The search for the perfect lunch containers

“For the Working Girl” from coralvintage on Etsy

I try to bring my lunch to school/work whenever I can — it’s healthier, saves me money and typically tastes better (the Berkeley campus food could be worse…but it also could be better…).

Finding the perfect containers to pack lunch in is a big challenge, though!  I want something that is lightweight, won’t break, microwaves, washes easily, fits in my bag and doesn’t leak…even when I put soup in it.  Maybe that’s too much to ask?

For a while I thought I found the miracle containers that met all my needs.  I used them for years and was very, very happy.

nalgene.com

And then I learned about Bisphenol A (BPA).  I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure my miracle containers are chock full of it.  On nalgene.com my “wide mouth storage jars” are not specifically identified as containers for food storage.  I’d rather avoid whatever is potentially in my non-food grade plastic containers, including BPA, so I’m trying to phase them out of my life.  I haven’t done it quickly, though, because it’s been difficult to find a great substitute.

For a little while I thought that a mason jar might be my answer.  I have a few extra Ball jars sitting around the house from some past canning projects.  They’re glass, but they don’t break that easily.   They’re a bit heavy, but I thought I could get over that.  The big downside is that the jars I own have pretty narrow mouths, so I can’t eat out of them conveniently, but I was still willing to give them a shot.

So pretty!  http://www.freshpreserving.com

And then I found out, via rumors on the internet, that the plastic coating inside the lids of the Ball jars also contains BPA.  I’d imagine there would be less BPA exposure using the Ball jars than the Nalgene storage containers, but they don’t really eliminate my BPA problem.  Plus, they have all those other shortcomings.

So, the search continued.  A couple people suggested modern Bento boxes.  Here’s a popular one:

Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar

But, they just seem overly complex to me.  I want to bring a one bowl along, not a three course meal.  Plus, that model pictured above is selling for about $43 (marked down from $66 on Amazon), which is a small fortune to this grad-schooler.

After leaving the Bento box idea behind, I heard that Tiffin containers (originally used in India) are becoming nearly as trendy as Bento boxes.  Amazingly, one of my Indian classmates actually has some sort of wallah service deliver him a lunch on campus in a Tiffin on a regular basis (I need to find out the details on that!).

A classic Tiffin from To-Go Ware

Even though I like the way they look (they bring back memories of my mess kit from Girl Scouts), since I want to be able to microwave whatever I’ve brought with me, metal isn’t my top choice.

Focusing on a microwave-safe alternative, I heard a bunch of people talking about Pyrex bowls with “no-leak” lids.  Here they are:

Pyrex No-Leak Lids, 4 cup round

I haven’t seen one in person, but from the pictures online I’m nervous the lid wouldn’t stay on if I threw it in my bag, slung my bag over my shoulder, and let the bag bounce around on the back of my bike all the way to school.  I feel more comfortable lids that screw or clamp on.

Enter: Glasslock Food Storage containers!  I’m excited about these!  They seem to be kind of like the Pyrex, but with a lid that feels a bit more secure.  They’re a bit heavy, but do-able.

GlassLock glass containers with snapping lid

Poking around online a bit longer, it seems like there’s a similar, plastic alternative to the GlassLock containers from Lock & Lock.

The cheapest ones yet!  A 3-pack for $9.99 on amazon.com (also apparently for sale at Target)

The Lock & Lock containers are made from a material that’s said to be BPA, PVC and Phthalate-free.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds like it may be safer than my Nalgene containers.  I like that these are light, have great reviews online and supposedly can handle soup.

So, now, even with the special free-of-certain-chemicals plastic, I’m wondering if I should be concerned about microwaving my lunch in it?  Would it be better to get the GlassLock?  Or should I not worry about a little extra plastic in my life (considering I’m pretty much surrounded by it regardless of what I do) and go with the lightweight, non-breakable Lock & Lock?

Hmm…something to mull over.  Regardless, I’m really happy that after some internet sleuthing I think I’ve found some good alternatives.  Time to send my Nalgene containers out to the our garden shed for a new life holding nails and painting supplies.

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9 thoughts on “The search for the perfect lunch containers

  1. I have the glasslock ones, I found a set at Costco. They came in various sizes and shapes and I love them! I take them to work all the time and I have yet to have a leak. I also can slice up an apple and not eat it for hours and it doesn’t turn brown. I feel weird about microwaving in any kind of plastic, but maybe that is just me:)

  2. Great post! This is an issue we deal with a lot at home. I try to stay away from all plastics – even those that are “safe.” Like you, I am not a huge fan of metal with my food, but I love the Tiffin. So light and simple.
    I haven’t seen the Glass lock, those look interesting.
    Ah the perfect container quest continues. Glad I am not alone;)
    -E

    • Just received a GlassLock. I haven’t put it through the ringer yet, but I’ll keep you posted once I do! Videos of me shaking soup? I should say, though, that the lids are plastic for the GlassLock. Seems like if you want to go all glass, Weck jars may be the best bet? But, they don’t have a totally secure feeling seal to me (when they’re not sealed through a canning process). So, yes, the perfect container quest continues…opportunity for a business??

  3. I am shocked that Ball canning jars are (might be) lined with BPA! Why, people, why?

    I haven’t done enough to de-BPA my life – but I use a combination of glass jars (la bonne maman jam jars among others) and plastic ones that look like the plastic lock & lock. As for microwaving, maybe you should just keep plate or bowl at school?

    • Thanks for checking into the blog, Connie! Not a bad idea to just keep a bowl at school. It could even be a pretty bowl…

      I think it’s just the white, plastic lid liner that contains BPA. (Which is sadly the same material that’s used inside a lot of canned food products — like canned tomatoes.) La Bonne Maman jars have that plastic coating in the lid, too. But, maybe zero exposure isn’t even a necessary goal. I’m sure we’ll find a new chemical to worry about soon!

  4. I thought that finding a plastic-free alternative would not be as difficult as I find it now. I am concern of heating my lunch using the plastic containers since this could cause cancer. If someone finds an alternative that is plastic free, lightweight and affordable please let me know!

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