I read allergy forums to get fresh ideas for packing school lunches. While reading a forum one day, I noticed a lot of parents mentioning the types of lunch boxes they used. I confess, I hadn’t ever thought about what type of lunch box my oldest used at school; I was more obsessed with figuring out what foods to pack for her everyday!
A lot of parents recommended bento style lunchboxes. Many of these lunchboxes have compartments for different types of foods, and some are made to be leakproof, so that you can pack things that may otherwise be difficult to send (sauces, juicy fruits, etc.). The main point these fellow allergy parents made: these lunchboxes are essentially trays out of which your children eat. This means that they are NOT taking foods out of their lunchbox and setting them on a potentially contaminated surface. It prevents lunch foods from getting mixed up with or touching other items on the table from another child’s lunch. Genius, right?!?!? Yeah, it’s good to be in touch with other experienced food allergy parents! 🙂
Consider What You Need Before You Shop
After looking at several of the options out there, PlanetBox, Bentgo Kids, and Yumbox seem to be the brands to beat for this type of lunchbox. Having researched these brands and gone through a year of public school lunch packing at this point, here are some details I recommend you think about up front:
- Be prepared for sticker shock. Yeah, most of these beauties cost between $26 and $80.
- Some boxes are more leakproof than others. You’ll need to consider if you want to pack liquid-y (nice word?) food items.
- Think about weight. Most of these bento style boxes are made of plastic, but the PlanetBox is metal. The weight of each varies quite a bit!
- Consider whether your child would do better with a carrying case for his or her lunchbox. Most of these bento/tray style lunch boxes do NOT have handles for carrying, which means you need to purchase a specially made carrying case, or make up your own option.
- Think about what other accessories you might need to purchase to make these types of lunch boxes practical for children or young adults. Do you need a way to send a drink to school? Will you need a way to keep items cold or hot? Do you need space to send eating utensils, napkins, etc.?
A Recommendation and Some Take Aways for You!
We decided to put our money towards a PlanetBox. We found the “Rover” style on sale on Amazon.com for $65.00 USD including the extras (marked down from an $85 previous price tag!) and took the plunge. We bought a couple accessories: a purple carrying case with the fairy magnets (Izzy chose!) and a cold kit.
What We Love about the PlanetBox:
- It’s easy to open and start eating right away. — The PlanetBox latch easily pops open. A big plus related to this: I noticed Izzy began eating more of her lunch when I used this box. With these kinds of lunch boxes, you open it up and walla! The food is sitting there ready to start eating right away. Since she didn’t have to bother opening ziploc bags, packages, foil, etc., Izzy could get to eating at the beginning of her lunch period, eating more before rushing out to recess. 😉
- It’s perfect for packing non-traditional lunch foods. — The compartment/tray style box makes it super simple to pack dinner leftovers like pasta, meats, fruit salads, etc. We added so much more variety to lunch after getting this style lunch box!
- It has leakproof containers. — The box comes with two circular containers, small and larger sized, that can seal in items that leak. This is a nice bonus.
- The carrying case is practical. — The case has two pockets in the front: one that can fit a basic size thermos and another that can hold eating utensils, napkins, extra food or snacks, etc.
- Food stays chilled. — The cold pack works well to keep items chilled, and the stainless steel box (put in the fridge the night before) does a nice job keeping things cold on its own.
- It’s easy to clean. — The stainless steel box can go in the dishwasher, but I don’t run my dishwasher everyday and elect to pack lunches the night before, so we quickly hand wash it as soon as Izzy gets off the bus and then let it air dry or dry it off right away.
- It’s so allergy friendly! — The school nurse loved the concept for food allergic children! She mentioned it to me one day when I had to pick Izzy up from school for sickness (not for an allergic reaction!) and was so impressed with the design.
What We Don’t Love about the PlanetBox:
- The compartment sizes can be limiting. — You’re limited to the size and shape of the compartments for the amount and types of foods you can pack.
- It is heavy. — Izzy didn’t seem to mind, but it would make her backpack so cumbersome! If we needed to send several items to school, she would have to carry the lunchbox separately from her backpack just so that the backpack wouldn’t weigh her down!
- It is not damage-proof. — Though the box is made of metal and is heavy, it can still be bent or damaged! I dropped it on our laminate floor one night, and it dented the corner. Luckily, it didn’t hit near the hinge, so it still closed tightly & didn’t affect much. However, I was surprised at how easily it could be bent. Beware if you have a child that is rougher with his or her stuff. 😉
- The carrying case cannot be easily cleaned. — The carrying case can only be wiped clean (not dunked in water or laundered in a machine), but it does absorb a lot and therefore got a tad smelly a couple of times if my daughter spilled something on it or items leaked out.
- The leakproof containers can be hard to open. — The regular lunchbox compartments close fairly tightly but are NOT leakproof, as the manufacturer explains. The two leakproof containers that came with the box work well, but they close so tightly (especially once shut inside the lunchbox) that Izzy sometimes had difficulty opening the containers. The edges of the containers are a bit sharp, too. They each have a silicone seal that fits up into the lid, one of which Izzy lost the first time she used it! We elected not to use those too often. We mostly used the smaller container for dips/ketchups, as that one seemed easier to use overall.
- The price is steep! — Enough said. 😉
These Bento-style Lunch Boxes are Worth Buying!
Overall, we would recommend the PlanetBox to other food allergy families out there! The positives outweigh the negatives for us, making the larger price worth it. This has become a food allergy product staple in our household.
We may still try purchasing a plastic, smaller style bento box for when our youngest heads off to preschool, so we’re not yet ruling out the other brands.
Have you used any other brand of bento-style lunchbox for your food allergic children? What are your recommendations?
Matthew Chitiea saysJanuary 8, 2018 at 5:14 pm
5 year user of Planet Box Rover (2, children) and Launch (1, me).
RE: “Cold pack”. SAVE YOUR MONEY… Just get a 99c reusable gel-pack from supermarket – $ store.
RE: “Carry bags hard to clean”. NOT AT ALL ! Lay flat in top rack of dishwasher. Our come out clean, the cardboard inserts are not mashed; just lay flat to dry from Sat. night to Monday morning.
Nadia saysJanuary 28, 2018 at 11:04 pm
Hi Matthew, thanks so much for your comments! You made some excellent points and I realize I need to update this post! You are absolutely correct that the bags are easy to wash. The company has updated their product website from when I originally bought our Planet Box, recommending the top rack in the dishwasher (as you mentioned) or hand washing with dish soap in the sink. I started just hand washing ours in the sink and letting it air dry on a towel or hanging it outside on our laundry line in the warmer months. Using a cheaper gel pack from another store is a much more affordable alternative to the packs Planet Box sells. Thanks for sharing your tips. 🙂