Roughly 335 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide every year. Half of this is used once and only about ten per cent is recycled. China is the biggest plastic polluter but the UK is no environmental saint, producing over 170million tonnes of waste annually, much of which is food wrapping.
The government is now considering banning the sale of single-use plastic cutlery and plates, with Defra recently announcing a study into the “significant negative impact” such items are having on the environment. France became the first country to axe them in 2016, with the law coming into effect in 2020.
Environmental concerns aside, there are other key reasons to invest in a good lunch box. Regularly buying lunch on the go can really eat into your bank balance. You’re limited to what the shops are selling and it can be hard to keep on top of a healthy eating regime when you aren’t sure what’s gone into your meal.
There is an extensive range of styles available, from the traditional faff-free box with a lid, popular for a simple sandwich affair, to trendy bento boxes for those who prefer more variety.
We considered all sorts of lunch boxes when compiling our roundup. Some come with cutlery and the majority can be popped into the dishwasher for easy cleaning. If you’re a hot lunch lover, there are insulated and microwavable options listed here.
They’re all free from BPA, a chemical used to make certain plastics that can seep into food, leading to the possible increased risk of health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and impaired brain development in children.
Leakproof claims have been rigorously real-life tested during office commutes and beach picnics. Boxes that failed to make the cut in terms of practicality (read: they didn’t close properly and leaked all over our handbag) haven’t been featured, no matter how pretty they were.
Fortunately, we tried many well-designed products that look cool and contemporary while scoring functional points too. In fact, our brilliantly-designed best buy isn’t even a box.
Stasher Reusable Silicone Self-Sealing Airtight Bags: £9.99, Amazon
If you find lunch boxes too cumbersome and are looking to go fully plastic-free, these reusable food-safe silicone bags designed by a busy Californian mother and businesswoman are a life-changing find.
If closed properly, their pinch-lock seals take a bit of pulling open again, meaning you needn’t worry about your sandwich going stale or falling out mid-commute. They can be squished into small spaces once emptied and popped into the dishwasher at home without being damaged. You might find they absorb some smell, but this quickly disappears with a thorough washing. Leave a slice of lemon in the bag overnight for an extra clean scent the next day.
Microwave-safe with the seal open, they are waterproof and can withstand heat up to 250°C, making them the perfect parcel for steaming fish and vegetables. They’re great for storing leftovers in the fridge or cupboard as you can see at a glance what’s inside, and will be safe in the freezer too. If you’re a uni and worried about a flatmate stealing your grub, you can write on the bags with a drywipe marker and wash it off again later.
Food aside, Stasher bags keeping phones safe from sea and sand on holiday or storing your liquids when flying. Sturdy and well-made, they should last you years but are 100 per cent recyclable when the time comes to throw them away. There are three sizes available in a rainbow of colours: small (220ml), sandwich-size (450ml) and large (1.9l), big enough to hold a big steak or an entire bundle of asparagus.
Black + Blum Lunch Pot: £19.95, Black + Blum
This ingenious lunch pot from British design brand Black + Blum also wowed us. It comprises two pots that slot together vertically. The shape of the pot fitted into our handbag better than more conventional lunch boxes, while the handy carry strap meant we could take it out to the park at lunchtime on its own.
It felt stable to hold, but each pot has its own secure, silicone-sealed lid, should you drop it. The pots are made from a strong type of plastic with added seashell powder, giving them the feel of ceramic without the fragility or heaviness. The included spork is adult-size.
If you like your food hot, both pots can go in the microwave without their lids, though don’t exceed two minutes in one go to avoid heat damage. Once you finish eating, the smaller 300ml pot fits inside the larger 550ml pot for even better portability.
They will be fine in the dishwasher when you get home. The lunch pot, which could also be used to separate yoghurt and granola for your breakfast each morning, comes in six colours: lime green, pale yellow, teal, olive, red/black and orange.
Tefal Masterseal Micro Food Storage 1.2l with Inserts: £9, Amazon
This new lunchbox from reliable brand Tefal has two stand-out qualities. Firstly, it has an integrated, flick-open valve for quick and easy microwaving without the need to remove the lid.
Secondly, it’s red as opposed to the more common clear, and colour resistant, minimising unsightly stains from rich chillis and curries.
The lid is fully leakproof, even when tested full of water, and there are four clips for easy, mess-free opening and closing. The fixed freshness seal keeps germs and smalls from getting in when closed, keeping your lunch fresh for longer.
The inside is compartmentalised, but the dividers are removable should you want more space - it holds a generous 1.5l in total, enough for a filling bowl of pasta. It is both dishwasher and frost-resistant for the freezer. If you still doubt its reliability, it comes with a 30-year guarantee.
Design Letters Personalised Lunch Box (A-Z): £18, Scout & Co
Danish design house Design Letters has created this cute lunch box that can be personalised with your chosen letter. The monochrome colour palette is classically cool, and the typography was hand-drawn by architect and furniture designer Arne Jacobsen in the 1930s.
This charming product is made from food-safe plastic but is on the shallow side, making it better suited to rice and salads over thick sandwiches.
Though designed to be easy to open and close for children, the lids fit securely onto the base and we didn’t have a problem with leakage from pasta sauce and dressings. It's suitable for the dishwasher and there are water bottles in the range, too.
Sistema 2l Lunch Cube Max with Yoghurt Pot To Go: £6.99, Amazon
You can cram a lot into this spacious lunch box from household name Sistema. It has multiple compartments – a big base layer for sandwiches and a three-part top layer for fruit and nibbles.
It comes with a 150ml, screw-top lid yoghurt pot that fits snugly into one of these parts and could also be used for salad dressing or dip.
It can be tightly sealed all the way around, with the lid snapped into place by a big clip. It is microwave, fridge, freezer and dishwasher safe, making it as convenient as lunch boxes come, bar its bulky size.
It comes in a range of jazzy colours including this bright purple, pink, green and clear and we’ve suffered no handbag disasters with it yet.
Rex London Tropical Palm Adult Bento Box: £8.95, Rex London
Cheese plants are everywhere right now and they also adorn this cheerful green and pink bento box from online gift shop Rex London. It has two compartments stacked on top of each other, with a full plastic cutlery set hidden inside the top lid.
Each layer has its own lid – these lack seals, meaning liquids are a no-go, but a tight elastic rubber strap holds it all together for added reassurance.
Though more of a style over substance choice, we found it safe to use with sandwiches, pasta and non-sloppy rice dishes. Just keep it upright and stick to dry foods to be on the safe side.
This isn’t a lunch box for those who like heating their lunches as it can’t go in the microwave, and only the bases can go in the dishwasher. Though not the biggest on our list at 18cm x 10cm x 10.5cm, it will fit a small sandwich and some fruit and is a good choice if you want a fun way to manage portion sizes. Other patterns include retro apples and flamingos.
Joseph Joseph Go Eat Range Space Saving Lunch Box: £16, John Lewis
Products that promise space saving solutions always intrigue us, so we were excited to try this three compartment lunchbox from twin brothers Richard and Antony Joseph’s GoEat range.
It features two plastic layers: use the bottom for big sandwiches and the top, which is split in two, for wet food or snacks. Unfortunately, we found that the collar that clicks in place to hold both parts together popped off in our bag, losing it marks.
Luckily the 500ml top compartment has a silicone lid, keeping it leakproof, but the 700ml base does not so keep that part for dry foods only.
Once you finish eating, the top nests inside the bottom for compact carrying home. It’s all microwave and dishwasher safe and cleans well, but remove the collar and silicone lid before heating. Use bicarbonate of soda to scrub off any stains from darker-coloured sauces.
Cutlery is not included but a matching stainless steel set in a silicone carry case can be bought separately for £14. Choose from zingy lime green or teal.
Sakura Bunny Bento Box: £22.50, Sous Chef
This unmistakable Japanese bento box decorated in beautiful sakura blossoms and adorable bunnies is, admittedly, more of a niche choice. It’s slim and only carries 510ml, but if sushi is your first choice lunch and you know how to make your own, it’s sure to be the envy of the office.
It is made in Japan from a durable plastic and has two stackable layers.The bottom has its own lid and will safely contain wet food, so long as it’s not too saucy.
There’s an elastic band to help hold the compartments together on the move, but wedge it into your bag the right way up where possible. Both parts can be put in the microwave and dishwasher, but take off the lids first.
If you fall in love with the design but simply aren’t motivated enough to prepare your own bento each day, it would make a unique stationary holder or jewellery box. It could also be an unusual, thoughtful gift for a sushi-loving friend.
Takenaka Daffodil Bento Lunch Box: £28, Trouva
Match your lunchbox to the sunshine with this glossy daffodil yellow set from Japanese brand Takenaka. It’s bigger than most of the bento boxes we’ve come across and can be used with two tiers or one depending on how much food you want to pack in.
The gently domed lid helps prevent sandwiches from being squashed and the top layer has its own tight fitting lid that successfully kept a small portion of pesto pasta lunch from leaking. There’s an orange elastic band to keep them together for added security in your bag.
Like the Joseph and Joseph box, the top turns upside down and fits inside the bottom to save space on the way home. Both parts are dishwasher and microwave safe, but remove the inner lid first and don’t heat it for more than two minutes at a time to prevent the plastic warping.
Lots of other colours are available, including blue, peppermint, pink and grey, but prepare to pay more for the chic design.
Sass & Belle Aiko Panda Kawaii Friends Bento Box: £5, Sass & Belle
This plastic bento box isn’t marketed solely at children but as the smallest on our roundup, it’s only appropriate for those who like lighter lunches or need somewhere to store their snacks.
The cartoon panda on the lid is adorable – and will definitely appeal to grownups as well as kids – and the bright blue colour of the two stackable layers makes it easy to spot your box in the fridge.
The base compartment comes with a divider to separate your foods, and a plastic fork and spoon are cleverly concealed in the lid. Though drawback is that you shouldn’t use it in the microwave and it’s best to hand wash it.
For only a fiver, it’s a bargain, but don’t expect it to last as long as more expensive options listed here, or be as reliable holding thicker liquids like yoghurt.
The Verdict: Best reusable lunch boxes
Though not officially a lunch box, the Stasher reusable sandwich bags with their myriad of uses were such a revelation that it was hard to fault them – they’ll only disappoint on the leakproof front if you don’t fasten the seal correctly.
If you think paying around a tenner per bag is a rip-off, think again – you’ll soon find the minimal cost per use makes stocking up on a mix of sizes a no-brainer.
The Black + Blum lunch pot comes a close second and proved the most hassle and mess free to carry into work each day. It could easily double up as a breakfast pot and we appreciated the included spork, helping us to cut down on our use of single-use plastic cutlery too.