Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. Her flagship column, “Ask a Clean Person”, debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we’ve launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
If you're picking out a new lunch box for your child, we have some help for you in the form of a roundup of easy-to-clean options! Here are a few features to look for and tips to bear:
- Soft lunch bags, ideally, will be machine washable, though that isn’t always an easy feature to find (we found some!) If you’re going for a cooler-style bag, look for one that has a removable insert so that it can be machine-washed without compromising the coolant.
- Many parents report that wiping out soft lunch boxes/bags is kind of a drag; if a soft bag will work best for your child, pick one that has a hard plastic interior or a flip-top, which will make wiping it out with a sponge, paper towel or disinfecting wipe a much easier job.
- While mesh pockets are handy for tucking away utensils and napkins, they can be a real bear to clean — imagine a piece of banana getting mashed in there! — which is something to take into account when selecting a lunch box or bag.
- Hard plastic or bento box-style lunch boxes are often marketed as dishwasher safe, and while that’s a great feature, there’s been recent news that putting certain plastics in the dishwasher (and microwave) may be harmful for children. While we don’t know how bad putting plastics in the dishwasher is, we suggest erring on the side of caution and washing plastic lunch containers by hand.
- Bento boxes may be best reserved for older kids, because as one mum of a five-year-old noted to me, “The little bits and tops are very losable, I’ve discovered, so basically we just have the outside box and nothing else.”
- Consider buying a dupe/backup! A friend confessed, when I asked what kind of lunch box her preschool-aged son has, that she “bought two bc I’m lazy”. (My friends are the best.)
- Make sure your kid can open the thing on his or her own. One parent, who works with school administrators, mentioned to me that “above all, school admins just want little kids to have lunch boxes they can open easily, so that 30 kids aren’t bugging the lunch monitors to help them open their bentos”.
And now for my picks:
While some BUILT NY lunch bags get dinged for poor construction (caveat emptor), this tote bag-style, zip-top lunch bag gets high marks for being fully machine washable and, because it’s made of neoprene, flexible enough to hold oddly-shaped items.
This soft-sided zipped lunch box has a plastic interior that can be easily wiped out with a sponge. It’s also insulated, so you can pop an ice pack inside to keep food cold.
Reviewers note that this soft-sided, flip-top lunch box is a bit shallow, but praise it for ease of cleaning thanks to the seamless interior that doesn’t harbour crumbs and “crud”.
Despite the name, this lunch bag gets high marks for roominess and ease of cleaning (it can be easily wiped clean), as well as for its simple design, which is great for parents (and kids!) who are looking to move away from superhero or princess themes.
While this soft lunch box isn’t machine washable, it does feature a flip top that zips open, which means wiping out the interior won’t be as much of a chore. The top is also designed with straps to secure an insulated water bottle that can be used for drinks as well as for hot lunches such as soup.
This bento box-style lunch box only has one lid, instead of many tiny lids, which means it’s less likely that parts will be lost. The Yumbox is also leakproof, and the latch is easy to open.
The zip top flips all the way open, making it easy to quickly wipe out this insulated, soft-style lunch box. It’s also machine washable!