Finding the Perfect Office Lunch Box



Finding the right lunch box for the office can be an investment of time. It's frustrating to buy a lunch bag or lunch box and then later find out it's not the right one for you. In this article, I review the factors to consider when shopping for a lunch box and the one that's my personal favorite for the office.

After you find a lunch box for work, be sure to visit "The Art of Packing a Lunch Bag" to help you keep your food nice and hot (or nice and cold!).


Which office lunch box is right?

The right lunch box depends on your end need. Soft-sided lunch bags are popular to place inside of backpacks. A hard-sided lunch box is more durable for more harsh work environments, like construction sites or tossing on the back of pickup trucks.

If you're in the market for an office lunch ask yourself these questions:

  • does the lunch box look professional?
  • are there feminine designs, that appeal to women?
  • are there masculine designs best-fitted for men?
  • is the lunch box easy to carry (with the addition of a strap)?
  • will it keep my food cold?
  • is it easy to keep clean and contain spills?

Features to look for in an office lunch box

I have a strong opinion about lunch boxes. As a lunch packer for several years, I've finally found the winner. But before I get to that, here is a list of things to look at carefully before making your final purchase.

Lunch bags come in many shapes, materials, and sizes.

Lunch bags come in many shapes, materials, and sizes.

Office lunch box features

Factors to consider when choosing the right lunch bag or box:

  • Size. Will the lunch bag provide enough space to contain what I typically pack? Will the shape of the bag fit standard size plastic lunch containers or will they only hold containers that come with the bag? 
  • Materials and construction. Are the materials washable? Will the interior withstand spills? Is there enough insulation to keep food cold for a sufficient number of hours when ice packs are added?  Does the lunch bag hold its shape well, or is it hopelessly "floppy?"

    Is the material a good quality, or is it cheap vinyl that will crack and ugly out later? Is the material flexible and stretchy enough to adapt to an expanded lunch load? Will I be able to close or zipper shut a bag properly if the bag is bulging?
  • Opening. Is the opening large and wide enough to take out and put in containers? Is the zipper strong enough to withstand daily opening and closing? If using Velcro® closings, are the fasteners strong enough to hold the bag closed? 
  • Extra pockets. Are there external pockets for eating utensils and napkins? Is it possible to separate hot food from cold food?
  • Handles and straps. Are the handles sturdy? Do I want a lunch bag with straps so I can carry it over my shoulder, especially if already carrying other bags?
  • Design. Do I like the design? Is it different enough to tell it apart from others bags? Is it easy to find back or does it blend with dark colors which makes it difficult to see? Does it come in a variety of designs and colors? Are there designs that are appropriate for professional work settings?
  • Cost. Can I afford the lunch bag? Do I want to invest in a bag and get many years of use out of it?
  • Bonus accessories. Does the bag come with its own ice packs? Does it come with its own specially-fitted dishes?
Features of lunch bags include interior material, insulation type and thickness, quality of zipper, pockets for napkins and eating utensils, durability and type of handle, and interior compartment size.

Features of lunch bags include interior material, insulation type and thickness, quality of zipper, pockets for napkins and eating utensils, durability and type of handle, and interior compartment size.

What materials are lunch bags made of?

Regardless of your situation, an insulated lunch bag is the right tool to keep and transport food.

A insulated lunch bag is designed to insulate the food inside. When food is properly insulated, it can retain food temperatures for a longer time period. An insulated lunch bag or thermos prevents harmful bacteria from multiplying, a factor that contributes to food-borne illness. Insulated lunch bags keep food safe.

Soft-sided lunch bags

Soft-sided lunch bags or boxes usually contain an outer layer made of vinyl, nylon or polyester, designed to be tough and washable. The inner layer is water-resistant and can consist of plastic, vinyl, nylon or foil liners. Insulating the lunch bags or coolers is achieved through multiple ways: polyurethane, polyethylene plastic or thermal batting made out of polyester fibers.

Freezable lunch bags

These lunch bags have pockets specially designed to put ice packs in. Some of them contain gel packs that are part of the wall of the lunch bag and cannot be removed. In theory, it sounds like a neat idea, just toss the entire bag into the freezer and pull it out for packing the next morning.

There are three reasons that I don't like these types of lunch bags:

  • Restricted to surface washing the bag if the gel packs can't be removed. I suppose you could submerge in water, but treating stains might be difficult, especially if needing more aggressive cleaners that might harm the gel pack.
  • Ice packs bulge when frozen, making it impossible to squeeze food containers into the bag.
  • Size is ineffective. The design I bought was tall and narrow, like a typical brown lunch bag. Since that purchase, I still don't see other sizes offered. I find this size restricting to the containers and food I typically pack in my lunch. I'm not a fan of the size.
Freezable lunch bag.

Freezable lunch bag.

Neoprene lunch bags

Neoprene bags have become popular for soft-sided lunch bag use. The "cool" thing about Neoprene is that the material has its own insulative properties and they stretch to fit most containers. Neoprene lunch bags wash up well by hand or in a washing machine. I love my Neoprene lunch bag so much, that I've written an entire article on it, "Advice for Buying a Neoprene Lunch Bag." I have another article that covers best care and washing questions, "Care and Cleaning of Neoprene Lunch Bags."

This content was originally posted on EverythingPantry.com. If it appears on a website other than EverythingPantry.com, it is a copyright violation owned by EverythingPantry.com.

Collection of Neoprene lunch bags.

Collection of Neoprene lunch bags.

Hard-sided coolers

Traditional hard-sided plastic insulated coolers use an air gap between the inner and outer walls of the cooler to preserve food temperature inside. More expensive coolers use polyurethane foam in the air gap. As you can imagine, the additional foam significantly improves insulation properties.

I mention polyurethane foam coolers only in conversation here. Most people don't make a hefty monetary investment in these types of coolers for daily lunch bags/coolers. I'm proud to say that I live in northeast Iowa where American-made Grizzly® coolers are manufactured. If you're ever in need of a high-quality cooler, check them out. 

Many hard-sided cooler manufacturers offer smaller versions of their coolers for portable lunches. It's not common to see a hard-sided cooler in tow for office workers and school children. Hard-sided coolers are more often seen in outdoor excursions such as fishing, camping, or a picnic.

Wicker baskets still induce the romantic idea of what one would take on a picnic. Outside the fact that they don't insulate, wicker baskets are too easy for bugs and pests to infest, and difficult to clean. Hard sided coolers are easy to wash up. The bigger coolers can be hosed down with water from an outdoor faucet.

This content was originally posted on EverythingPantry.com. If it appears on a website other than EverythingPantry.com, it is a copyright violation owned by EverythingPantry.com.

Hard sided coolers are more durable and great for outdoor activities and rougher work environments.

Hard sided coolers are more durable and great for outdoor activities and rougher work environments.

Office lunch box accessories

A lunch box by itself is often not enough. Often, there are enticing extras that are thrown in, enticing you to buy a lunch box product.

When shopping for lunch bag accessories, make sure they are good quality. If it's a cannister or lunch container, test the seal to make sure it closes tightly so no food is spilled. Look for containers that are well-insulated for soup and hot beverages.

More than likely, you will find these lunch bag accessories useful to have:

  • small containers (ideally microwave safe)
  • containers with lids
  • soup containers
  • ice packs
  • eating utensils that snap into place to prevent loss
  • thermos for soup or hot liquids
  • matching insulative bag or bottle holder for beverage container

The unusual lunch tote below is made of felt material, with an inside foil lining. A pocket on the side fits the utensil container. The insulated containers all screw into each other, with rubber seals to prevent leakage. This qualifies as a bento lunch box, though not a very traditional shape.

The process of carefully unscrewing each section would likely prove to be frustrating on a daily basis. As attractive, fashionable, and well-designed as this lunch tote is, the user may lack the patience to continue using it.

Don't miss the article "The Art of Packing Lunch" to pack a office lunch box smartly.

Note: I do have the manufacturer's information of this lunch bag.

Round, felt lunch bag with pocket for eating utensils and insulated food containers that fit together.

Round, felt lunch bag with pocket for eating utensils and insulated food containers that fit together.

Best office lunch bag for ladies (and gents!)

I bring my lunch to work almost every day, but never found one that worked well. Often they were insulated, but cheap bags that didn't hold their shape, became ugly, worn out, and cracked.

As a female office worker, I cared about how my lunch bag looked, but I wanted it to be practical, too. It had to be soft-sided and hold its shape well, not collapse on itself, stretch enough to fit different size containers, and wash well.

Guess what? I found the perfect lunch bag for the office. It's a Neoprene lunch bag. I love the bag because it stretches to conform to any shape and folds down flat for storage. If it's dirty, all I have to do is throw it in the wash machine and it comes out looking amazing. If you're determined to buy a Neoprene lunch bag, or just thinking about it, I encourage you to visit my article, "Advice for Buying a Neoprene Lunch Bag."

Neoprene lunch bags come in all kinds of pretty floral and geometric designs that women working in an office would like. If that doesn't appeal to men, they can choose dark, neutral colors, or bold monotone colors. 

Lunch bag designs are not all business. You will also soon discover that there are animal designs, funny designs, cartoon designs, and designs you can customize yourself. If there is a kid (or big kid) in your life, there's a fun lunch bag to please them   

I am on my third Neoprene bag, only because my kids have taken my bags for their lunches! They've also found them to work as they trudge across college campuses and first-time jobs. Being a Neoprene lunch bag user, I have learned some important characteristics of the bags:

  • Not every bag is equal. My third lunch bag was a noticeably thicker material than my first lunch bag. Since the handles are integral to the material, the handles are more sturdy in the thicker bag version. The thicker version also keeps its shape and because it is thicker, it has a higher insulative value.
  • My second lunch bag was made from a thinner material, but still is an awesome bag. Actually, in some situations, its nicer to have the lighter version of the bag.
  • When washing Neoprene bags, you can easily wash by hand in the kitchen sink. I've swished it around in soapy dishwater and rinsed it off and let it air dry on the dish rack. No worries, you can wash it in the washing machine as well. However, wash on COLD and DO NOT PUT IN THE DRYER. I accidentally made that mistake, which caused the material to pull away from the insulated part of the bag. It uglied out pretty fast after that.

Don't miss the complete article "Care and Cleaning of Neoprene Lunch Bags." I cover all kinds of things like mold, odor, stains and best washing practices.

I LOVE my lunch bag. There are so many designs to choose from. I like having a personalized lunch bag that doesn't get mixed up with my coworkers.

Everything stretches to fit in my bag. That means I use whatever dishes I like the most, they don't have to be special dishes that only fit one bag.

My office lunch box, aka lunch bag has separate compartments that I can tuck in my napkins. The handles are sturdy and well-constructed.  As with all of my lunch bags, I add small frozen ice blocks. The bag keeps my food chilled until the noon hour, about 4 hours, but if I needed, I just throw in bigger ice packs.

In conclusion

Any packed lunch will help you save money and control your diet. It's a great idea to get started and join the many people who pack their lunch everyday for the office. Don't forget "The Art of Packing Lunch" if you need help in packing lunch for work.

Good luck with finding your perfect lunch box for work!  - Renee

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is an Iowa farmwife with a background as a former kitchen designer. Supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life. Read more about this farmwife on her about page.

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