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All About Stainless Steel Lunch Boxes & Food Containers [Plus My 5 Favourites]

    stainless steel lunch boxes header

    Are you looking for a reusable stainless steel food container?

    I love my stainless steel lunch boxes and use them multiple times a week without fail. Whether I’m going to work in the office, on a day trip or storing leftover food in my fridge, my sturdy food containers come in handy all the time! 

    I’m also a huge fan of the material. Stainless steel is hard wearing, reusable, easily cleaned (huge plus when you use them a lot!) and has many environmental benefits. 

    Manufacturing stainless steel is energy intensive, it’s true. But it’s continuously recyclable, it won’t break down into micro parts and new stainless steel is often made from recycled material. 

    For my lunch box stainless steel is a winner every time. 

    Let’s take a closer look at the pros of a stainless steel lunch box, some potential downsides and a couple of FAQs so you have all the knowledge to make a decision on your next purchase. 

    Why are stainless steel lunch boxes good?

    I’ve been using stainless steel food containers on a daily basis now for a number of years.

    If I’m heading into the office for a full day of work, I take food for breakfast and lunch, plus snacks in between. I pack most of this food into my stainless steel containers. I also carry my trusty stainless steel water bottle or Chilly bottle pretty much everywhere I go.

    Many parents are now finding these stainless steel lunchboxes really useful for their children to take to school due to their non-breakable nature. You can even get names stamped or printed on the container to personalise it.

    There are a number of reasons why I think stainless steel lunch boxes are good, which I’ve listed out below:

    • Reusable – you’re not going to find many more materials that are as reusable as stainless steel. This is perfect if you are using your lunch boxes most days like me
    • Recycled material – 80% of new stainless steel is made from waste and via electricity
    • Plastic free – not a drop of plastic in site, just metal
    • Durable – it’s not going to break any time soon
    • Passive material – unlike plastic it won’t react with your food or absorb any smells. It also won’t emit or leach anything out itself
    • Fully recyclable – stainless steel is one of the most recycled materials on Earth thanks to it’s high worth and easy to process nature
    • Safe – many of the benefits listed here mean stainless steel is safe. It won’t break or shatter and it won’t release toxins
    • Get rid of single use items – ditch the cling film, plastic food wrap and even aluminium foil

    On this last topic, another alternative to single use films is to use reusable items such as beeswax food wraps which can be cleaned after each use. 

    stainless steel food containers and water bottle
    At work my stainless steel lunch boxes and water bottle

    Are stainless steel lunch boxes safe?

    Yes a stainless steel lunch box is safe. 

    First of all, make sure your box or container is 304 stainless steel. This means it is food grade and has been factory tested for food safety. 304 stainless steel is the same material used in professional kitchens and in hospitals.

    Unlike a glass food container or plastic lunch box, your stainless steel box is never going to crack, break or shatter. No sharp edges or splits with steel. 

    In fact, you’ll have a hard time trying to break a stainless steel lunch box even if you tried! You might create a few dents, but stainless steel is one of the best materials around for robustness and for re-using over and over again. 

    The other great thing about stainless steel as a material is that it’s completely unreactive.

    This makes it safer because it’s not going to leach any plastic nasties or microplastics, such as BPAs, into your food. Studies have revealed that plastic products can leach all sorts of chemicals into your food – not cool and not very safe!

    Think about it – there are very good reasons why stainless steel is used in restaurant kitchens, for prep surfaces, sinks and even in hospital operating rooms – it’s an incredibly safe material that can be cleaned and sterilised very easily. You can check out some of the stainless steel benefits here.

    How do you clean stainless steel food containers?

    You clean stainless steel food containers with ease. 

    No more scrubbing the corners will all your might to get that chilli con carne stain out. 

    With a little washing up liquid and a sponge, all stainless steel food boxes are easily cleaned.

    You can even sterilise them simply if you want. The same goes for cleaning stainless steel water bottles.

    As the name suggests, the material is also resistant to anything infiltrating the surface on a microlevel and causing stains. The reverse is true also, meaning nothing is going to leach out or break off into the environment. 

    This is all thanks to the way stainless steel is manufactured, which helps make cleaning simple. Stainless steel has an invisible layer of chromium oxide on the surface, which forms a protective, passive layer. This layer can even repair itself when damaged.

    stainless steel lunch box with yoghurt on desk
    Couldn’t be easier to clean these lunch boxes

    Can I put a stainless steel food container in the dishwasher?

    Yes, it’s perfectly safe to put your stainless steel lunch box in this dishwasher.

    A couple of things to look out for though.

    Due to the hot temperatures of a dishwasher, I’d remove the silicone seal (if your box comes with one) so you don’t damage it. It’s also recommended to handwash the container lid to prolong its life.

    I prefer to handwash the main body and the lid are it’s really easy to clean them anyway, then they’re ready to use again the next day.

    Is stainless steel better than plastic lunch box?

    In my opinion, a stainless steel lunch box is way better than a plastic one. And for multiple reasons. 

    Plastic lunch boxes are prone to cracking and splitting after a few uses or when dropped. This won’t happen with stainless steel, which will last much, much longer than plastic. Stainless steel is solid and won’t degrade.

    A plastic lunch box will also take on smells and even colours from the food that it contains. I’m sure you’ve opened a plastic tupperware box before and smelt the last meal that was in it – I know I have! You don’t get this with stainless steel because of the protective, impenetrable layer.

    You can also freeze a stainless steel container without causing damage to the box. If you put a plastic food box in the freezer it will generally crack and come out damaged.

    Are the lunch boxes recyclable?

    Depending on the type of plastic, a plastic food container should be recyclable. However with plastic, it’s not continuously recyclable. It loses quality each time it’s reformed into a new product.

    Stainless steel on the other hand is infinitely recyclable. The waste material from stainless steel products can be collected, melted down and reformed over and over again without losing its inherent qualities.  

    The only reason they stopped making metal lunch boxes and replaced them with plastic was to do with the cost of manufacturing. Surprise, surprise, it’s cheaper to make plastic products.

    Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, whereas stainless steel is derived from iron ore and a few other metals. It’s true that virgin steel manufacturing is more often than not powered by fossil fuels, but on the positive side, recycled steel that’s being re-processed can be done with electricity. 

    The only downside when comparing stainless steel vs plastic is that a lunch box made from steel cannot be put into the microwave. So you either have to pack food that’s fine to eat when cold or not be too bothered about warming your jacket potato and beans up at work (yes, that’s me). 

    stainless steel food boxes on wooden board
    My stainless steel food container collection

    What happens if I put my stainless steel lunch box in the microwave?

    I haven’t tried this but it certainly isn’t recommended according to the science.

    As stainless steel is a type of metal, it’s not suitable to go in the microwave. This applies for other metals you might find in the kitchen, including aluminium foil and stainless steel cutlery like spoons. 

    The reason is because metals tend to reflect the microwaves rather than absorbing them and warming up. When the microwaves are reflected you risk creating sparks and potential causing a hazard. 

    I once put aluminium foil into the microwave and after a few seconds saw a big flash and damaged the material on the door. 

    So no, don’t put stainless steel into the microwave. 

    If you do want to warm your food up when you’re at work for example, but it’s in a stainless steel box, I recommend taking it out and putting it onto a bowl or plate as you would at home. 

    That way you’re on the safe side and you’re still reusing items with zero waste – win, win all around.

    You can also buy stainless steel lunch boxes that are insulated, such as the ones from Klean Kanteen, so if you put warm food inside your container in the morning, it should still be warm at lunch time.  

    stainless steel eco lunch box with food
    Lunch time with my split stainless steel lunch box

    Downsides of a stainless steel food container

    Despite the many benefits to stainless steel containers, there are a number of potential negatives that you should be aware of. 

    Firstly, as mentioned, no type of stainless steel can be put in the microwave. This is dangerous and a potential fire hazard. If you want to warm your food up, you’ll have to take it out of the box and put it on a microwavable plate or bowl. 

    Leak proof or not?

    Another downside I’ve noticed is that some stainless steel containers are not fully leak-proof. This depends on the product you buy. 

    Some stainless steel lunch boxes come with a removable silicone seal to make them completely leak-proof. My stainless steel water bottle has a silicone ring for this reason, which is a common addition for the twist shut stainless steel containers. You can read a little more about silicone sustainability here.

    All my boxes don’t have a seal and I’ve had a couple of leaks in my bag from the likes of porridge, yoghurt and chilli. If I keep my bag straight though and wrap with recyclable kitchen paper – which I often reuse first – this isn’t a problem. Also if you mainly use it for dry products and baking items, you’ll be more than fine. 

    The other issue is that manufacturing steel initially is energy intensive and does come with carbon footprint. You can read more about how it’s made and if stainless steel is sustainable here, but in a nutshell, iron ore needs to be mined and processed. 

    As the product is incredibly durable and will last for years and years, this should pay back over time. Even more, many companies now are offsetting their carbon emissions with tree planting initiatives and by supporting carbon reduction projects such as those offered by Ecologi – you can read my Ecologi review here. 

    Where to buy stainless steel lunch boxes and food containers?

    Stainless steel food containers are a little more expensive than their plastic alternatives. But it’s for good reason. 

    A stainless steel lunch box for example will last for years. I’ve been using mine on a weekly basis now for over 2 years and they’re all as good as new. I have three larger boxes that are all structured a little differently inside, plus one small box.

    There are a few great UK online eco sites who sell stainless steel food boxes. Here are some of my favourite companies:

    Mintie Lunch Boxes

    Mintie offer a range of stainless steel eco lunch boxes – from the standard push on lid to ones with clips and silicone seals. They also come in a range of sizes which is always useful.

    Mintie offset the carbon emissions from their lunchboxes with one of my favourite companies, Ecologi.

    Shop at the Mintie website here – use the code TINYECO for 10% off!

    mintie stainless steel lunchbox
    Mintie Lunch Box

    A Slice of Green

    A Slice of Green was started by Charity in 2015 with the premise of creating reusable and stylish products. Since then they have gone from strength to strength with ethics and sustainability at their centre.

    For their metal lunchboxes, A Slice of Green offer plastic-free food containers in a range of sizes, including multi-tiered ones. They send out their products in plastic-free, recyclable packaging too which is great.

    Shop A Slice of Green here

    slice of green stainless steel lunchbox
    A Slice Of Green stainless steel food container

    Elephant Box

    Large, mini, round, leak-proof, tiered and more, Elephant Box have created a fantastic range of stainless steel food containers.

    Founded by Liz and Joy, Elephant Box started to help supply a solution to the single-use plastic problem. All of their products are reusable, in fact they will last a lifetime!

    Shop the Elephant Box collection here

    elephant box stainless steel food container
    Elephant Box stainless steel lunch box and mini box

    Black + Blum

    Founded in 1998 in London, Black + Blum are very experienced when it comes to producing high quality products with sleek designs.

    Their food containers come in many formats, including leakproof and insulated. Their products are on the high end but are undoubtedly made to last. I’ve tried the Black + Blum charcoal water filter which was great.

    Shop Black + Blum here

    black and blum steel eco lunch box

    Klean Kanteen

    First started in the US, Klean Kanteen are a family and employee-owned company. Their also B Corp Certified, which shows they operate with sustainability at their core.

    From lunch boxes to canisters and full sets, you’ll be able to get your food container game all sorted with Klean Kanteen.

    Shop with Klean Kanteen here

    klean kanteen stainless steel lunch box

    Wrap up on eco stainless steel food containers

    And there you have it, stainless steel food containers all wrapped up – or boxed up if you prefer!

    With a few stainless steel lunch boxes in my own cupboard, I think they’re fantastic and incredible useful.

    For anyone wanting to live a more sustainable life, reduce their single-use items, as well as reducing food waste, I think a reusable stainless steel box is a brilliant, sustainable choice that you will get years of use out of.

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