The hefty price tag won't suit everyone, but the Yumbox is a good-quality, versatile and durable lunch box that many of our children love using and eating from. The bento-style makes it easy to give your kids a wide variety of foods for their lunch (or snacking) and the different styles/sizes within the range offer further flexibility. Plus, they eliminate the need for plastic wrap and lots of packaged foods, which is win for reducing waste.
It's almost back to school time, which means packed lunches will soon be back on your daily to-do list. Whether you consider it to be a tiresome chore, or you quite enjoy it, creating a lunch that your child might actually eat also involves putting it in something that will keep the food in edible, transportable and, hopefully, appealing condition.
The array of lunch box options on offer is staggering: different sizes and styles (lunch bag, box, bento-style, single compartment) as well as various materials (BPA-free plastic, stainless steel, bamboo) – not to mention how you're going to keep the food insulated and safe to eat. It's a culinary conundrum!
The array of lunch box options on offer is staggering… It's a culinary conundrum!
But we can probably all agree that, as parents, we want to pick the best lunch box to encourage our kids to eat healthily and enthusiastically every day – plus one that's easy to clean and won't cause a mess at the bottom of a school bag.
One lunch box that promises all of the above is Yumbox, a US brand of bento-style lunch box that has become popular with Aussie parents. Here, CHOICE parents give their take on the Yumbox, plus some other things to consider to help you pick the perfect lunch box.
The Yumbox Panino has larger compartments than the Yumbox Original to accommodate a sandwich or wrap.
What is a bento-style lunch box?
Bento-style lunch boxes such as the Yumbox are inspired by traditional Japanese bento boxes: single-serve meals packed into a box, usually based around rice or noodles. In essence, they're plastic boxes that open and close with a single latch, containing an inner plastic tray with multiple compartments for different types of food. Some also have a silicone seal to prevent spillage.
Fussy and adventurous eaters
They're designed to make it easy for parents to include a variety of tastes, textures and portion-controlled food groups for kid's lunches, so are billed as a good choice for both fussy and adventurous eaters.
There are many brands of bento-style lunch boxes available in Australia, including Yumbox, b.box, Bentgo, Hippo Blue, Stuck on You, Seed & Sprout and Smiggle, plus several budget options from Aldi, Kmart and others.
Are Yumbox lunch boxes worth it?
With a recommended retail price of $42.95 for the Yumbox Original Bento Box Lunchbox, this is not a cheap option for housing your child's Vegemite sarnie (for that price, you might be wishing it magically makes the lunch for you, but sadly it isn't so).
So what do you get for the cash? The Yumbox is dishwasher safe, with a removable inner tray containing multiple compartments in different sizes, depending on which type you buy (more on that below). Yumboxes are made from food safe, lead-free, BPA-free plastic and contain no phthalates or PVC. They have a silicone seal that makes the box leakproof when it contains things such as yoghurt or dip, but not liquids.
A few CHOICE parents remark that they're lightweight, durable and easy to clean
A few CHOICE parents remark that they're lightweight, durable and easy to clean (although they do take up quite a bit of space in the dishwasher and you may need to air-dry them afterwards). The option to include lots of different types of food without the need for plastic wrap or other packaging is also a plus.
Parent of two, Jane, says: "We have three Yumboxes and I think they're great. They never leak, food looks more appealing in them, they eliminate the need for plastic wrap and individual packets/containers, and are easy for little hands to open and close."
Another CHOICE parent of two Amanda says: "We've had our Yumbox for three years and it's still in great condition, worn but no leaks, no spills ever."
Different compartments for different foods: "Easy for little hands".
What size lunch box or Yumbox should you buy?
Different children may require different amounts or styles of food to keep them satisfied. So when buying a lunchbox, consider how much you'll need to pack (so how big it needs to be) and what kinds of foods you'll need to fit in it.
For example, do you need space to pack a sandwich, wrap or bread roll, or is your child a fussy eater who likes lots of options? Do they prefer the fruit cut up into smaller or larger pieces, or do they like it whole?
Yumbox is available in four different sizes – the Original, Panino, Tapas and MiniSnack – each offering flexibility for packing what your child likes to eat.
This includes six individual compartments: five different sized compartments for different shaped foods and one small round compartment for a dip, yoghurt or small snacks. It's good for toddlers or preschoolers, or if your child likes lots of different options but doesn't need a larger wrap/sandwich.
This is the same size as the Yumbox Original, but has four different sized compartments, including one small round compartment for a dip, yoghurt or small snacks. It's designed for primary school children (or adults), as it fits a whole cut wrap or sandwich, or larger snacks.
Larger than either the Original or the Panino, this Yumbox is designed for older children or adults, with options for interchangeable plastic trays with four or five compartments.
About half the size of the Original and Panino, this Yumbox is designed for smaller snacking and contains three compartments.
What CHOICE parents say
One CHOICE parent says: "I have used the Yumbox Original for about a year for my daughter, who is now five, and it's in perfect condition – she loves opening it herself and eating a variety of all her favourite foods from it.
"She is about to start school, so I have just bought the Yumbox Panino, as I'd like to be able to fit a sandwich or wrap as an option, as you can't fit that in the Original.
It's a lot of money to spend on another lunch box, but it works better for me than having lots of little containers or plastic-wrapped productsCHOICE parent
"It's a lot of money to spend on another lunch box, but it works better for me than having lots of little containers or plastic-wrapped products, and my daughter really enjoys eating from it. And as they last, I know I can use them both for my son when he gets a bit older, too. I'm covering it with name labels so hopefully she doesn't lose it when she starts kindy!"
None of the Yumbox options have space to pack large whole fruits such as a banana or apple, so you may have to consider an insulated lunch bag if this is something your child would like.
How does Yumbox compare with cheaper alternatives?
We know not everyone wants to spend big bucks on a lunchbox. You can pick up a lunchbox from the supermarket or stores such as Kmart or Big W for as little as a few dollars. This may also be a better option if your child is prone to losing items or they're likely to get damaged.
CHOICE mum of three Margaret has a tip: "My lunchbox days are behind me (thank goodness). But we had a rule in our house that the kids could choose a new lunch box at the start of each year, but if they lost it I sent them to school with their lunch in a plastic bag for the rest of the term and then they got a cheap plastic box from the supermarket. It really helped them be responsible."
Budget boxes may not last
When it comes to the cheaper bento-style boxes, CHOICE parents say some budget options don't go the distance and can be more fiddly to use.
Jane says: "I bought two cheapo Aldi boxes as alternatives to our Yumboxes. They've been used only occasionally for less than a year, and already I've had to throw one out because a corner of the inner tray shattered and little pieces of plastic were breaking off into the food compartment."
Some budget options don't go the distance and can be more fiddly to use
Another advantage of Yumbox is that the lid is attached. CHOICE parent Emily says, "I've tried other lunch boxes (such as Sistema, Decor, Kmart) before the Yumbox. But the Yumbox has been the most reliable and, because of its design, I don't have containers coming home with lids missing."
Another parent says, "I like our Yumbox because the plastic insert is easy to get in and out for cleaning, and my daughter can open the latch easily herself (she is five). I also tried a much cheaper Aldi bento and it just feels less durable and the components don't fit together as neatly or smoothly."
Bento-style lunchboxes can be great for fussy eaters, as you can offer a wide variety of different options for them to try.
What to look for when buying a new lunchbox
Whether you decide to splash out on a Yumbox or another brand/type of lunch box, here are some tips for what to consider before buying:
How old is your child and how much do they like to eat? Keep in mind you'll need to pack something for Crunch 'n' Sip (if they're in primary school), recess, lunch and perhaps a snack for after school. Is there space to pack whole pieces of fruit, a yoghurt pouch or a fruit box, if this is what your child likes?
Is there a freezer brick/cool bag included? How can you keep the lunchbox contents cool? If not, will it fit in an insulated lunch bag? Will you need an insulated product to keep meals warm in winter, such as soups or warm pastas?
How easy is it to clean?
Being able to pop it in the dishwasher is the most preferable option, as you'll need to clean it every day. Be wary of little crevices that might trap food.
Ease of use
If you have younger children, can they open it themselves? A single box to open may be easier than lots of little containers.
If you are buying plastic, look for products that are BPA- and phthalates-free. Plastic alternatives to consider include bamboo, which is considered more sustainable than plastic, or stainless steel, which can be pricier but is non-reactive and durable. There are also fabric lunch bags/wraps, or if you have an older, responsible child, you could consider glass (although it's heavier and more breakable).
How likely is the lunchbox to survive being dropped or kicked around in a school bag? Is the lid attached or separate? Will it easily fly off or get lost? Are there detachable dividers that could get lost and, if so, can you buy replacements?
Is it leakproof?
Look for good-quality silicone seals if you're concerned about leakage from things such as dips or yoghurt.
Do you want to buy more than one?
Cost may become more of a factor if you want to buy multiple lunchboxes you can prepare in advance and have ready to go in the fridge or freezer.
You may want to choose a neutral design that will grow with your child – so you don't have to buy a new lunchbox when they grow out of their lunchbox emblazoned with Frozen/Paw Patrol/Spiderman!
Stock images: Getty unless otherwise stated.