The Goods

There’s a $60 Lunchbox for Kids. Here’s a Dad Who Bought Two.

“I’d like to be able to offer a defense, but I don’t have a good one.”

A stainless-steel PlanetBox lunchbox with two insert containers.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by PlanetBox and Getty Images Plus.

“If there hasn’t yet been one there should be a Times Styles story about the $60 lunchbox for kids. I have two, I hate myself, I want to read this story,” lamented the writer and Slate podcast host Rumaan Alam on Twitter this week. In Slate’s Slack, the nonparents said “Wha?,” and the parents said, “Ahh, the PlanetBox.”

The PlanetBox—an Instagram-friendly stainless-steel smooth-bodied bento box—is gorgeous, radiating wholesome permanency, and it’ll set you back. Their Launch model is $59.95, and the Rover is $55.95. For both, there are accessories (some you’ll need, and some you’ll want), pushing the total price tag closer to $80.

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Greg Lavallee, Slate’s director of technology, owns two Rovers, plus their accoutrements, which his 8½-year-old and 6-year-old children use to bring lunch to school. He was willing to suppress his shame long enough to review the PlanetBox Experience over DMs.

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Rebecca Onion: Greg, I hear that you own not one, but two, of these $60 child lunchboxes. HOW did this come about????

Greg Lavallee: I’d like to be able to offer a defense, but I don’t have a good one. I’m pretty sure we got them when the kids went to summer camp for the first time in the summer of 2019? And I’m pretty sure they were recommended by a neighbor of ours … or we saw their kids with them and thought they looked good.

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Rebecca: When you say “looked good,” what do you mean?

Greg: We had some plastic ones from Target in 2017–18, and they wore out and couldn’t go in the dishwasher. That was a big container and a bunch of separate boxes therein, which each had a lid and needed a wash. Screw that noise.

The PlanetBoxes have the same allure as the stainless-steel fridge, and stainless-steel everything else. They seem sturdy and shiny. They have that bento box compartment thing going on. And they seemed more dishwasher friendly than plastic.

Rebecca: When you went to buy them, did you have sticker shock, at all?

Greg: My partner made the initial purchase of the actual boxes and their two associated stainless-steel rubber-lid bowls (one of which is the size of a serving of ketchup). My sticker shock came when I decided they were annoying to carry and went to buy the carrying cases, and was somehow upsold on ice packs to slip into said carrying cases …

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Rebecca: Now this might hurt a bit. But. How much did those ice packs cost?

Greg: I just looked up that purchase, and it was $45.38.

Rebecca: Hahahahahaha!!! What are they? Just really, really thin ice packs?

Greg: Ah, so the ice packs are $8 a pop so that’s “only” $16 of the $49 there … but still, that is stupid!

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Rebecca: OK, I rescind maybe seven of my 10 ha’s.

Greg: The ice packs are so thin because they must fit between the stainless-steel bento box and its tight carrying case. I’m not convinced they do their one job, since so far the kids don’t even use them, and they even fail at helping with scrapes!

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I think the thing I’m ashamed of in buying the lunchboxes is having fallen into the eco-friendly marketing trap. Like, I’m pretty sure that we got these because somehow we thought they were better for the environment than some alternative. But a lot of that is standard fear marketing, about BPA or “chemicals.” The BPA thing is real, but they also advertise that this box is “lead free,” which is like … of course it is? I think that’s the supreme shame, knowing that I fell for that.

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Rebecca: Where were the children taking these boxes, before the pandemic made it so that children don’t go places?

Greg: They took them to camp and then to school for a year. Now they’re back at school (well, in the building … the 8½-year-old is still doing virtual in the building). So they’re taking their lunches in them every day.

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Rebecca: OK! So that sounds like you’re getting some money’s worth? Or no?

Greg: I don’t know that they could ever be worth this much. The boxes have drawbacks. Just this morning the kids were complaining that they were too heavy. The 8½-year-old, since she’s doing virtual, has to take a laptop with her every day, too. The lunch box weighs 2.2 pounds, and that’s without food. Then there’s the water bottle—COVID means, bring your own. Plus the laptop. Her bag must weigh 12 pounds!

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Rebecca: Awwww, poor little one. Or should we say … TOUGHEN UP SNOWFLAKE!

Greg: I remember an uproar in elementary school about big L.L. Bean backpacks giving everyone scoliosis. I am now that uproar.

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Rebecca: I remember that too. That brings me to another question. Do your kids think these lunchboxes are cool?? I remember that being such a big deal when I was younger. I don’t think these would have brought me any cool points. No offense.

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Greg: PlanetBox sells magnet sets to put on the top. I swear I could just glue those to a shoebox and they wouldn’t care.

Rebecca: Hahahahhah. Which magnet sets did they pick? AND HOW MUCH WERE THOSE?

Greg: Goddamn it, now I’m going to be ashamed of their gendered-ass choices AND the lunchbox prices! The girl went for the unicorn rainbow pink and the boy has a T. rex or a velociraptor.

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Rebecca: It’s all coming out now!!! [The magnets are $3.95 a set. Not too bad, all things considered.]

Greg: I will say, I went with navy blue and gray for the carrying cases! Gotta hide those gendered magnets in some androgynous carrying case with completely unused strap.

Rebecca: I mean, I just wrote a whole Slate post about how much my own daughter loves Beauty and the Beast right now, thereby outing myself as allowing ’90s Disney in my house, so I can’t talk!

So has the purchase of these boxes helped at all with their intended purpose, the packing of food? Are they “good” at packing food and getting it to lunch? Has to be better than the brown bags of my youth, or so I assume!

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Greg: I don’t have much to compare it to! I grew up with a paper bag and those sandwich bags that are not a Ziploc, that you have to fold correctly, which no one does!

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Rebecca: Yes!!! We had those fold-over bags, and I grew up thinking that the actual Ziplocs with slides were fancy, for special occasions. This creaky grandma remembers.

Greg: I will say, I don’t think the PlanetBox does a great job keeping moisture away from the other compartments.

Rebecca: Oh no! That’s a bento must!

Greg: Which is why it comes with those other two little stainless bowls with lids.

Rebecca: I can’t believe your kids haven’t tossed the bowls into the trash by mistake during cleanup yet.

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Greg: We are missing one small bowl. Pretty sure it was used for a raisin snack, outside of lunch time.

Rebecca: Uh-oh! Unauthorized steel bowl use! How much will a replacement set you back?

Greg: I haven’t looked yet … let me see … OK, $5.95.

Rebecca: I guess that could be worse! Better get a few for next time this happens.

If you could go back and do it again, what would you buy for lunchboxes, do you think?

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Greg: Definitely something lighter. I like the idea of not using plastic, but I’m sure there’s some sort of feel-good corn-based recycled-plastic thing out there that can go top rack in the dishwasher and doesn’t equal 10 percent of my son’s body weight. Compartments are badass. So … a very light bento box.

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Rebecca: I hate to say it, but I think you’re describing the Yumbox, which is one of the two kinds we have. But with that, you don’t wash the outside in the dishwasher, so you end up with the shell sitting out on your counter, air drying. There is no such thing as perfection!

How long do you think you’ll be able to send lunch in these, and what do you think will be the cause of their demise?

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Greg: I think their demise began this morning, with the weight comment. There are only five weeks left in the D.C. school year. If they don’t have to schlep a laptop next year—fingers crossed on that!—the boxes will make it another season. Otherwise, toast.

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Rebecca: Well, I’m hoping for so many reasons that the boxes get one more school year. These are marketed as being appropriate for adults to use, as well. Do you think you would ever use one to carry lunch to work, after the office reopens? Maybe that could be what you use them for, after the kids abandon them?

Greg: I eat so much more food than this! I suppose I could carry two to work. Or I could use them for radio-controlled car parts—little divided compartments are cool, even if not for food. And the boxes are ferrous, so that’s good for catching screws, and stuff!

Rebecca: There you go! Instead of $60 lunchboxes, you will have $60 part organizers. Solution achieved!

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