurt pot/snack dome to keep wet or loose items neat and contained.

2 / 3

Similar to the OG Small Split TO GO container, in that it is convenient in size and effectively keeps food separate. The optional top tray is perfect for sliced fruit/berries and the bottom section can accommodate a generous serving of chips or crackers.

3 / 3
was $5.99

I actually bought the Yogurt TO GO two pack, but that set is not available for purchase online in the U.S. The Mini Bites TO GO Containers are slightly smaller, but offer the same benefits. The tight-fitting lid and rounded shape make them a perfect receptacle for yogurt, applesauce, or loose dry snacks like raisins, nuts, or smaller fruits and vegetables.

At long last, we have achieved a container consensus in our home!