The Best Reusable Takeaway Containers & Lunch Box Options
Wondering which reusable food container to go with? We’ve got your back with our complete guide to reusable takeaway containers slash lunch boxes for important, on-the-go, eco-aware adults and others wanting to reduce their waste but not their lunch options.
Want something that can carry soupy and saucy meals without seeping out or spilling? Want something that can carry both dinner and dessert? Want something that says I’m sustainable, but still serious about business? Want something that nearly any takeout can be tucked in? Want something that fits in your bag without filling it? Read on to find your perfect lunch box match.
1. The tiffin
If you’re after a leak-proof lunch box with different layers for different delicacies, for food for more than one or more than once, you’ll want a tiffin box or carrier, which is also known as a dhabba.
Originating from India, this lunch box has long been used by people to carry thali-style homemade lunches, which included heaps of different foods, such as dal, rice, curried vegetables, roti, yoghurt, and chutney, to work, as well as by delivery companies delivering lunch to office workers. The rest of the world needs to get on board with this waste-free way of food delivery!
The traditional dhabba is round and made up of three or four stacking stainless steel compartments. These compartments fit into each other, forming a tight seal, with the top one covered in a lid with a handle. They are all clipped together with side clips
Perfect for anyone wanting to avoid spillages, or wanting separate sections for different meals or foods.
You can fit mains in one slot and dessert in another, have a good amount of space for an adequate amount of fries above your burger, or use it to get a meal for each member of the family.
It also allows you to use it more than once in a day for more than one takeout meal without having to wash it, as you can use one section for lunch and another clean one for dinner. And, for pre-prepared meals, you can fit a lot of food for different mealtimes in a tiffin.
They are on the larger side though, especially if you get one that has three or four tins, meaning it will fill your bag or need to be carried separately, which is not uncomfortable as it has a handle especially for this.
We personally use a small, round, two-tier double bento one like this one, which we love! It is small enough to fit in my backpack with the rest of our waste-free necessities and enables David and I to get meals for both of us in one container.
You also get square versions and you can choose from larger and smaller dimensions.
2. The sandwich/pastry/whatever is solid and can fit pouch or wrap
For a small option that you can effortlessly slide into any sized bag, go for a sandwich pouch or wrap or beeswax wrap.
Obviously, these can only be used for solid lunches with minimal sauce and spillage like wraps, sandwiches and pies, and in the case of beeswax wraps, can only be used for cold lunches, but they are super convenient for shoving in small spaces, meaning you can always have it on you just in case.
You can get insulated, zippered or velcro sandwich pouches to keep your meal enclosed and hot or cold or you can get fabric or beeswax wraps that you simply wrap around your lunch or snack. You can fold and tie fabric to hold a sandwich – this can even just be an old (but clean) tea towel you already have – just like you can fold a beeswax wrap into a pouch.
We prefer fabric versions to silicone ones as fabric will biodegrade at the end of its life, while silicone will never break down.
You can also simply ask the shop assistant to just place your lunch directly on your piece of fabric – be it a bought sandwich wrap or merely a tea towel – and use it to hold it while you eat it and then use it to wipe your mouth afterwards. Lunch box and napkin in one!
I use this route as an alternative to my tiffin, as well as a sandwich pouch I purchased and beeswax wraps, when I don’t have the space and am happy knowing I will not be able to have a salad or a saucy something and rice or noodles to eat.
While The Clean Collective (AU) and Life Without Plastic (US/CAN) stock a few sandwich pouches and beeswax wraps, you’ll find a lot of different options on Biome (AU). Etsy has a large range of beautiful beeswax wraps and reusable sandwich bags.
3. The bento box
An uncomplicated, square (or rectangular) lunch box that separates your food stuffs, the bento box looks like your conventional lunch box, but is more businesslike.
If you like to have a meal that is made up of many small succulent servings or you like to have a few snacking options available, but don’t want your segments, slices or sauces to mix, a bento box is for you.
It is smaller than a tiffin, being only one layer, but it can fit enough food for one and it can easily fit in your briefcase.
A bit more complicated for getting takeaway in, as the majority of café- or restaurant-made food won’t fit in the precisely sized sections, this is only really a good option for taking home-prepared meals with you when you go out.
Easy to find, there are endless options everywhere, but seek out sustainable non-plastic or recycled plastic alternatives.
4. The insulated, no-need-for-a-fridge lunch container
If insulation is essential, choose a lined lunch box that will keep your food as hot or cold as you like it.
As well as insulated sandwich pouches, you can also get insulated, unyielding food holders for your salad, sichuan noodles, sweet and sour chicken or soup. They look like a coffee flask, but they’re for food.
I’ve only found these here so far. They’re pretty sweet and super stylish!
5. That school lunchbox your kid no longer uses or whatever plastic container or glass jar you have lying around
On the other hand, you can just use whatever clean tuppaware container or glass jar you have ready for reuse to put your lunch in or as a takeaway container.
Not the snazziest or prettiest option, but it is super sustainable to either use what you already have, even if it is plastic, or repurpose something you would otherwise chuck straight into recycling. Just make sure any plastic containers you keep using are food safe.
Repurposed glass jars are not just for bulk food shopping, but can also be used to hold takeaway or homemade salads, as well as snacks such as trail mixes or fruit salad.
Forethought and flexibility required
Whatever reusable takeaway container or lunch box you choose, when asking any establishment to put your food in your own container, ensure that:
your container is clean
what you’ve asked for will fit in the container
it will not be an extreme inconvenience for them (a small inconvenience is fine, but don’t expect miracles if they are exceptionally busy, for example)
you ask nicely, and
they not only have the ability to do it, but also the time to do it.
If it won’t work for a particular food or vendor, don’t force it – eat something else off the menu that will work or go somewhere else where it won’t be as problematic for the food provider.
No food container is perfect! For the best chance of waste-free take-out success, plan ahead and pack the perfect container for the particular meal you plan on having, but be prepared to modify your meal plan if the food or the food provider isn’t a perfect fit!
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