The Best Non-Toxic Lunch Boxes For Kids of Any Age
This year, choose back to school lunch gear for your kids that’s free from harmful and toxic chemicals like lead, PVC, BPA and phthalates. We’ve rounded up a variety of safe lunchboxes, lunch bags and stainless steel bentos that are perfect for everyone in the family. From preschool to high school and beyond, there’s a non-toxic food storage option for all!
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It’s back-to-school shopping time, and if you’re buying a new lunchbox for your child, consider purchasing a lunch box, bag or tote that’s free from harmful chemicals like PVC, BPA, phthalates and lead. This year, send your child to school with a non-toxic lunch box.
It’s frustrating that a large portion of lunch gear sold in stores and online is loaded with harmful and toxic chemicals. These chemicals can leach into food, on food contact surfaces and onto the hands of your kids as they touch and handle the lunchbox. According to the EPA report on America’s Children and the Environment, certain environmental contaminants may affect children disproportionately since their bodies and organs are still growing and developing.
It’s so important to choose lunch gear for your kids that is free from harmful and toxic chemicals. I’ve found a variety of safe lunchboxes, lunch bags and stainless steel bentos, that are free from harmful chemicals like PVC, lead, phthalates and BPA. Scroll to the end of the post for a list of toxic chemicals to avoid in your child’s lunch gear. For more non-toxic lunch inspiration, check out our post on stainless steel snack and lunch containers.
Non-Toxic Lunchboxes, Lunchbags & Stainless Steel Bentos
- Cost: $36.23
- Dimensions: l:10.04” x w:3.94” x h:7.09”
- Age Range: Preschool to younger Elementary (cute patterns)
- Free From: BPA, PVC and phthalates. Conforms to CPSIA, ASTM and CCPSA standards.
- From the Petit Collage website: Petit Collage lunchboxes feature wipeable 100% cotton canvas exterior is coated with a protective, solvent-free biodegradable laminate made from natural polymers. Insulated roomy interior helps keep food hot or cold. Includes adjustable chest strap with removable clips, Interior mesh pocket is perfect for holding utensils and ice packs. Ages 3 Plus.
- Cost: $18.98
- Dimensions: l:10” x w:3.25” x h:7”, 0.5 lbs
- Age Range: Preschool to Elementary (cute patterns and solid sparkle)
- Free From: BPA, PVC, lead and phthalates
- From the Bixbee website: Bixbee lunchgear is made of durable, water resistant 600-denier* polyester with a large insulated easy to clean main compartment. Interior lining is made of PEVA (environmentally friendly, food-safe material). Padded topside carrying handle and a spacious front pocket. detailed with reflective material and customizable ID card holder on back panel. 2 easy-to-grab beehive zip pulls. Easily latches onto backpack by threading front pocket closure straps through lunchbox handle.
- Cost: $48
- Dimensions: 6.89″ H x 10.04″ W x 3.35″ D
- Age Range: 3+
- Free From: This product is independently-tested: Non-Toxic Dyes + Inks, Lead Safe, No Added Formaldehyde, No PFAS, No Known Harmful Phthalates, PVC Free.
- From the website: Designed to fit inside any of the brand’s backpacks, the STATE Bags Rodgers Lunch Box + the Kane Kids Backpack are the most perfect lunchtime combo since peanut butter and jelly. Fully insulated with a detachable divider and interior mesh pockets, the Rodgers Lunch Box is just the right size to hold a full lunch for a young student. For every STATE bag sold, one is donated to a child in need.
- Cost: $30.00
- Dimensions: l:10″ x w:6″ x h:9″
- Age Range: Preschool to younger Elementary (cute animal patterns)
- Free From: lead, phthalates, PVC and over 100 harmful chemicals
- From the Dabbawalla website: Dabbawalla lunch bags feature individually sewn, machine-washable, and constructed from a 100% toxic-free foam textile material. Mesh pockets for an ice pack and water bottle. Insulating material helps keep food cold. Inside mesh pocket holds an ice pack (not included) for longer outings. Individually-sewn at a women-owned facility in Taiwan. Machine washable (front loaders only) or hand wash. Do not store in direct sunlight, as this may damage product. Not suitable for children under 3 years due to small parts.
- Cost: $11.00-$22.00
- Dimensions: l:10″ x h:7.5″ x w:3″ ; 2 compartment lunchbox l:7.5″ x h:9.5″ x w:5″
- Age Range: Preschool to early elementary (cute designs)
- Free From: BPA, PVC, Vinyl, lead and phthalates
- From the Crocodile Creek website: This high-quality Crocodile Creek lunch box is sturdy and durable with extra lining to keep food fresh and padding to prevent crushing. Large spacious insulated compartment to keep food fresh and exterior mesh pocket for extra storage. Simply wipe lunch box with a damp cloth after each use for easy cleaning. Recommended for children 3 +years old and is perfect for school, camp, or travel.
- Cost: $10.58-$24.99
- Dimensions: Sizes range from small (clip in l:9” x w:7” x d:3.15” and wild bunch l:7” x w:9.75” x d:3.25” lunch boxes) to medium (lunch bag l:10” x w:8.5” x d:5” and lunch box l:7” x w:9.75” x d:3.25”) to large (double decker l:9” x w:8” x d:6”)
- Age Range: Preschool to high school (ranges from cute patterns to solid colors)
- Free From: PVC, BPA, phthalates
- From the Wildkin website: Recipient of the prestigious Mom’s Choice Award. Wildkin lunchboxes contain insulation to help retain hot and cold temperatures throughout the day to improve food quality, freshness and taste. Can hold a good-sized container with plenty of room for snacks, utensils and juice boxes. Features include a zippered front pocket. Compatible with the Bentgo Kids bento box and the Yumbox Original, Panino, Tapas, and MiniSnack bento boxes.
- Cost: $12.50-$42.00
- Dimensions: lunch box l:10″ x w:3″ x h:7.5″ small cooler bag l:7″ x w:5″ x h:7.5″ lunch poche l:9″ x w:5″ x h:8.5″
- Age Range: Preschool to adult (ranges from cute patterns to solid pastel and earth tone colors)
- Free From: BPA, PVC, lead and phthalates
- From the SoYoung website: SoYoung lunch gear features linen/Cotton exterior fabric, insulated Interior, machine washable (gentle cycle, cold) – no dryers please, removable insulated insert for easy daily cleaning, detachable long strap for wearing as messenger bag or backpack (47″), extra back pocket.
- Cost: $28.95
- Dimensions: l:8″ x w:4.5″ x h:11″
- Age Range: Preschool to adult (ranges from cute patterns to solid black)
- Free From: BPA, lead and phthalates
- From the Fluf website: Fluf lunch bags feature 100% certified organic cotton canvas exterior with carry handles and a zipper closure. Preshrunk and fully machine washable. Rinsable, tested food-safe polyester lining with interior pocket (for a water bottle or ice pack). Fluf Lunch bags are lined but not insulated. Water-resistant lining works well with an ice pack, if desired.
- Cost: $15.95-$25.95
- Dimensions: lunch tote l:9.25″ x w:5″ x h:9.75″ lunch sack l:7.5″ x w:5″ x h:8″
- Free From: BPA, lead and phthalates
- Age Range: older Elementary to adult (solid colors)
- From the U Konserve website: Our U Konserve reusable insulated lunch tote with zipper closure and adjustable strap is made from recycled plastic bottles and will keep your lunch cold or hot for hours (keep food/drinks cold for about 5-8 hours with ice pack). Inside pocket for an ice pack, bamboo utensil and cotton napkin. Insulated fabric, Machine washable, Zipper closure, adjustable strap and inside pocket. Bag (and lining): recycled PE #1 plastic bottles. Strap: polyester. Insulation: polyethylene.
- Cost: $18.00-$25.00
- Dimensions: lunch bag l:6” x w:5” x h:10” lunch box l:10” x w:3.25” x h:8.5”
- Age Range: Preschool to adult (cute patterns as well as stylish patterns)
- Free From: BPA, lead and phthalates
- From the Keep Leaf website: The lunch bag is made from 100% organic cotton canvas. Durable, lightweight and easy to clean. Features: easy and secure velcro closure, inner ID card holder, water-proof liner and handle strap. Easy care: spot clean and machine washable. Hang to dry.
- Cost: $30
- Dimensions: 12″h x 7″w x 4″d
- Age Range: all ages
- Free From: BPA, PVC, lead and phthalates.
- From the website: Our Eco-Friendly durable waxed cotton canvas lunch bags are perfect for any meal or snack. Great for kids or adults on the go. Waxed with beeswax blend finish.
- Cost: $35.99
- Dimensions: l:5.5″ x w:4″ x h:2.75″ 31 for classic
- Age Range: Elementary to adult
- Free from: all estrogen-mimicking chemicals, such as bisphenol-A (BPA), bisphenol-S (BPS) and phthalates.
- From the Ecolunchbox website: Durable design uses 100% food-grade stainless steel 201. Our Ecolunchbox Three-in-One is a three-piece nesting bento lunch box set. This bento container makes it easy to pack a variety of foods and keep them all separate – and safe from squishing! Perfect for packing a healthy entree and two side dishes. The Three-in-One is modular. You can pull out the snack container and use it separately, freeing up more space in the upstairs for more food. Three in One is a 100% high-quality, food-grade stainless steel container. But it’s not leak-proof since no plastic gaskets are used. Kid-tested clips can be adjusted looser or tighter. Dishwasher safe, Not for use in microwave, Made in India.
- Cost: $22.95 for exterior case, $39.95 for stainless steel interior ($29.95 for Shuttle), total = $62.95
- Dimensions: Rover l:12” × w:9” × h:2.5” inches launch l:10.3” x w:7.7” x h:2” shuttle l:7.75” x w:5.2” x h:2.0”
- Age Range: preschool to high school
- Free From: BPA, PVC, lead and phthalates
- From the Planetbox website: The Planetbox Rover/Launch Carry Bag does NOT contain DWR (a water repellant coating that contains fluorines- see my post on endocrine disrupting chemicals for more on PFAS). Inner mesh pocket to store the ColdKit ice pack. Hand washable and air dry. The Rover stainless steel interior features four main compartments and one special treat spot. Easy to clean in the dishwasher. Includes 2 leakproof containers, Big Round Dipper and Little Round Dipper, for a variety of “wet” food possibilities. Best for kids 3+ and adults with smaller appetites. The Launch stainless steel interior is designed for hearty serving sizes and bigger appetites. The Launch holds 30% more food than Rover with 3 compartments that keep food separate. The Shuttle is designed for light meals and snacks on the go. It caters mainly to younger kids with small appetites, but we’ve found it’s the perfect companion for day trips to the beach, road trips, hikes and other adventures. Holds 3.5 cups of food with 2 compartments that keep food separate. Includes 1 leakproof Tall Round Dipper container for “wet” foods.
- Cost: Duplex lunch bag $29.99 stainless steel bento boxes $14.99-$41.99
- Dimensions: lunchbox 9″ x 8″ x 6″, 4 oz stainless steel bento boxes (small: protein packer, snack packer; medium: uno, duo, trio, quad, lite bundle; large: cinco, trio)
- Age Range: Preschool to adult
- From the Lunchbots website: The Lunchbots lunch box is made from durable polyester fabric that wipes clean easily, and is insulated to keep your food hot or cold. It features two separate zippered sections: the bottom is sized perfectly for one LunchBots stainless steel large container to lie flat. The top holds a Thermal, water bottle, and an apple. Carry by hand or use the extendable shoulder strap. Carry using the comfy padded handle, or use the snap-on/off extendable shoulder strap. Lunchbots has a wide variety of stainless steel bento boxes (made from 18/8 food-grade stainless steel) for all of your food needs. Also sell thermoses and dip containers.
Shop Non-Toxic Lunchboxes
Shop Stainless Steel Insulated Containers
Shop Stainless Steel Water Bottles For Lunchboxes
Shop Stainless Steel Food Storage For Lunch
Shop Stainless Steel Bowls For Lunch
What Chemicals To Avoid In Lunchbox Material
- Lead– Lead is a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and has been detected on the interior and exterior linings of lunchboxes (1). Lead residing in the outer material can be wiped off onto children’s hands and food. The Center For Environmental Health (CEH) tested more than 150 lunchboxes for the presence of lead. Of those tested, about 10 percent contained “high levels” of lead. The CEH now advises parents not to buy vinyl lunchboxes or to test lunchboxes that their kids already have. In another study, forty lunch boxes were tested with a rapid lead test solution and 14 (35%) were positive, confirming the frequent presence of lead (2). The Consumer Product Safety Information Act (CPSI) mandated that as of November 15, 2012, products designed or intended primarily for children aged 12 and younger cannot contain more than .009 ppm of lead. Although the amount of lead found in soft vinyl lunch boxes is not enough to cause acute lead poisoning, it may be enough to contribute to health problems, including learning and developmental problems, nausea, fatigue, headache, hyperactivity, and brain and nerve damage.
- PVC– PVC (aka Polyvinyl Chloride or vinyl) is a flexible plastic used widely kids lunch gear. It can contain harmful chemicals like lead, phthalates and BPA/BPS/BPF. Aside from the human health impacts, PVC is an environmental pollutant. During various stages of PVC production and disposal, dioxins and mercury are released into our air, water and soil (3). Dioxin is a well-known carcinogen and can affect the reproductive, immune, endocrine and neurological systems (4).
- Phthalates– Phthalates make PVC soft and pliable. A 2012 study by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice detected phthalates in 80% of school supplies, including lunch boxes. 75% of the school supplies contained phthalate levels so high, they would not be legal to sell if they were toys. Phthalates can easily leach into food and drinks from containers due to the weak bonds they form with the plastic. Phthalates have been linked to a variety of health concerns, including asthma, endocrine disruption, impacts to reproductive systems and some forms of cancer (5, 6). A study from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice found that all the children’s lunch boxes tested contained up to 30 times the amount of toxic chemicals (chemicals known as phthalates) deemed safe by the federal government.
- BPA, BPS and BPF– PVC may also contain traces of the endocrine-disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical, which means it interacts with hormones in the body. A 2018 study linked BPA with significant changes in insulin response levels (7), and a 2019 study found a positive association between BPA and coronary heart disease (8). Plastic containers labeled “BPA-free” don’t necessarily mean they’re any safer. They may contain other bisphenols, such as BPS or BPF, which have the same harmful properties as BPA (9). A recent study linked exposure to bisphenols in plastics to childhood obesity (10). Even bisphenol-free plastics may contain other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (11).
- Microban– If your lunchbox contains Microban, it will clearly state this on the label. None of the lunchboxes listed below contain Microban. Microban is a proprietary mix of chemicals that may contain Triclosan, an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can cause bacterial resistance (12). Microban is engineered to protect products from bacteria, mold and in some cases algae that can cause stains, odors and product deterioration. Microban protection is not designed to protect users from disease causing microorganisms. If you’re concerned about viruses and bacteria on your child’s lunchbox, please visit the lunchbox cleaning and disinfecting tips at the end of this post.
How To Disinfect A Lunchbox
High quality insulated and cloth lunchboxes should be able to tolerate the washing machine on the gentle cycle with cool water and a small amount of natural, fragrance-free detergent. Check the care instructions or revisit the website where you bought the lunchbox for more cleaning details. If you have a stainless steel bento, that can go right in the dishwasher.
How To Hand Wash A Lunchbox:
- Fill a sink with warm water and add a small amount of dish detergent. There’s no need to use antimicrobial soap. Plain soap breaks down the fatty layer surrounding virus and bacteria particles, destabilizing them. Also, a vigorous scrubbing and rinsing with water will wash them away.
- Submerge the lunchbox in the soapy water and agitate to mix.
- Scrub the interior and exterior with a clean washcloth, sponge or toothbrush.
- Rinse with running water and dry with a towel.
- Allow the lunchbox to air dry completely before using again.
To Disinfect The Lunchbox Without Washing:
- Spray the interior and exterior with Force of Nature Spray and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray the interior and exterior of the lunchbox. This will disinfect and deodorize (the vinegar smell disappears when it dries).
- Pour 70% rubbing alcohol (ethanol or isopropyl) in spray bottle. Spray all over the lunchbox and let it sit for 30 seconds.
- Pour 3% hydrogen peroxide in an opaque spray bottle, spray the lunchbox let sit for 5 minutes.
Force of Nature is a broad-spectrum disinfectant and sanitizer that’s EPA registered for use in hospitals, ICUs, daycares, schools, veterinary clinics, gyms, restaurants & more. It kills 99.9% of germs: Staph, MRSA, Norovirus, Influenza A, Salmonella, and Listeria. How does it work? Salt, water and vinegar are converted to electrolyzed water when an electrical current changes the chemical composition of the solution into two new ingredients. The Force of Nature Starter Kit contains: Electrolyzer with power cord (compatible with any household electrical outlet), Spray Bottle (12 oz), 5 Activator Capsules (each makes enough multi-purpose cleaner, disinfectant & deodorizer to last 2 weeks). Just add your own water right from the tap. I started using Force of Nature recently and I love it!
Tips For Non-Toxic Back To School Lunch
Luckily there are a lot of safe food storage products on the market today. Here are some tips to help with back-to-school lunch packing and beyond:
- Pack food in reusable lightweight stainless steel containers. I don’t recommend glass because I’ve broken a glass baby bottle in a library bathroom in the past, and I can’t imagine this scenario happening at school.
- Pack a metal spoon and fork from home.
- If you want to go the baggie route, use If You Care waxed baggies or Lunchskins Paper Sandwich Bags. Stasher makes reusable silicone baggies.
- EWG tip sheet has suggestions for where to start with toxin-free back-to-school products.
- This PVC-Free guide to school supplies from Greenschools is a great reference.
More Natural Kids Inspiration
- Gangi, J. Lead and Cadmium in Children’s Vinyl Products
- Daluga M, Miller K. Lead in your child’s lunch box. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2007;46(2):151-153. doi:10.1177/0009922806294068
- Tox Town
- Vinyl chloride
- Patisaul, H.B. and Adawele, H.B. Long-Term Effects of Environmental Endocrine Disruptors on Reproductive Physiology and Behavior. Front Behav Neurosci. 2009; 3: 10.
- Radke, E.G. et al. Phthalate exposure and male reproductive outcomes: A systematic review of the human epidemiological evidence. Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):764-793.
- Stahlhut, R. et al. Journal of the Endocrine Society, Volume 2, Issue 10, October 2018, Pages 1173–1187, https://doi.org/10.1210/js.2018-00151
- Hu, C. et al. Bisphenol A, Chlorinated Derivatives of Bisphenol A and Occurrence of Myocardial Infarction in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: Nested Case-Control Studies in Two European Cohorts. Environ Sci Technol. 2019 Aug 20;53(16):9876-9883.
- Bilbrey, J. BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous. Scientific American. Aug. 11, 2014.
- Jacobson, M., Woodward, M. et al. Urinary Bisphenols and Obesity Prevalence Among US Children and Adolescents. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 2019 DOI: 10.1210/js.2019-00201
- Kitamura, S., et al. 2005. Comparative study of the endocrine-disrupting activity of bisphenol A and 19 related compounds. Toxicol Sci 84(2):249-259.
- Weatherly, L. and Gosse, J. Triclosan Exposure, Transformation, and Human Health Effects. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2017; 20(8): 447–469.