Having now gone through more than a decade figuring out the best lunch bags for kids, I’ve determined that insulated lunch bags are the way to go.
Let’s just say we’ve come a long way from the metal lunch boxes some of us used to carry, featuring the cast of Full House or uh…The Partridge Family.
Now I know which brands hold up after more than a few months — sometimes even more than a few years — which ones can take a beating, which ones are wipeable and cleanable, and most importantly, which ones actually helps keep those lunches at the right temperature.
In addition to stocking up on ice packs for fruit and yogurt, and insulated containers for those hot lunches you may be packing, check out my picks for best insulated lunch bags for kids this school year.
Note: If you prefer neoprene style bags, I highly recommend the brands Built NYC, and Dabbawalla (I recommended their backpacks for young kids as well) for durability plus style. But if you’re going for a classic, wipe-clean insulated interior in a lunch bag with some structure, here are 7 worth exploring.
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Related: Which lunch boxes hold up the best? After testing tons, here are our five picks.
Modern, smart and built to last: MilkDot
MilkDot Insulated Lunch Tote | $27, MilkDot
While I present this list in no particular order, I have to kick it off with a longtime favorite of mine, MilkDot. Just this summer, I packed day camp lunches in a MilkDot bag I’ve now had for about four years — it still looks great and relatively new and that’s saying something.
The inside is deceptively large; good for bigger kids with bigger appetites. I love the semi-rigid structured sides that help protect fruit and anything else that’s squishable, while the mesh pocket at the top of the bag is a big help. Att the end of the day, it folds nearly flat to tuck easily into a backpack. Should it come home empty.
Deceptively rugged and so cool: SoYoung
SoYoung Insulated Lunch Bags and Insulated Cooler Bags | $30 and up; $24.95, SoYoung
Another favorite lunch bag of mine going back to 2014 (back when your kindergarteners were born, sniff), SoYoung continues to impress. This wonderful mom-run company make very stylish yet durable insulated lunch bags in several sizes. The outside may look delicate, but it’s actually a coated canvas that keeps it cleaner, longer, and makes it easy to wipe down. and the inside wipes down easily, which is the most important part of course.
If you have a kid who prefers a bucket-style insulated lunch bag, SoYoung’s cooler bags (also shown at top) come in smaller and larger sizes, with a convenient, detachable carrying strap. I think these are a better bet than a standard lunch box shape if you’re packing insulated containers like a Thermos, or larger water bottles. Plus it allows you stack lots of little reusable containers, should you have grazers who like lots of little items to eat instead of one big sandwich and a bag of chips.
Related:The essential school lunch shopping list: Everything you need in your pantry + fridge
The longtime parent fave: Pottery Barn Kids
Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Lunch Bag | $17-22 on sale for a limited time, Pottery Barn Kids
This insulated lunch bag from Pottery Barn Kids probably wins for parents’ choice — it’s so popular, in part because it’s just the right size and shape to fit into even a smaller backpack for preschool or kindergarten. Plus there are so many colors and styles, from solids to patterns, Disney Princesses to Star Wars villains, that I know a lot of parents whose annual September tradition is to pick out a new one. (Though hopefully the old one gets donated or handed down because it will likely still be in great shape.)
If you need a little more room, be sure to check out the Insulated Cold Pack Lunch Bags at Pottery Barn Teen which includes a removable cold pack, and has some handy packing features. It’s currently just $22 on sale if you hurry (regularly $32.50).
So stylish, you’ll want one too: State Bags
State Insulated Rodgers Lunch Bag in Metallic | $42, ShopBop
or shop full collection at State Bags
State Bags has this new entry to my list, definitely scoring big style points for picky older kids. In fact, plenty of adults are fans of this fully insulated lunch bag that includes a handy detachable divider, a mesh zippered pocket (love that zipper) and a see-through pocket inside — tuck in a cute lunchbox note, a family photo, you name it. I like the silver and gold, but visit the site for 11 different colors and patterns.
But above all, I like that each purchase from State supports kids in need.
Related: How to clean lunch boxes with all-natural cleaners
All about the durability: LL Bean
LL Bean Insulated Lunch Bag $19.99, LL Bean
Another parent pick for best insulated lunch bag for years, if not decades, is LL Bean’s version for kids. It’s fairly basic but durable, though I must admit my kids are not big fans of the middle-of-the-road prints that are less stylish than some of the other options. The shark is cute though, and there are plenty of solid colored lunch bags as well.
LL Bean Insulated Adult Lunch Bag | $29.99, LL Bean
If you’ve got older kids with slightly more sophisticated taste, I love the look of the adult-sized LL Bean lunch bag. In fact, its got quite the resemblance to those super on-trend Kanken Fjallraven bags only way, way more affordable. Plus it’s built to last, making it a fantastic value.
Highly rated and affordable: Mazforce
Mazforce Insulated Lunch Bag $13.99, Amazon
I have not yet tried this brand myself, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this extremely affordable, highly-rated Amazon favorite in a list of the best insulated lunch bags for kids. It comes in just 5 colors, each fairly sophisticated (i.e. no mermaids or sharks), but has some smart features like a clip-on handle for attaching to a backpack, and reviewers use terms like “rugged,” “modern,” and “leak-proof” which are all calling my name. Can 1,000 five-star reviews be wrong?
Cheeky kids is a great brand. It is large enough to fit a great lunch and small enough to fit in my kid’s backpack. The best part: For every Cheeky item purchased, the company gives one meal to someone in need through the organizations Feeding America and No Kid Hungry.
Thanks for the recommendation Hila. I just took a look and unfortunately the reviews are pretty inconsistent. Comments include things like “cheap,” “doesn’t hold its shape,” “zipper breaks,” and “good for the price but doesn’t hold up.”
This list is compiled from my own personal favorites after more than a decade of trying out lunch boxes — but I’m always open to investigating more brands.