Having a high quality lunch bag is essential for safely bringing your lunch to your job each day. Using a lunch bag is convenient, healthy and best of all, it will save you money. Let’s take a look at how to find the best lunch bag for women and men to take to work. So, if you’re looking for a high quality lunch bag for the office, let’s begin…
Finding an Adult Lunch Bag for Work
If you’re going to bring your lunch bag with you to work, it’s important to choose the best work lunch bag. One of the most important factors when buying a work lunch bag is insulation. In fact, the best lunch bag should be designed for one purpose—to protect your food and keep it safe by keeping it cold.
Keeping your food cold ensures your food is kept fresh and safe from harmful bacteria growth. Insulated bags work best for this purpose. So, when choosing a lunch bag look for those that should have a high level of insulation, especially if it’s not getting to the refrigerator quickly.
Since there’s no such thing as a lunch box store, if you’re looking for the best lunch bag for men or for women, it’s best to shop online. We’ve done the research for you and found all of the best lunch bags for work on Amazon. Not only are these lunch bags affordable, they’re also comfortable, stylish and durable too.
We’ve sorted out “best of” list into the best lunch bags for men and the best lunch bags for women. We also including some tips at the end for keeping the food inside your lunch bag safe. Also, there’s a few healthy meal ideas at the end as well. Enjoy!
5 Best Adult Lunch Bags for Men
The best lunch bags for men are tough and durable. They also look masculine without sacrificing style. Popular colors include black, tan, grey, brown and blue. Popular materials include polyester, canvas and denier. Here are the 5 best lunch bags for men:
1. MIER Adult Insulated Lunch Bag
The Mier Lunch Bag is one of the best lunch bags (and best sizes) for taking to work—not too big, not too small. It also features two separate insulated compartments, perfect for separating dry items from wet items, or hot items from cold items. It also comes in a wide variety of colors, most of which are best suited for men (although it is technically a unisex lunch bag).
Both compartments are insulated, leakproof, food-safe and easy to clean. The bigger bottom compartment is the main storage area where it is large enough to fit up to six cans and an ice pack at the same time. The top section is only smaller by one-inch in height and was designed for holding smaller items. If you wanted, you could put hot items up top and cold items in the bottom (or vice versa).
There are two pockets, one on each side, and a third front pocket. The side pockets are a good size for holding utensils, napkins and condiments. The front pocket is great for your wallet, phone or keys. The only downside is that there is no spot for a thermos.
There is also a removable and adjustable shoulder strap. The shoulder strap can be adjusted from 31.5″ to 51.5″ in length. There’s also a sturdy carrying handle for added convenience.
The zippers could be a little better but they’re you’re standard average zipper (aka not heavy duty like those that come on more expensive lunch boxes). Also, this lunch box isn’t going to hold up somewhere where it gets beat around a lot, it’s more of a professional style lunch box for a white collar work environment.
This lunch bag measures 9.1″ x 7.”1 x 10.6″ (length x width x height). There’s also a 2-year warranty and any rips of repairs will be repaired by Mier free of charge.
All in all, one of the best lunch bags and you cannot beat the value you get for the money.
2. Coleman 9 Can Lunch Cooler with Removable Liner
The Coleman 9 Can Lunch Cooler is usually listed as a “soft cooler” on most websites. This is a bit of a misnomer as this lunch bag comes with a hard plastic liner. Though the hard liner is a highlight of this lunch bag, it has a lot of nice features that make it one of the best lunch bags to take to work.
One nice feature is this lunch bag’s size. It’s a bit larger than your average lunch cooler and fits 9 cans in total. However, it’s still compact enough that you don’t feel like you’re lugging your lunch bag to work every day.
It also has an adjustable shoulder strap making the lunch box easy to carry. One downside is that the strap is not removable, however, you can shorter the strap enough that you can carry the lunch box by the strap as if it was a handle.
The hard plastic liner sits in the main compartment of the lunch bag. It anti-microbial, leakproof and even made in the USA (the cooler itself is made in China though). However, if you choose not to use the liner you can easily remove it and the lunch box is still leak proof, thanks to the heat-welded seams on this lunch box. Also, it’s nice to remove the liner for easy cleaning either by hand or in the dishwasher.
Both the hard plastic liner and the soft liner are food safe. They also resist molds and mildew. Both resist odors as well. The outside of the lunch box is also given anti-microbial treatment. This makes it an especially great lunch box if you work inside a lab or in a hospital setting.
The zippers are well-built and the lunch box zips open and closes easily and smoothly. There’s a zipper main compartment as well as a zippered front pocket. The pocket in the front is great for storing utensils and condiments, and is roomy enough to fit your phone or wallet too. However, there are also two mesh side pockets for additional storage (though not large enough to hold a thermos).
And last, but not least, there is a bungie cord on top for storing items on top of the cooler. Although it is mostly designed to hold odds and ends such as a coat and umbrella, it is sturdy enough for use as a handle as well. You could even use this space for storing an extra water bottle or thermos.
This lunch bag measures 9.45″ x 6.7″ x 10.24″ and is assembled in the USA.
There is a lot to like about the Coleman 9 Can Cooler. It even comes in four different colors (blue, green, red and grey) and looks sharp in all of them. All in all, a great lunch bag with a lot of features for a great price.
3. Carhartt Vertical Lunch Bag with Water Bottle
The Carhartt Vertical Lunch Cooler is a well-built and tough lunch bag for working men. It even has the look of a working man’s lunch box and comes in the classic Carhartt Brown color the epitomizes the brand. It also comes with a 20 ounce water bottle that’s BPA free and built tough too.
The first thing to note about this lunch bag is its rugged exterior, crafted out of durable 1200 denier (1200D) polyester. It’s coated in Carhartt’s Rain Defender technology which allows for water to roll off the lunch bag with ease, perfect for those rainy work days.
It has a fully insulated main compartment that can hold up to six drinks and an ice pack. It’s also tall enough to hold six bottles if need be. The insulation is thicker than the insulation on most lunch boxes and will easily keep your lunch cold, even if you’re working overtime. The only downside is that there is no storage on the top lid.
The exterior features a large front pocket that’s ideal for holding condiments, utensil and napkins. It’s also good for storing your wallet and keys. The mesh side pocket is good for the included water bottle, but it’s also good for a coffee thermos if you decide to swap out the water bottle. The only downside here is that when the water bottle is in place it does reduce the space on the inside of the lunch bag some.
The zippers on this lunch bag are heavy duty YKK zippers, the kind you normally see on Carhartt expertly crafted coats. There’s an adjustable shoulder strap for convenient carrying, but the shoulder strap is not removable. The lunch box could also use a few more pockets.
This lunch bag measures 7.5″ x 10.5″ x 7.5″.
Overall, a nice looking and very functional lunch bag, good for blue collar and white collar workers alike. It’s also one of the best lunch bags to take with you out hunting or fishing on your off days.
Pro Tip – Bring Your Utensils to Work: There’s nothing more annoying than opening your lunch bag, pulling out your delicious steak, popping it into the microwave to heat and then having to scrounge up some plastic utensils from your workplace. You can’t cut the steak without the plastic knife bending, and the whole experience of eating your steak is ruined every time you jab it with your plastic fork. Solving this problem is simple with a durable stainless steel utensil set or even an extra durable titanium utensil set. Lunch is a time to relax and enjoy yourself, don’t settle for plasticware any longer. Be the new envy of the lunch room with your own steel or titanium utensil set.
4. Husky Men’s Insulated Lunch Bag
For anyone who has used a Husky tool bag, you know the level of quality you’re getting with the Husky Lunch Bag. Not only is it built of durable 600D fabric, it’s also weather-resistant and water-resistant too. It also has high density thermal insulation to keep your lunch ice cold throughout the workday.
The is the best lunch bag for the mechanic, plumber, shop owner, construction worker, or anyone else that works outdoors or in harsh environments. This lunch bag is designed to be exposed to the elements, take a harsh beating and still live to see another day and a day after that.
It also has a ton of room for storage and has really thick insulation. This lunch bag can easily fit 12 cans in the main compartment and an ice pack. You could even fit around 4 large thermoses inside the main compartment if you wanted. There’s also an insulate front pocket, for storing other food items (like a sandwich or snack bars). It’s also made with a leakproof liner.
On the back is a large uninsulated pocket, perfect for condiments, utensils and napkins. On the sides feature two large mesh pockets, each big enough to hold a thermos. You could even hold two thermoses simultaneously if you needed.
The shoulder strap is held onto the lunch box with strong metal clips, and the strap is removable as well. It can also be easily adjusted for length. If you want to carry it like a toolbox, there’s a padded handle for this as well.
The zippers are all heavy duty and there are dual-zippers on every compartment, except for the compartment on the back. And even though this lunch bag is classified as “soft sided,” it holds up as if it was made out of hard plastic.
One of the best lunch bags by Husky and with its affordable price tag, it’s hard to think that any lunch bag on the market even holds a candle to this lunch bag. It’s also one of the best lunch bags if you work an industry where you need something a bit more rugged, like the construction or automotive industry.
This lunch bag could have easily been the best lunch bag on this list except for one reason, it’s not as practical for all type of jobs. It’s great for blue collars workers but a bit too rugged and heavy duty for white collar workers, or jobs that don’t require this level of durability. It also has a lot of room that the average worker doesn’t need. Otherwise, this would easily be the number one lunch bag. The quality you get for the price is incredible too.
5. Fit & Fresh Douglas Insulated Lunch Bag for Adults
Sure to draw many compliments, this stylish lunch bag for work is made of rugged and durable material. It sports a classic messenger bag look and is made of 12 ounce cotton. It also has a nice thick PEVA lining, lots of room inside the bag, and a convenient removable shoulder strap for easy transport.
The extra thick insulation inside the lunch box will keep your food cold throughout the workday. It’s also extra roomy with enough space to hold up to 16 twelve ounce cans. It also comes with a reusable ice pack but you might want to get another one because it’s a bit small for this bag.
There is one large front pocket on the outside of the lunch bag that closes via two button snaps. It’s large enough to store an iPad or a large book, but it’s also good for storing condiments, napkins, utensils, or even a wallet and keys.
The shoulder strap is adjustable to obtain a more comfortable fit. However, this lunch bag also has two handles the close together via a snap latch. There’s also a nice heavy duty zipper which keeps the lunch bag closed tight.
This lunch bag measures 10″ x 6″ x 11.5″ and comes in both black and brown.
Overall, a nice lunch bug that is functional and looks good too. It is certainly one of the best lunch bags for an office worker or any other white collar. It’s rugged enough to be used by a blue collar worker, but you might not want to get such a nice lunch bag dirty.
Pro Tip – Keep Your Lunch Ice Cold: Keeping your lunch cold is not that difficult. All you have to do is take a water bottle and freeze it the night before you take your lunch to work. Then, just pop the frozen water into your lunch bag. By the time lunch hits your water will be ice cold to drink and your lunch will be just the right temperature. That said, if you’re more environmentally conscious you can reuse the same water bottle or opt for a frozen ice pack. Home & Farming recommends the YETI ICE Refreezable Reusable Cooler Ice Pack. Not only is it non-toxic and food safe, it’s break resistant, freezes faster and is colder than regular ice.
Honorable Mention: YETI Daytrip Packable Lunch Bag
YETI makes some of the best products and are known especially for their lunch coolers. However, the YETI name comes with a price tag. While their products are the best, including this lunch bag, they come with a high price tag. This stylish lunch bag is no exception. While it excels in looks and durability, it also excels in price.
The YETI Daytrip Lunch Bag is super convenient to take to work. Not only can you adjust the size of this lunch bag to the size you see fit, it also folds up so you can flatten it for easy storage. It’s also light, weighing only a little over one pound. It’s also extremely durable, like all YETI products, and will last you for years to come. And if you do have any problems with this YETI lunch bag, it comes with a generous three year warranty.
Inside, the lunch bag offers generous space for your food. It’s 8-3/4″ wide and 5-3/4″ in length, and can hold up to 13-1/2″ in height. Though, as mentioned previously, you can easily change the height of this lunch bag. While the insulation is good, some people complain that you get some condensation with this lunch bag, however, it’s impossible not to with almost any lunch bag.
With a large YETI ice pack, it keeps your food cold throughout the day. That said, it would’ve been better if there was a separate compartment for the ice pack to reduce condensation, especially at this high of a price point.
All in all, it does what a lunch bag is supposed to do, keeps your food cold. The only reason this lunch bag didn’t make it onto the main list is only due to its price. It’s a good lunch bag, but is it that much better than the other lunch bags to offer it at such a high price? Probably not. You’re really only paying for the brand. However, if that’s okay with you, it’s one nice looking lunch bag, sure to impress.
5 Best Adult Lunch Bags for Women
The best lunch bags for women are stylish yet function. The come in a wide variety or colors with emphasis on pastels and more feminine colors. Many women’s lunch bags look almost identical to purses. Here are the 5 best lunch bags for women:
1. KAVU Lunch Box
The Kavu Lunch Box is a stylish and affordable option and one of the best insulated lunch bags for women. Not only does it come in over 20 style options, there is also an adjustable and removable shoulder strap for easy carrying. It’s also lightweight and durable, so it won’t weigh you down and it will hold up under any condition.
This lunch bag also has a convenient carrying handle, if you prefer to carry your lunch box the traditional way. The grip is also padded for comfort. And don’t worry about dropping this lunch bag as it has extra padding too. It’s also extremely durable too, being made out of 600 denier polyester fabric. This type of fabric is naturally water-resistant and abrasion-resistant.
As you would expect from one of the best lunch bags, inside is a fully insulated and leakproof lining. The bottom portion is for your main lunch and an ice pack. It’s large enough to hold two standard-sized food containers, a water bottle and some fruit. With an ice pack, this lunch bag will easily keep your food cold for the whole workday. On the lid is a zippered mesh pouch for storing napkins and condiments.
This lunch bag measures 7” x 9” x 4.25” and the strap can be adjusted anywhere from 27″ to 51″ in length. Its small size makes it great for storing in an office drawer or a refrigerator. And with all the unique and stylish colors and patterns, you can truly show off your individual personality with this lunch bag.
2. PackIt Freezable Traveler Lunch Bag
The PackIt freezable lunch bag is a great choice for a simple lunch bag that looks good and keeps your lunch nice and cold. It features a patented gel cooling technology that is built directly into the lunch bag. All you have to do is pop your lunch bag into the freezer overnight and voilà, your lunch bag is ready to pack and take with you to work the next day.
This lunch bag has one large main compartment for storing your food and drinks as well as a large and roomy front pocket for everything else. The inside compartment, as well as the lunch bag itself, is non-toxic, food-safe and free of any harmful chemicals. The inside is roomier than it looks and can hold a lot of food. You can easily fit a few meal containers, a drink, some snacks and fruit inside this bag.
The front pocket has a ton of room too. It’s great for storing dry good such as a wallet, keys, and even a phone. It’s also good for napkins, condiments, utensils and other food items you want to keep from getting too cold. It’s not designed to hold a ton of weight, so don’t overload the front pocket or it may rip.
The lunch bag itself is made of durable canvas and have a nice sturdy handle for easy carrying. The main compartment is closed by a smooth sliding, high quality zipper. One complaint is that it doesn’t quite seal the top compartment all the way, but it does a good job of locking in the cold nonetheless. The exterior is also waterproof, so no need to worry about it getting wet.
When you’re done using the lunch bag, it can lie flat for easy storage. The interior and the exterior easily wipe clean by hand by the bag itself is not dishwasher or laundry safe.
When open, this lunch bag measures 10.5” x 13.5” x 6” and closed and flat it measures 11.5” x 14” x 2.25”. It comes in six unique styles and colors.
Overall, a nifty little lunch tote that’s super cute with an awesome technology allowing it to freeze. PackIt is also the original creator of the foldable, freezable lunch bag, so you know you’re getting one of the best lunch bags on the market.
3. KAVU Snack Sack Insulated Lunch Cooler Bag
Let’s face it, most lunch bags can be a bit boring or same old, same-old. This is definitely not the case with the Kavu Snack Sack. The Snack Sack allows you to show off your unique personality and has over twenty different styles and colors for you to choose from. It’ll definitely turn some heads in the lunch room.
But not only is it unique and stylish, it’s also incredibly functional too. First of all, it’s large and sure to fit everything you usually bring to lunch and then some. It’s even designed tall enough to hold a six-pack if you decide to take ever take it picnicking and not just to work. It’s also fully insulated so it’ll keep your lunch ice cold. It is only designed for use with an ice pack, unfortunately, so whatever you do, don’t fill it with ice.
This lunch bag also has a ton of pockets. There’s the main storage compartment, of course, but underneath the lid there’s also a nifty mesh pocket for snack bars or a sandwich. There’s also a large front zippered pocket, that’s good for your keys and wallet, as well as napkins, condiments and utensils. And it even comes with a small exterior pocket for your phone.
On the front of the lunch bag is a vertical webbings designs for either strapping the bag to your backpack or hanging off a carabiner. You can even attach utensils to this spot or a set of keys. The shoulder strap is both adjustable and removable, if you prefer instead to carry the lunch bag with the padded handle. And the bag has a padded bottom and is made out of durable 600D polyester.
This lunch bag measures 9.5″ x 10.5″ x 5″.
This is the best lunch bag for the adventurous type or the working girl who wants to show off her unique personality. All in all, one of the best lunch bags that’s also super cute, with a lot of color, lot of pockets and a lot of nice features.
4. Buringer Insulated Women’s Lunch Bag Cooler
If you’re looking for a lunch bag that could easily be confused for a purse, the Buringer lunch bag cooler is the perfect choice. Not only does it look nice enough to be a purse, it functions extremely well as a lunch bag too. It’s also one of the most affordable lunch bags for women on the market.
Designed to keep your food either warm or cold, the inside of the lunch bag is lined with aluminum thermal insulation. But don’t worry, it’s eco-friendly, non-toxic and food-safe too. There’s enough room in the lunch bag for a standard-sized lunch of a drink, a food container, a piece of fruity and a few snack bars. It’s not super roomy, but you won’t be cramped either.
The outside of the lunch bag is made of oxford cloth that’s durable as well as water-resistant. It’s also resistant to tearing and abrasion. The handles are nice and durable and it carries much like a standard purse. It’s also lightweight, so it won’t strain your shoulder carrying it every day. It closes via a high quality double-zipper that feels smooth and closely snugly.
The only downside of this lunch bag is that it’s a bit simple. It doesn’t have any extra bells and whistles, and it also doesn’t contain any extra pockets. That said, this can also be a bit of an upside if you just want a simple lunch bag.
This lunch bag measures 10.6″ x 6.3″ x 7.1″ and comes in 12 unique and colorful styles.
This is the best lunch bag for the girl who doesn’t want to be seen carrying a lunch bag, as most people will think you’re carrying a purse. It’s also great because it’s simple, no fuss, and does what a lunch bag is designed for—it keeps your food cold.
5. Ma Geshi Insulated Lunch Bag for Women
Sometimes you want to keep your lunch bag simple, but not overly simple. The Ma Geshi lunch bag for women has the best of both worlds. It’s stylish enough to take the office or workplace, simple enough but doesn’t compromise on features, and large enough to fit your food but not so big that it looks gaudy.
The exterior is made of a durable 300D oxford fabric that’s both waterproof and easy to clean. It’s also stylish enough to be elegant but not over-the-top either. There’s even a nice carrying handle to carry this lunch bag to and from work easily.
The best feature on this lunch bag is the two separate compartments. You can use one compartment for hot food and the other compartment for cold food. Both compartments are insulated with premium aluminum and thick foam, designed to keep your food hot/cold for an 8-hour shift.
The bottom compartment is a little over three inches high, so it’s perfect for stackable containers. The linings are also made of food-safe materials and free of any harmful chemicals. The lining is also designed to be easy to clean, just wipe it with a damp, soapy cloth and you’re done.
There is also a small mesh pocket inside that’s good for condiments, utensils and napkins. The only downside is that the small pocket doesn’t zipper closed. There are no additional extra pockets for storage, which is one of the few downsides of this lunch bag.
The only other issue on this lunch bag is the lack of a shoulder strap. That said, there is a different model of this same lunch bag that does come with a shoulder strap. However, that lunch bag is a bit larger than this one.
This lunch bag measures 9.75″ X 8.97″ X 6.24″.
This is the perfect sized lunch bag for work and definitely one of the best lunch bags for women. It’s also fairly simple without compromising on features. And it comes in at an affordable price, which really can’t be beat for how functional it is.
Qualities of the Best Lunch Bags for Women
You wouldn’t think there would be much of a difference between men’s and women’s lunch bags, but there is actually quite a bit of difference. Women prefer style but also want the lunch bag to keep food cold. So, while women want the materials to be of high quality they also want the bag to look good too.
Here are all of the important qualities of the best lunch bags for women:
- Style: Women tend to prefer lunch bags that have a wide variety of colors and colors that echo their femininity (like pastels). They want something that’s more sleek and tend to prefer a petite lunch bag over a lunch bag that’s bulky.
- Insulation: Women also prefer a lunch bag with good insulation, however, they’re more interested in style and are willing to trade insulation if it means the lunch bag looks a little better. However, there are some unique features in women’s lunch bags that allow them to have both. For instance, one of the bags on our list can be frozen (#2).
- Pockets: Women like lunch bags with a lot of pockets because they tend to carry more things than men. Also, they tend to like to stay organized and don’t want to jam everything into the same pocket.
- Size: As mentioned earlier, women prefer a lunch bag that is a little more petite. However, it still needs to be able to fit what they usually bring to lunch.
- Cost: Women don’t tend to focus on cost as much as men, however, they don’t want to pay an unreasonable price for a lunch bag. They’re willing to pay a higher cost if that means they’ll get a better-looking bag. Luckily though, most women’s lunch bags aren’t too expensive, even the most attractive lunch bags on our list.
Qualities of the Best Lunch Bags for Men
Men prefer function and durability over looks in a lunch bag. However, this doesn’t mean that men don’t want style. But style for men is different than for women. Men prefer masculine colors like black, blue, grey, etc. and they don’t if the lunch bag is a bit more bulky.
Here are all of the important qualities of the best lunch bags for men:
- Durability: Men prefer lunch bags that are durable. Generally men tend to work jobs that are a little more rough and require a lunch bag that won’t get damaged out on the job. So, the lunch bag needs to withstand getting beat around a bit.
- Functionality: Men prefer function over style even though style is still important. They want a lunch bag that fits the job they perform. For instance, if they work construction they want a lunch bag that could hold all their tools, gadgets, etc. and still keep their food cold all day with good insulation. Also, the lunch bag or lunch box should be able to hold a coffee thermos or a vacuum container, and other types of lunch bag essentials (condiments, silverware, etc.).
- Insulation: Men tend to want good insulation more than women. Since a lot of men work outdoors they need a lunch bag that can withstand being out in the sun all day. They need a lunch bag with a tight seal that won’t melt their ice packs too quickly, but instead will keep their food cold and fresh.
- Size: Men prefer a larger sized lunch bag. Bulk doesn’t tend to bother them as much and since they pack bigger meals they need to be able to fit their meals. Also, men like to bring bulkier items with them and the lunch bag should allow them to accommodate such items (like an extra coat, gloves, hat, etc.).
- Cost: Men are a little more price sensitive but they’re willing to pay more for a better quality lunch box as long as it’s more functional and/or more durable.
Benefits of Bringing Your Lunch to Work
Bringing your lunch to work has many benefits that most people overlook. Not only will you avoid eating unhealthy foods, like fast food or food from the vending machine, you will also be able to control your portion size. And, you will save a ton of money bringing your lunch to work. Let’s look at all of the benefits of packing your lunch.
Benefits of bringing your lunch to work:
- Saves time. Going out to eat or running out to get food takes extra time. Your break time at work should be well utilized. You shouldn’t waste your time going out to buy food. This is the one time at work that you get to relax, so bring your lunch and enjoy the extra time you have at break.
- Saves money. Eating out costs $10 per meal, on average, whereas packing a lunch is around $3-6. Depending on what you decide to bring to work, you could save even more if you’re smart about it. On average, though, you’ll be spending half the amount of money you would have spent just by bringing your lunch to work.
- It’s healthier. You get to choose what you eat, which means you can choose to eat healthy foods. You can bring whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other low-carb, heart healthy foods to work with you. You’re the boss over your health when you bring your lunch to work.
- You’ll lose weight. Eating out also means you’ll consume more calories than if you pack your lunch. In fact, planning your meals ahead of time reduces your risk of obesity by 20% (source).
- It’s fun. Eating at the same places everyday or the same types of food all the time can be boring. When you pack your lunch you can bring anything you want. Go grocery shopping and pick out some fun foods you wouldn’t normally eat. The sky is the limit when you pack your lunch.
An Insulated Lunch Bag is the Best Choice
In order to keep your food cold, your lunch bag should have good insulation. Why is this important? Well, keeping your lunch cold means keeping your food safe. In fact, according to the USDA, “Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” — the temperatures between 40 and 140 °F.” Even leaving your lunch out for over an hour at room temperature is enough to put you at risk of illness.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s good to have two cold sources. This might be one ice pack and one frozen water bottle. Even the best insulated lunch box can only keep food cold enough for so long. In order to be on the safe side, it’s good to have more than one cold source, especially if you’re storing a large amount of food or food that perishes easily (eggs, dairy, fruits, salads).
Picking the Best Insulated Lunch Bag
A lunch bag is a good choice as opposed to a plastic lunch box or a metal lunch container. Metal, apart from the fact that it absorbs heat and cool relatively easily, also has the disadvantage of being heavy. A plastic lunch box can be a good choice too but it is often a lot heavier compared to a bag and has the problem of being bulky. A lunch bag is lightweight and can be pushed into small places, especially if you store your lunch bag in a refrigerator at work. It’s also not going to get dented or banged up like a metal (or even a plastic) lunch box will.
Lunch bags are also cheaper than metal or plastic lunch boxes. Plastic lunch boxes are the highest cost, come in on average around $30.60. Metal was the second most expensive at $22.40 on average. Lunch bags were the cheapest, on average you can get one for $15.20. Also, some of the plastic lunch boxes are some of the top brand names like Klein Tools and Stanley. These lunch boxes are much more likely to get stolen as compared to your everyday cheap lunch bag.
In terms of insulation, plastic lunch boxes will keep your food coldest the longest. However, lunch bag are right up there next to plastic in keeping your food cold. Also, for the price difference, paying nearly double for a plastic lunch box, you are not getting double the insulation benefit. You’re getting a small to medium percentage difference in the amount of insulation benefit you get from a plastic lunch cooler. Metal, on the other hand, has almost no insulation benefit and costs more than a lunch bag.
Clearly, an insulated lunch bag is the best choice, especially when factoring in the dollars and cents. Plus, they look nicer, they’re less bulky, and they can be beat around without breaking or getting damaged. They also keep your food cold and with a few extra tips and tricks (like keeping a frozen water bottle in your lunch bag), you can easily keep your food cold even longer than just with a traditional ice pack.
If you work in an industry such as construction or agricultural, you may need a lunch bag that’s a bit more rugged. Look for something that can avoid being crushed by an object and something that can take a beating day to day. They should also have a rugged liner inside the lunch box, which will last a lot longer and take more abuse. If you’re struggling at finding a heavy duty lunch bag for this purpose, this site may help you in your search.
Tips for Keeping Your Food Safe in Your Lunch Bag
Keeping the food in your lunch bag safe is as simple as keeping your food cold. The USDA suggests that their is a danger zone between 40° and 140° Fahrenheit. This means that somehow you have to keep your lunch below 40°. This isn’t always practical, however, especially if you are always on the go. That said, some basic tips can help keep your food as safe as possible.
Here are some of the best tips to keep your food safe inside your lunch bag:
- Meat, eggs, and poultry should always be kept cold.
- Do not leave food to sit out for long periods of time (>2 hours at room temperature, >1 hour at hot temperatures).
- Always wash your hands before packing your lunch (with soap and water). Or, use hand sanitizer with a high alcohol percentage.
- Clean countertops in-between food items with a bleach cleaner when preparing food for your lunch.
- Avoid leftovers by not packing too much food (food that’s leftover from lunch may contain harmful bacteria).
- Don’t reuse your lunch bag without cleaning it first.
- Freeze your water bottle and keep it in your lunch to ensure your lunch stays as cold as possible. You can even freeze other foods as long as they don’t contain items which don’t freeze well, like lettuce, tomato and mayo.
- Always try to use at least two ice packs (one can be the frozen water bottle, another a pack of ice). Then, sandwich your food in-between the ice packs (one on top, one on the bottom).
- Use smaller containers and separate food when packing your lunch instead of one large container for everything.
- Keep a food thermometer in your lunch bag (yeah, it sounds ridiculous, but if you microwave heated food above 165 °F you lower your risk of getting sick).
- Get your lunch from your refrigerator to your work refrigerator as quickly as possible (if your work has a refrigerator, of course).
- Try to select foods that do not perish as quickly as others (nuts, seeds, canned goods, dehydrated foods, whole fruits, peanut butter and jelly, protein bars, etc.).
Following these tips will help keep your food (and you) safe. It’s easy to get sick from Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Listeria, E. coli, and Norovirus if you don’t follow these basic guidelines, as these types of bacteria love to hide out in lunch bags (source). A little bit of common sense will go a long way when it comes to food safety and packing your lunch.
What Happened to the Brown Paper Lunch Bag?
Those of you who are older probably remember just taking a traditional brown paper bag as your lunch bag to school or work. Well, you can actually still buy these lunch bags, however, they’re not the most appropriate for taking for lunch anymore due to the above food safety reasons. Another reason they’re less practical is because a lot of people have no respect for other peoples’ lunches and tend to just push their lunch bags out of the way. What this leads to is your once immaculate peanut butter and jelly sandwich getting smashed into what looks like a PB&J murder scene.
However, there are some who still like to “brown bag it” anyways. In this case, there’s actually a really cool alternative to the old school lunch bag. There are now brown lunch bags made of waxed canvas that are nearly identical to the old school brown paper bag. The best part about these lunch bags though, is that they’re reusable. Many of them are also spill-resistant and some are even waterproof, like this one made of natural beeswax. These lunch bags are a bit more sturdy than the brown paper lunch bags and you’ll also be helping the environment if you get one of these instead of the old brown paper type.
What Should I Pack for Lunch?
Although it’s up to you, we are more than happy to offer some suggestions as to what the best foods to pack in your lunch bag are. Instead of recommending individual foods to start with, first let’s look at some healthy guidelines for packed lunches.
Here are some of the guidelines which should give you some ideas for foods to pack in your lunch box:
- Try to include foods from all major food groups, this includes: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy.
- Pack high fiber and high protein foods. These foods are not only more nutritious, in general, they also fill you up faster and are able to keep you feeling fuller for longer, so you won’t eat as much.
- Low sodium foods should always be your top priority.
- Stay away from foots that are high in fats and calories, opt instead for low-sugar, low-carb foods.
- Vary your lunch from day-to-day, and try to include a lot of color in your lunch. For one, eating the same food everyday is boring (and people will think you’re boring too). And odds are that if you try to increase the color of your lunch, you’ll also increase the healthiness (foods brighter in color tend to be healthy, as long as it isn’t candy, of course).
Again, a lot of these guidelines are just common sense. Everyone knows what to eat and what not to eat for lunch. What’s great about packing your lunch is that it puts you in control. You can choose what to put in your lunch bag and what not to put in your lunch bag (this second half is the most important). Remember, if it’s not in your lunch bag you can’t eat it, so avoid those foods you know you should avoid.
Don’t like soggy bread? A quick tip is to use a low-fat butter spread (or butter alternative) on your sandwich bread. This will keep your bread from getting soggy in your lunch bag. Also, keep your “extras” separate (such as lettuce, tomato and mayo) and add them during lunch time. This will also keep your bread from turning into mush.
Best Foods for Your Lunch Bag
As for individual food options, we already mentioned that whole fruits are a great choice. Another great option is cutting up some veggies and making a peanut butter dip from them (think celery, carrots, and apples). Enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Try using individual fruit slices instead of jelly. This fun alternative keeps you away from all the sugar in jelly and provides additional nutrients. You can even blend some fruits into a smaller portion of jelly if you don’t want to go all the way with this.
Here are some other good food ideas for your lunch bag:
- Whole wheat bagels (keep the spread separate and put it on at lunch time).
- Oatmeal packets. A lot of people overlook oatmeal but it’s quick, easy and healthy. You can also keep a whole carton of milk at work in the fridge if you don’t like using water.
- Pizza. No one ever said pizza can’t be healthy. It really just depends what you put on your pizza. If you load it with cheese and pepperoni, it’s an artery clogger, but if you load it with green peppers, olives and mushrooms, it’s healthy. Pizza also freezes well which makes it a great option.
- Tuna sandwiches. Tuna is a great option because tuna comes in cans or packs and can be kept separate from your bread. At lunch time just pop open the can or packet and spread in on your sandwich. Keep some diced veggies, like celery, and a packet of low-fat mayo to mix with it before spreading.
- Graham crackers. We’re not talking Nabisco here. There are now some really healthy graham crackers out on the market that are great to keep in your lunch bag.
- Low-fat yogurt. Yogurt actually lasts a decent amount of time at room temperature due to all the healthy bacteria that’s in yogurt. Also, it’s high in protein and calcium and can make for a great after-lunch snack (instead of say, a cookie). They now even make low fat squeeze yogurt which doesn’t even require refrigeration.
- Sweet potatoes. People don’t immediately think of taking sweet potatoes to work but it’s an excellent item to keep in your lunch bag. You don’t have to wrap it or do anything special to it, just pop it in your lunch bag. Then, all you have to do is pierce it with a fork and microwave it for ~5 minutes (depending on the size of the potato).
- Grits. Many people don’t automatically think about grits for lunch either. Most people who don’t eat grits assume they’re for poor people. However, grits are making a huge comeback and there are a ton of ingredients that go well with grits. Grits also come in individual packets too, making them easy to cook in the microwave. And, they’re high in B vitamins, iron, folic acid, calcium, niacin and riboflavin.
- Water. Water will not only keep you hydrated, but it also fills you up quickly. And, as mentioned above, it’s great for freezing and adding to your lunch as an additional ice pack.
These are just a few simple food ideas for packing your lunch. The sky is really the limit and there are a ton of healthy options out there. Go to the organic section of your grocery store and look over the foods there. Grab something healthy you never heard of before and give it a try. You may come across something really healthy like adzuki beans or whole grain millet, or something even healthier. Check the back of the package first, of course.
Lunch Bag vs. Lunch Box: What’s the Difference?
A lunch bag is better for the home or office whereas a lunch box is better for more rugged workplaces. A lunch bag is most likely better-suited towards those who work in white collar jobs. The sides are generally more flimsy in a lunch bag and the insulation usually isn’t as good as a lunch box.
Lunch bags are also generally cheaper, which means you can buy a lot of different ones to take with you on different days, especially for ladies who may want a new lunch bag often to match different outfits or who get bored of the same thing. Also, since lunch bags don’t last as long as lunch boxes, you can throw your lunch bag away after a year or so and get a new one.
A lunch box is better for those who work blue collar jobs. Generally, blue collar workers will tend to beat around their lunch box so they need something rugged that can withstand blows to the lunch box. Since most lunch boxes have hard sides, it’s a good choice for construction workers, carpenters, plumbers, builders, electricians, etc. who work in harsh environments where the lunch box can be hit by falling tools, dropped, kicked, stepped on, etc.
Blue collar workers are usually working outside or on the go, which means their lunch box is most likely exposed to the hot sun. Since lunch boxes tend to have better insulation, a lunch box can keep food colder for longer. In order for blue collar workers to keep their food safe, it’s important they have the best insulated lunch box possible for work.
Also, lunch boxes usually have a better seal which means hot air can’t get in as easily. This also ensures that the ice packs inside the lunch box stay frozen longer too. Lunch boxes also offer more room to fit additional ice packs or frozen drinks.
The tradeoff is that a lunch box generally costs more money. A lunch bag will usually run about half the price of a lunch box. However, a lunch bag will only last about half as long. It’s sort of like leasing a car versus buying a car. Having a lunch bag is like leasing and having a lunch box is like buying, it all depends how long you want to stick with the same lunch bag or lunch box.
Best Reusable Lunch Bags (Food Bags)
We already mentioned that there are brown waxed canvas reusable lunch bags that are pretty good for a reusable lunch bag. However, there are several other alternatives you might want to consider. Below is a short list of all the best reusable lunch bags and food bags currently on the market.
1. Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Food Bag
This Reusable Food Bag by Stasher is one of the best reusable food bags on the market. It’s made of 100% pure platinum silicone which is non-toxic and food safe. It contains no PVC, no BPA and no latex either. It’s super healthy to use and great for the environment.
This lunch bag can be microwaved, boiled and even put in the dishwasher. It’s safe up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit too! You can even use it in the oven if you wanted. It pinch locks so it stores good air-tight and it is also great for marinating food if you want to do more with it than just store food. You can even store food in it and put it in the freezer.
The only downside on these is the price. Yes, they’re great bags but it’s expensive just to get one bag. However, knowing your food is safe is important and you can’t really put a price on that. With Stasher you know you’re getting one of the best lunch bag brands.
This reusable lunch bag comes in a wide variety of colors (12 in total) and also comes in a snack bag, stand up bag, 1/2 gallon bag and sandwich bag, depending on your preference. These lunch bags will last anywhere from two months to a year depending on how much abuse they’re subjected to.
2. Reusable Silicone Food Storage Bags by GreenSto
The GreenSto Food Storage Bags are some of the best food storage bags on the market with high grade silicone. These reusable food bags are just as good as Stasher and much more affordable. In fact, this comes as 14-pack at little over only double the price of Stasher.
In this 14-pack you really only get eight bags. You get four large bags (1.5L) and four medium bags (1.0L) in total. The extra bonus is six silicone lids that you can use to put over bowls or round containers of the same size. They come in the following diameters: 2.5, 3.5, 4.3, 5.5, 6 and 7.6 inches.
They’re also food safe and FDA approved for use with food. They do not contain any BPA or BPS either. They’re also eco-friendly as you’ll be saving the environment from all the plastic bags you would have used instead. They also are not made of PEVA but pure silicone. This is important since some you’ll see on the market are made of PEVA.
These bags are also dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer and microwave safe. They can also be used in the oven or for sous vide. And no matter what you use them for, they don’t impart any taste into your food either.
This is the best option for reusable lunch bags if you’re looking for as good of quality as Stasher but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
3. FDA Grade Reusable Food Storage Bags (10-Pack)
These reusable food storage bags are made by Simple Life and are a great option for those on a budget. Unlike Stasher, these come in an economical 10 pack including five large bags, three small bags and two gallon bags.
These bags are also safe for food and are FDA grade. They contain no PVC, BPA, chloride or lead. They’re also made of recycled materials so they’re eco-friendly too.
These lunch bags are freezer safe and great for storing food. The only downside is that they are not microwave, dishwasher, or oven safe. You can’t boil them either. You do save a bundle of money buying these over Stasher but you love the versatility of the Stasher bags.
The best reusable food bags for those on a budget, but if you’re looking to use them for more than just food storage, go with Stasher lunch bags instead.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy our post on the best single serve coffee makers, especially if you’re looking to perk yourself up in the morning for work with a nice warm cup of coffee.