With so many lunch boxes on the market now it seems almost impossible to work out which type you should buy. I recently had to replace my old lunch box, so I started researching the different materials lunch boxes are made from to choose the right one for me.
The best materials for lunch boxes are stainless steel, bamboo, plastic, glass, silicone and fabric. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages therefore which type of lunch box is best for you will be determined by what criteria is most important to you.
So let’s take a look at the various criteria I considered when buying my recent lunch box and then I’ll reveal which one I actually chose.
What Materials Are Used to Make Lunch Boxes?
1. Stainless Steel
Metal lunch boxes were first introduced back in the 1800s and have been the go-to lunch box for centuries for anyone who wants a rugged box that will stand up to knocks and drops.
Whilst the popularity of metal lunch boxes wained from the 1980s to the 2000s stainless steel and in particular, food-grade stainless steel has recently made these boxes very popular again.
These lunch boxes are Ideal for an on-the-go lifestyle and for people who regularly work outside.
In the last couple of decades, some of the most highly regarded lunch box designers have started to use metal as their material of choice, so in addition to their practicality, they are now fast becoming a thing of beauty.
Bamboo lunch boxes are made from the bamboo plant and have become one of the leaders in the race for the most eco-friendly lunch box.
The bamboo plant is incredibly fast-growing, sustainable and uses much fewer resources to produce the goods we see in our shops today.
The container section of most bamboo lunch boxes is made from bamboo fibre which gives the box its form and strength. The lid is usually made from natural bamboo or the same bamboo fibre as the base.
Bamboo lunch boxes have become extremely popular over the last decade, especially for those that like to keep our wonderful environment at the forefront of their mind.
By far the most common material to be used for making lunch boxes plastic lunch boxes became very popular in the late 1980s and their popularity hasn’t really dipped since then.
Plastic lunch boxes come in all kinds of colours, styles and forms and in the past have been produced extremely cheaply compared to boxes made from alternative materials.
Although being fairly lightweight they are in fact pretty tough and are the most common choice for children’s school lunch boxes.
Of course, there is one major drawback in the fact that the plastic they are made from is clearly not eco-friendly.
Not as popular as the other materials, glass is actually a really nice option.
Clearly, glass can be recycled so it happily joins the other lunch boxes that are zero waste in terms of eco-friendliness.
Glass is a great material for lunchboxes that want to be leakproof allowing for more liquid lunches such as soup, chilli or anything with a sauce.
In most cases glass lunch boxes look great, they are designed well and are of good quality. The one benefit I absolutely love is the fact you can see your lunch through the glass.
Silicone lunch boxes are the new kids on the block. Although it seems a strange material to make a lunch box from there are some real advantages.
Silicone lunch boxes hold many of the same properties as plastic boxes. They come in a wide array of colours and can be moulded to suit many uses.
Silicone is a material that is more eco-friendly than plastic. Although it’s not biodegradable it can be recycled and even when it does degrade it will not shed microplastics as other plastics commonly do.
One final benefit over plastic is that products made from silicone generally last longer. They are more durable and scratch much less than their plastic alternatives
If you want to make a design statement then a fabric lunch box could be a great alternative for you.
Fabric lunch bags come in a huge range of colours and patterns and often match other related products such as water bottles.
They are also very lightweight and of course, once you’ve finished your lunch they generally fold down to nothing making them simple to carry and easy to store when not in use.
To a certain extent, eco-friendliness comes as standard because in the last 10 years they have dramatically reduced the amount of single-use plastic we use when carrying our lunches.
One thing to note is that it’s quite common for some lunch bags to be fabric on the outside and wipable plastic on the inside so do check that fabric (preferably sustainable fabric like 100% organic cotton) is the only material used.
How do I Choose the Right Lunch Box?
OK, so now we’ve reviewed the most common materials used for lunch boxes it’s time to review how they stack up against each other.
If you’re like me, then choosing the right type of lunch box will depend on various things that are related to me, so when I purchased my last lunch box I decided to write down all the questions I could think of in order to at least try to decide on the material that was right for me.
I’ve listed all the questions I came up with below and provided my thoughts on each one. Hopefully, this will help you to narrow your choice down as well.
In order to answer some of the questions below, I’ve listed my shortlist of lunch boxes to show the comparisons between the lunch boxes.
- Stainless Steel – Black & Blum Leakproof Stainless Steel Lunch Box – View
- Bamboo – Bambox 1.1L White with Black Strap – View
- Plastic – FitHome Leakproof Bento Box (Sorry, we won’t link to plastic products 🙂 )
- Glass – Das Trust Bento Box with Compartments – View
- Silicone – YFBXG Reusable Silicone Bento Box with 3 Compartments – View
- Fabric – EasyFun Insulated Lunch Bag / Tote – View
What Type of Lunch Boxes are Eco Friendly?
Lunch boxes made from stainless steel, bamboo, glass and some fabrics are the most eco-friendly options. Stainless steel and glass are both 100% recyclable and reusable. Bamboo is a natural product and some fabrics particularly organic cotton is both sustainable and biodegradable.
|Lunch Box Material||Eco Friendly|
Clearly, lunch boxes made from plastic are not eco-friendly.
Those made from silicone, whilst better than plastic, are not the most environmentally friendly material either due to their production methods and difficulties in recycling.
Which Type of Lunch Box is the Lightest?
As a general rule fabric lunch boxes are the lightest due to the material they are made from. After fabric comes plastic which is also very light. After plastic comes bamboo, stainless steel and silicone with the heaviest type of lunch box being made from glass.
From my choice of suitable lunch boxes, I’ve created this comparison table. To properly compare the different materials I’ve added a column which shows the weight of the box compared to how much food you can carry.
|Lunch Box Material||Capacity||Weight||Weight per 1000ml Capacity|
|Stainless Steel (Black & Blum)||1000ml||460g/1lbs||460g/1lbs|
|Glass (Das Trust)||958ml||800g/1.7lbs||835g/1.8lbs|
As you can see fabric comes out as by far the lightest material for a lunch box especially when you consider the amount of food that they can hold.
Which Type of Lunch Box Can I Use in the Microwave?
Lunch boxes made from glass, plastic, silicone and in some cases bamboo are suitable for use in the microwave. Before use in the microwave consult the manufacturer’s labelling as some parts of the lunch box may not be suitable for microwave cooking such as metal lids, straps or accessories.
|Lunch Box Material||Microwave Safe|
It’s quite conceivable that fabric lunch bags could go in the microwave as long as they don’t have metal features such as zips however I marked this material as “no” due to the impracticalities of heating up food in a fabric bag.
Can all Types of Lunch Boxes Go in the Freezer?
Lunch boxes made from stainless steel, plastic, glass and silicone can be placed in the freezer without damage. Do note though, it is always important to check the manufacturer’s instructions before doing so and care should be taken with glass lunch boxes to avoid thermal shock.
Thermal shock is when a glass item could crack and break if moved from one extreme temperature to another for example removing it from the freezer and placing it in hot water.
|Lunch Box Material||Freezer Safe|
Again, I’ve marked fabric as a no in the table above just from a practicality perspective. I would also guess that if done regularly, freezing fabric lunch bags would cause damage.
Which Types of Lunch boxes are Oven Safe?
As a general rule, lunch boxes made from stainless steel and glass can be used in a conventional oven. It’s always important to check the manufacturer’s instructions as some parts of the lunch box such as the lid, strap and/or seal may not be suitable to be placed in the oven.
|Lunch Box Material||Oven Safe|
So if you have an oven at your place of work then lunch boxes made from metal or glass may be right for you.
If you’re thinking of purchasing a metal lunch box then please do check out my article “Can You Put Hot Food in a Stainless Steel Lunch Box?” after this.
Are Lunch Boxes Leakproof?
Not all lunch boxes are leakproof therefore it’s worth checking the manufacturer’s labelling before purchasing. Stainless steel, plastic, glass and silicone lunch boxes often have a leakproof option as they are the most likely to include lids that produce the good seal required to stop leaks.
|Lunch Box Material||Oven Safe|
Fabric lunch boxes are clearly not made for carrying lunches that contain liquids and I’ve marked Bamboo as “No” in the table above simply because when I did my research I simply couldn’t find one.
Which Lunch Boxes are Great at Keeping Food Hot or Cold?
Insulated lunch boxes and bags are great for keeping food hot or cold. Fabric lunch boxes with insulated lining are the most common material used for this use however other materials such as silicone, plastic and bamboo will maintain the heat of your food quite well.
|Lunch Box Material||Keeps Food Hot/Cold|
|Fabric||Excellent (if insulated)|
As you can see stainless steel is not going to keep your food hot or cold. Being a great conductor of heat, metal will not act as a barrier to maintaining the temperature of your lunch.
For stainless steel specifically, I wrote an article “Can You Put Hot Food in a Stainless Steel Lunch Box” which explains a few tips for keeping your food hot in a stainless steel lunch box.
One thing to mention is that some insulated fabric lunch bags are capable of holding lunch boxes made from any material. So for example you could purchase a stainless steel lunch box and carry it in a fabric insulated bag and this would keep your food either hot or cold much longer.
Durability – Which are the Strongest Lunch Boxes?
The most durable lunch box materials are metal and glass. These materials are very strong ensuring your lunch box will last a very long time. Lunch boxes made from silicone and bamboo have good strength with plastic and fabric tending to become marked, damaged or broken the quickest.
|Lunch Box Material||Strength|
What is the Cheapest Type of Lunch Box?
As a general rule, the cheapest type of lunch box is made from fabric with boxes made from bamboo, plastic and glass also being of good value. Lunch boxes made from stainless steel and silicone are the most expensive however costs are subjective due to design and feature differences.
The table below shows the costs of the lunch boxes that made my shortlist. For each box, I’ve also included a column that shows the cost per 1000ml of capacity in order to level the comparison somewhat.
As there are design and feature differences the prices can’t be truly compared however it does give a good indication of which material tends to be cheaper.
|Lunch Box Material||Price||Capacity||Price per 1000ml Capacity|
|Stainless Steel (Black & Blum)||£31.95 / $35.99||1000ml||£31.95 / $35.99|
|Bamboo (Bambox)||£14.99 / $16.98||1100ml||£13.63 / $10.99|
|Plastic (FitHome)||£9.70 / $10.99||1000ml||£9.70 / $10.99|
|Glass (Das Trust)||£8.82 / $9.99||958ml||£9.21 / $10.43|
|Silicone (YFBXG)||£22.95 / $25.99||800ml||£28.68 / $32.49|
|Fabric (EasyFun)||£12.86 / $14.59||11,200ml||£1.15 / $1.30|
Please note that the prices shown in the table were correct at the time this post was written.
So there you have it, these were all the questions I asked myself when I purchased my latest lunch box and so here’s a table that summarises all of the information above.
I hope you’ve found all this information useful and of course, there’s one last thing to mention.
So which lunch box did I buy after all this research?
I went for the Black and Blum Stainless Steel lunch box because I wanted a product that was not only eco-friendly but also versatile in terms of what and how I can use it.