Help me find the perfect lunch transport solution
May 5, 2017 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Reusable bags? Bento boxes? Old-fashioned tupperware? What's the best solution for my specific work lunch transport needs?

I've been bringing lunch to work most days for years, but my boyfriend and I rely a lot on disposable ziplock bags for things like baby carrots or strawberries or handfuls of crackers or tortilla chips. I hate how bad it is for the environment and am motivated to do better. I was thinking a cool/cute set of [insert lunch transport product here] would motivate us to use it and not reach for the easy plastic baggies. I also buy a lot of my snack-type things at a Walgreens near my office which is probably not as cost effective as buying them at a grocery store, plus it makes portion control more difficult having the whole bag sitting next to me (she says as she stuffs another handful of pretzel chips in her mouth). So, I want to bring more variety of things to the office for lunch every day and do so more sustainably and less wastefully.

Our circumstances:
We both frequently bike to work, and when we don't we're taking public transit, so lightweight and not too bulky is ideal.
We both are often bringing dinner leftovers that need to be reheated - I have access to plates/bowls/etc at my office but he does not, so microwave safe is important. Also said leftovers might be sauce-y/liquid-y and I recently had a mu shu veggies leakage in my bag that was No Fun.
My boyfriend is a voracious eater, so kid-sized or focused containers might not hold enough food.
Insulation/maintaining cold is not an issue; we both have refrigerators at the office.
When we don't bring leftovers, he's often doing sandwiches and I'm making mason jar style salads.
I'm not great about preparing lunch the night before, so anything that requires twee cutting of sandwiches into quarters or whatever to fit will not really fly or will make me late for work. Though I do suspect something cute and enjoyable to use/pack might make me better about preparing lunches in advance.

Right now we get by with plain old tupperware, mason/peanut butter jars for salads, and aforementioned plastic bags.

So what's our play here? Do we just get one or two more sizes/shapes of tupperware (UGH I just simplified to only a few shapes/sizes and love how I never have to search for matching lids because they're all the same size and all stack)? Do we get some of the various cloth/plastic/silicone reusable sandwich/snack bags combined with our existing tupperware, and if so, which ones? Do we each get ourselves a bento box and if so, which ones are a good fit for us?

Please, tell me your "this is the perfect flexible lunch transport solution that worked for me" stories!
posted by misskaz to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You could try something like these tiffin lunchbox carriers. They're stackable and come in different sizes so you'd still be able to sort your food. Also, for some types of tiffins you don't need individual lids! The metal ones wouldn't be microwaveable, but you might go for a different material option.
posted by Everydayville at 1:09 PM on May 5, 2017

They're not cute or pretty, but meal prep containers: 28oz, 38oz. They make other formats as well, but for these two sizes the lids are all the same, and they all nest.

They don't last forever, eventually they start to crack, but I'm talking like 8 months before the first crack, and we put them through the dishwasher and they fall out of the freezer (that's the worst cracking I've had, a frozen one with frozen contents landing edge-first on laminate floor). They are recyclable when they become unusable.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:11 PM on May 5, 2017

Best answer: For cuteness and reusability, these folks make some fun bags with reusable ziplocs.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:13 PM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

We really like these glass containers. They come in a variety of sizes, don't stain, they are easy to clean and last forever. We hand-wash just the lids.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:14 PM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps Ms / Mr Bento? The product is thermos-shaped but contains compartments for multiple food items. Fits into an accompanying lunch bag which has room for extra carrot sticks or what have you.
posted by bunderful at 1:14 PM on May 5, 2017

Oh, and there are carry bags for meal prep containers.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:17 PM on May 5, 2017

I use these ziplock tupperwares. They're cheap enough that I don't mind if I lose one occasionally, all the kids fit together, they stack really well and make the best use of fridge space. I did recently have some leakage with some overly watery watermelon but I haven't had any other problems than that. Not having to find the right lid- but the combo of sizes (they have little quart cup sized ones up to big batch stuff) makes them perfect and affordable.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:25 PM on May 5, 2017

Oh, and I microwave my stuff all the time in them- I'm not sure how recommended it is but I haven't noticed any problems.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:26 PM on May 5, 2017

I cycle to work daily, so I share your concerns. We have an assortment of these and they are great, but a bit heavy. We also have a couple similar to these that are lighter- I like that the tops can't pop off.

and we buy the freezer-style ziplock bags and wash them for re-use......
posted by TDIpod at 1:27 PM on May 5, 2017

when i used to walk and carry lunch in the ziplock tupperware containers i'd always put it into a plastic grocery bag inside my bag so that the occasional leakage was contained. on the rare occasion where there was a leak i'd just throw out the plastic bag and rinse off the tupperware.
posted by noloveforned at 1:30 PM on May 5, 2017

These divided containers may or may not work for you, depending on what you pack, how you feel about microwaving plastic, etc. I love them because they give me all the spots I need to pack a variety of leftovers in without having 6+ containers and lids. I carry them flat on a pannier on my back bike rack without leakage,but haven't tried carrying them sideways.

Having a full set of them also allows me to apportion leftovers for a few days when I'm putting them away after dinner, which makes lunch packing much easier.
posted by metasarah at 1:48 PM on May 5, 2017

We went through this with my stepdaughter, and the most leak-proof containers would invariably end up leaking in her backpack... until we tried these: Lock & Lock Airtight Round Food Storage Container, they're still going strong.
posted by Huck500 at 2:17 PM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: May I suggest MonBento boxes? They are not cheap but they are worth it. Microwave proof, dishwasher proof, will not spill soup, come in pretty colours. Best of all they are modular, they stack and combine.
They have gone with me around the world. I used to get street vendors to put dumplings in them directly.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 2:26 PM on May 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

We use Ziploc style containers. They're light, dishwasher safe and cheap enough that we don't really mind if one goes missing or breaks. Also, like a bento, we use their size to gauge portions. We just get these from the local market, 3 cups/709 mL size. They are recyclable too.

Here is a link to them being used a couple of weeks ago. we like the low flat size as they stack well in the fridge and are space efficient. We've used bento (leak, not dishwasher safe), tiffin (expensive, not freezable or microwave safe), round Ziplocs (nice for stews, awkward shapes for much else) . This is our latest lunch iteration and its working OK. But it is a process.
posted by bonehead at 4:03 PM on May 5, 2017

I bring lunch everyday. I use the Sistema containers after trying a bunch of different ones. I like the Sistema because they have a huge variety of types so I could pick exactly what worked for me, they seal very well (I bring soup a lot) and they microwave and clean up like a dream. I also use one of these freezable lunch bags to carry everything because our refrigerator at work is disgusting. It keeps everything cool until about 1pm or so--I leave the house at 6-6:30.
posted by agatha_magatha at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of the pyrex glass bowls with plastic lids, similar to what KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat posted. I like them better than plastic because I can use them for storage in the fridge and then in the microwave and not worry about melting the plastic, plus they go right in the dishwasher - some plastics can't. The lids stay on tight - I've never had leakage. They're great too because you can get sets for a decent price and that's good because no matter what container you decide on, you will need to get several of them or you will have to wash out your containers every night and you'll soon be back to baggies.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:35 PM on May 5, 2017

I *lurve* my PrepdPack, it is absolutely the best lunch thing I've ever had. Leakproof, stylish, looks great.
posted by cyndigo at 9:01 PM on May 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like the snaplock, I have mostly glass but some plastic too. They have never leaked on my and I wash the lids in the dishwasher, top rack. I have a bento thing but you have to hand wash it and I can't be arsed, honestly.
posted by fshgrl at 9:37 PM on May 5, 2017

Came here specifically to also plug the Prepd lunchbox. I backed it on Kickstarter, and it is pretty boss. It's a little bit spendy, but it's compact, leak proof, it CAN be insulated if you need it (neoprene sleeve + cold inserts) and holds a good bit of food. If your boyfriend is a heavy eater, he may want to pack more nutrient dense food in there rather than salads (my one complaint is that it's slim design isn't optimal for salads), but I really like mine.

Before I got that, I would just use whatever plastic containers I had that the food I wanted would fit in and would tie a bandanna around it like a furoshiki so it was cute and all stayed together. Plus, no added bulk like you'd get with a proper lunch bag.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great ideas! I love the blueavocado reusable zipper pouches which are exactly what I was imagining and seem just about perfect to reduce our throwaway bag consumption. Chicago has a plastic bag tax and I now always have a reusable grocery bag with me; it was that change that made me realize I could make similar changes in other areas with hopefully little friction.

My bf is happy to continue using our gladware/tupperware for bringing leftovers to work, but I might get myself a monbento box for the cuteness factor and customizability. The prepd box seems neat but too expensive for my budget, and the meal prep containers would just be another category of tupperware I'd have to store. I love glass for storage at home, but is way too heavy to bring to work in my panniers.
posted by misskaz at 7:55 AM on May 8, 2017

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