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Your lunch is only as good as the container you put it in. Plastic containers and wraps are now widely regarded as unwise ways to store and transport your food, thanks to both the potential health and environmental risks associated with them. (1, 2)
A stainless steel lunch box, on the other hand, is clean, convenient, and stylish to boot.
Researchers now urge people to make their kitchens as plastic-free as possible because of the health risks posed by BPA.
BPA is a substance used to make plastics that can easily transfer to food stored in plastic containers, especially when hot, and exposure is frequently linked to breast cancer in women, low sperm count in men, and growth issues in children.
Even if you’ve made an effort to make your kitchen plastic-free, one of the last holdouts is probably those plastic lidded containers you use to cart your lunch to work. Similarly, you might be packing your kids’ lunch in plastic bags or thermoses that can potentially harm your health.
Our guide will help you learn more about the benefits of packing your lunch in a stainless steel box rather than a plastic one and we’ll also tell you what to look for when shopping for a new lunchbox. Finally, our reviews will help you find the best steel lunch box for you.
What exactly is the problem with plastic?
If you think about it, you may be amazed at how much plastic you use in packing your lunch. Snacks and sandwiches go in little plastic bags; leftovers are stored in plastic containers. Maybe you wrap it all in a plastic grocery bag or lunch bag.
Plastic just isn’t good for your body or the environment. As we mentioned in the intro, BPA is linked to many health problems, but even BPA-free plastics are cause for concern.
Long-term exposure to the toxins found within plastic containers can mess with the function of the cells in your body and, in some instances, cause irreparable damage.
BPA has a similar structure to the hormone estrogen, a chemical messenger in the body. Thus, BPA can bind to estrogen receptors in cells but otherwise doesn’t function like estrogen. The chemical message gets “lost in translation” and the cells fail to regulate growth and reproduction.
Plastic is also an environmental nightmare. Most plastic products are single use, meaning they’re rapidly piling up in landfills. Because plastic is so stable, a single plastic bottle will take between 450 and 1000 years to biodegrade.
Think about that: every plastic water bottle that ends up in a landfill may still be there in the next millennium!
Furthermore, the plastic industry is also a major contributor to global pollution. Making plastic products produces harmful chemicals like acetone and benzene, amongst others, which may be released into the environment. (3)
That’s without mentioning the dramatic impact that plastic is having on our oceans.
By choosing steel over plastic, you’ve invested in your health by limiting your exposure to unwanted toxins and you’ve also done your part to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment.
Why is a stainless steel box better?
As opposed to plastic containers, steel lunch boxes are meant to be used for years. They don’t stain, take on odors, or wear out nearly as quickly as their plastic counterparts. Replacing flimsy plastic containers with a stainless steel box may significantly reduce the amount of waste your household produces.
Steel boxes are completely free of BPA and other toxins that can leach from plastic boxes. They are easy to clean—most can be put in the dishwasher—and don’t develop scratches where bacteria can collect.
Since steel lunch boxes tend to be smaller than their plastic counterparts, they’re also great for portion control. Plus, they’re also classic in design, gender neutral, and won’t go out of style anytime soon.
What should I look for while shopping for a stainless lunch box?
Naturally, everyone’s needs are different, but there are a few things you’ll want to bear in mind. These include:
Containers and dividers
Most steel lunch containers come with multiple containers held together by a latch or clasp. The size and number of containers will vary by model. Others contain a single container with divided inner compartments.
If you plan on throwing your stainless lunch box into a bag for your commute, you may want to opt for a container or tiffin style box that keeps food separate. A lot of divider containers don’t prevent food from moving between compartments if the box is tipped or turned upside down.
Steel lunch boxes come in a variety of sizes. Smaller designs are perfect for snacks, taking leftovers home from restaurants, or packing lunches for kids with tiny tummies. Hungry adults will want to look closely at capacity to make sure the size is adequate.
Bento and tiffin boxes are the go-to lunch container in China, Japan, and India. Thus, the design of the containers is geared toward common lunch foods in these cultures, such as rice, noodles, dhal, and thinly sliced veggies. Therefore, you may have a hard time fitting Western lunch foods like big sandwiches or whole fruit in your steel lunch box.
Since you can’t pack a 12-inch sub and bag of chips in it, your steel lunch box may actually provide an opportunity to switch up your eating habits. Some people even make art out of their bento boxes. (4)
The bottom line: have fun with it and think outside the box. (Sorry!)
Latch and carrying design
If you are shopping for a steel box to pack your kid’s lunches, you may want to check that the latches are adjustable. The clasps that hold stainless lunch containers together can be tough for small hands. Some manufacturers account for this and make the latches on their lunch boxes easily adjustable.
Another thing you may want to consider is the carrying design of the metal lunch containers you’re shopping for. Some tiffin style boxes come with convenient handles that hold all the containers together. On the downside, this design means that you have to carry all the containers even if you’ve only filled a few of them.
Some steel luncheon boxes have more hybrid designs. For example, you may be able to separate one container to use by itself. Ultimately, there’s no one superior design: go with the stainless steel lunch box that best fits your needs.
Because they lack plastic or silicone seals, stainless lunch boxes are not totally waterproof. Slightly damp foods should be fine, but soups or saucy dishes won’t fly.
With that said, steel lunch boxes come with differing levels of leak resistance. Our reviews below include information about leak resistance for a variety of products. Regardless, if you plan on putting your steel lunch box inside a backpack or tote, you may want to put it in a waterproof bag to protect your other belongings…just in case!
This goes without saying, but you can’t put a steel lunch box in the microwave. However, some can be a heated in the oven at a low temperature. Some steel bento enthusiasts heat their lunches on the stove, but this isn’t generally recommended.
If you buy a stacking, tiffin-style box, there may be some heat transfer between the containers, i.e. the heat from your chickpea masala might make your salad wilt. The easiest fix for this is to simply pack food of the same temperature or wait for hot dishes to cool before packing them for lunch.
Best stainless steel lunch box reviews
As you can see from above, and no doubt already aware of, plastic is a huge issue. Although many plastic lunch box are reusable and far from single use, they’re still not indestructible and will finally add to the problem. Oh, and don’t get me started on plastic wrap!
The solution, then, is clear: buy the best stainless steel lunch box you can afford. How do you know which one to choose? Carry on reading!
Zebra Stainless Steel Food Carrier
The Zebra Stainless Steel Food Carrier includes three stacking tiers made from corrosion resistant, BPA-free stainless steel. The tiers unstack easily into three bowls, and the sturdy design keeps your lunch from getting crushed or mixed up during your commute.
These typical stainless steel tiffin boxes come in three sizes: 10 cm, 12 cm, or 14 cm diameter. Each size includes an easy-lock handle for transport. The round containers are easy to clean and dishwasher safe.
Customers use these stainless steel tiffin containers for more than just packing lunch; they’re perfect for taking leftovers home from restaurants too! Some savvy cooks also use them for storing dry goods by adding labels.
As a lunch container, some customers complained that Zebra Stainless Steel Food Carriers were a little too heavy. You also must pack all three containers at once if you plan to use the handle, but that’s fine if you’re going to use them for their intended purpose. The lids are definitely not water tight, so expect some leaks or, best of all, avoid packing wet foods altogether.
As a final note, most people seemed satisfied with the 12 cm and 14 cm sizes. However, many people thought the 10 cm tiffin box was too small to hold much of anything.
- Lots of potential uses
- Nice, traditional tiffin box design
- Solidly made
- Variety of sizes
- A little on the heavy side
- Not leak resistant
- All three containers need to be used if you want to carry with the handle (but that’s how tiffin boxes work)
GRUB2GO Stainless Steel Lunch Box
The GRUB2GO Lunch Box is BPA-free, PVC-free, phthalate-free, lead-free and vinyl-free . The open design of this stainless steel lunch box containers makes it easy to include whatever you want, including sandwiches.
Altogether, the three tiers of the GRUB2GO Steel Lunch Box have a 1600 ml capacity. The two lower compartments provide plenty of room for your lunch. The smaller top compartment can hold your fork, chopsticks, or condiments. Hopefully your cutlery won’t be plastic!
Unfortunately, this GRUB2GO lunch box is not leak-proof, so pack liquids at your own risk. Some customers also noted that the latch may need some extra “help” from a rubber band. Plus, there were some complaints that the upper compartment wasn’t really large enough for utensils.
Overall, customers seem to enjoy the clever design and capacity of this stainless steel container. Sandwich enthusiasts love that they can pack their favorite lunch in an eco-friendly way.
- Can hold a whole sandwich!
- Separate utensil/condiment compartment
- Clean materials and simple design
- Not for anything liquid
- Although handy, the upper compartment is quite small
- Weak latch
+Steel Double Lunch Box
The +Steel Double Lunch Box is simplicity at its best.
This well-made stainless steel lunch box with compartments is comprised of two 16 oz containers which are held together by a clasp. Made from tough 18/8 stainless steel for maximum durability, this is certainly going to last a whole lot longer than that tatty old plastic container you’ve been meaning to throw out!
The lower containers of +Steel Double Lunch Boxes are open so they’ll easily hold a sandwich or main dish. The upper lunch containers with dividers are perfect for sliced fruit, veggies, sides, or snacks. Once you’ve packed lunch, just snap on the top and close the clasps.
Customers love this eco-friendly lunch box, describing it as “sturdy” and nicely sized. It can also be heated in the oven at low temperatures (be sure to use a dish cloth or oven mitts when it’s done, though!). The rounded sides mean easier cleaning and no sharp corners poking through your bag or backpack.
However, a few people reported issues with the containers fitting together. You may have to wrestle a bit to get the containers apart and put them back together. For this reason, we wouldn’t recommend this stainless steel lunch box for kids, but for everyone else these do a pretty good job.
- One undivided, one divided container
- Very durable
- Rounded edges for easy cleaning
- Nice looking design
- Some find them difficult to take apart and put together
Lifestyle Block Stainless Steel Oval Lunch Box with Inner Snack Box
The Lifestyle Block Stainless Steel Oval Lunch Box with Inner Snack Box is 100% BPA free. Naturally, the stainless steel will not stain or retain odors or flavors, and the manufacturers promise that this little lunch box is tough enough to last for years.
This stainless bento box comes in two parts: a larger container and a smaller snack box that can be removed or used as a divider inside the large container. The dimensions of the larger box are 7’’ x 4’’ x 2’’. Many customers felt this was a great size for a stainless steel kids lunch box.
In addition to the kid-friendly capacity, the clasps are also adjustable which makes it easier for little ones to open. The option to remove the snack box is also convenient for both kids and adults alike.
There weren’t any complaints in customer reviews about the water proofing of this box, so it’s possible that the Lifestyle Block Stainless Steel Oval Lunch Box is more leak-resistant than others. However, this isn’t verified so we wouldn’t risk things like soup or really wet ingredients.
All of these lunch boxes are designed with drier foodstuffs in mind, so consider alternative transportation for your liquids instead.
- Convertible divider/snack box makes this item more versatile
- Easy to open and close adjustable clasps are ideal for kids
- Tough and well designed
- May be a little small for some
Brandenburg Classic Stainless Steel Bento Box
The Brandenburg Classic Stainless Steel Bento Box is extra large for all your favorite lunch and snack foods. The box includes three containers secured by adjustable clips and this steel bento box is dishwasher safe and easy to clean.
More than anything, customers love the capacity of the Brandenburg Classic Stainless Steel Bento Box. Two large containers have plenty of space for a sandwich and a side dish. The smaller top container holds snacks like trail mix.
In terms of complaints, some owners found that the clips become loose over time and need frequent adjusting. Similarly, there were some concerns that the containers didn’t fit together well or became misshapen. The set also contains one lid, meaning you essentially must use all the boxes together.
On the whole, people with big appetites love the Brandenburg Classic Stainless Steel Bento Box.
- Large capacity
- Easy to clean
- Not as durable as some of the others on our list
- Clips may become loose over time
- Some reports of easy denting
- Must be used as a set
LunchBots Duo Stainless Steel Food Container
The LunchBots Duo Stainless Steel Food Container is made from 18/8 steel with a sturdy, kid-friendly design. The bento-style container is divided into two sections for easy lunch organization, which allows you to keep your food separate without multiple containers.
LunchBots Duo Stainless Steel Food Container comes in plain stainless steel, or you can choose from a range of colored lids. Though the colored lids are made of plastic, only stainless steel actually touches your food as they’re basically just covers. That being said, if you want to be eco, stick to the plain stainless version.
Though this steel bento box is generally tough, its kid-friendly approach means the lid may come off more easily than other models. Generally, this box is best when transported upright and customer reviewers suggest it is definitely not waterproof.
The LunchBots Duo Stainless Steel Food Container is dishwasher safe, but some customers reported it rusted quickly even with hand washing, which is odd for a stainless product. To avoid this, you should dry this steel lunch box right after washing…or buy a different box!
The rounded edges do, however, make this box easy to clean. Customers young and old like the divided compartment and capacity. Just keep an eye on the lid during transport and you shouldn’t have many issues.
- Easy to open for kids
- Divided compartment
- Compact design
- Colored options contain plastic
- Immediate drying required
- Lid may come off during transport
Green Pack Medium 3-in-1 Lunch Box – Stainless Steel Meal Container
The Green Pack Medium 3-in-1 Lunch Box comes with two stacking containers and one removable “mini container.” The bottom tier holds 1.7 cups, the top tier holds 2.1 cups, and the mini container holds 0.6 cups.
Unlike many stainless steel lunch containers, the design of the Green Pack Medium 3-in-1 Lunch Box allows you to use the containers separately. The clips are adjustable so you can tighten and loosen them as needed. This makes it easy for kids to open and close the boxes, which is sure to please parents.
The fold-over lids eliminate sharp edges and ensure a snug fit. Still, this lunch box isn’t watertight and won’t work for liquid foods. However, “damp” food like cut fruit or recently washed vegetables are fine.
Some customers found it smaller than expected. The largest containers are 5 inches across and may not accommodate bigger appetites. The size and shape of the boxes are also not suitable for sandwiches. Bummer!
Finally, some issues were reported with the latches staying tight. A few people resorted to using rubber bands to keep their box closed. Still, they seemed happy with all other aspects and continued using their Green Pack Medium 3-in-1 Lunch Box.
- Containers can be used separately
- Adjustable clasps
- Fold-over lid for snug fit
- Quite small
- May not stay together all that well over time
Happy Tiffin Raja Domed 3 Tier Lunch Box
The Happy Tiffin Raja Domed 3 Tier Lunch Box has a huge capacity: each of the 3 tiers hold 3 cups of food!
This steel lunch container is made in the traditional tiffin box fashion and includes clips and a handle. Customers love its roomy size and easy transportion.
Besides the generous size, another feature that sets Happy Tiffin apart is the overlapping design of the lids. This supposedly makes the containers water proof! Though some customers say that they still experience a little leaking, this tiffin lunch box is far better for carrying liquid foods than other models.
If you’re running late in the mornings, you can actually toss a whole piece of fruit into the Happy Tiffin Raja Domed 3 Tier Lunch Box without slicing. The cleverly designed domed top provides extra space for fresh fruits like apples and oranges. Pretty cool!
On the downside, the stacked design of the Happy Tiffin lunch box means that it works better with all hot or all cold foods. Customers complained of a lot of heat transfer between the compartments.
Some people also found the containers hard to get apart. However, this is generally going to be the case with any container if you are transporting hot foods as they will always create some sort of vacuum.
Finally, in order to carry your tiffin you will need to use all the containers together, and this can to be an issue for some people. Since you can fit so much in the containers, there’s a lot of food to be eaten so it might not suit everyone.
- Better leak resistance compared to other models
- Large capacity
- Domed top means you can carry whole fruits
- Smart, traditional tiffin box design
- As with all tiffin boxes, all containers must be used
- Heat transfer may be an issue
- Some may find it hard to take apart
So which stainless steel lunch box is the best?
Keeping in mind the needs of former brown-baggers, our pick is the Happy Tiffin Raja Domed 3 Tier Lunch Box.
This tiffin-style stainless steel set stands above the competition for many reasons. The three tiers each have a capacity of 3 cups, which is perfect for even the hungriest of us, and the domed lid also provides more space to store round foods like fresh fruit without slicing.
Add to that the fact that the Happy Tiffin Box is designed to be more leak-resistant than similar products and you can see why its a winner in our eyes. Though no all-steel lunch box is totally water proof, Happy Tiffin gets pretty close. With careful packing, you may be able to bring wet foods on the go with no leaking (though note that soup is still not recommended).
Not everyone was totally happy with this tiffin steel lunch box, however. You may encounter problems with heat transfer and difficulty taking the box apart. Finally, you won’t have the flexibility to use the containers separately.
Overall, though, the Happy Tiffin Raja Domed 3 Tier Lunch Box is ideal for adults who want to carry a full lunch with ease and convenience. The large capacity and design aren’t the best for kids, however, so parents looking for a school lunch box may have to pick another model.
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Choosing a stainless steel lunch container is a major step toward eliminating plastic from your lifestyle. Plastic can leach harmful chemicals into your food and its disposal pollutes the planet.
All in all, if you’re trying to “eat clean,” you need a steel lunch box to keep your to-go meals healthy and contaminate-free…and you’ll be doing your bit for the environment, too.
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
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- David Biello | Plastic (Not) Fantastic: Food Containers Leach a Potentially Harmful Chemical | https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/plastic-not-fantastic-with-bisphenol-a/
- Friends of the Earth | Plastic pollution: How to reduce plastic in the ocean | https://friendsoftheearth.uk/plastics
- Ecology Center | PTF: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS: Pollution and hazards from manufacturing | https://ecologycenter.org/plastics/ptf/report3/
- Hongkiat Lim | 32 Creative and Interesting Bento Boxes | https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/creative-and-interesting-bento-boxes/