Keeping lunches at the right temperature when away from home is essential. Here’s how to choose the best ice packs for lunches.

Packing lunches is a serious matter. First, you have to choose the foods — what will the recipient want to eat? What will fuel them properly? Then you there’s the matter of containers. Which are best for what you are packing?

And then, finally, there’s lunch box safety — especially keeping food at the right temperature. Ice packs help with this. But there are so many options in the market these days from soft-sided ones fashioned to look like ice to a variety of hard-sided ones.

Here are some of the best options for lunch box ice packs.

Factors to Consider

What Is the Ice Pack Made Out Of?

When choosing an ice pack, it’s important to know that they come in different varieties.

For years, ice packs filled with a gel that freezes have been very popular. They last a long time and are reliable. But if that’s a type of ice pack you are interested in, there are some things you should know first.

According to Missouri Poison Control, “the gel in most freezer packs is non-toxic and biodegradable; it is usually a polymer or cellulose. Some products may also include additives like preservatives, sodium chloride, minerals, water, or dye.”

Gel packs are generally safe, though if one breaks open and your child ingests some of the gel, they might have a tummy ache. Missouri Poison Control has good advice for parents on what to do if some is accidentally eaten.

If you are looking for a more natural option, there are also water-filled ice packs as well. Growing in popularity, these are just what they sound like: sealed, reusable ice packs filled with water. It freezes as normal, inside its covering, and won’t harm your child if it leaks.

Water filled ice packs will stay frozen for roughly two hours in an insulated lunch box. Gel filled ones will stay frozen a bit longer. Even as they defrost though, they will continue to keep food cold (though the temperature inside the lunch box will vary.

Comparing gel vs ice packs, both work well and will keep a lunch cold for hours. To an extent, a material choice is really preference.

Hard vs Soft: Which Suits Your Needs Best?

Ice packs are available in both hard-sided and soft-sided varieties. Once frozen though, both will be hard. Here’s what to consider about hard vs soft ice packs:

Do I need my lunch to stay cold for luncher

What Size Is Your Lunch Bag?

Lunch boxes come in all shapes, sizes and lots of materials. If your lunch is particularly large or not particularly well-insulated, a hard ice pack, which stay cold a bit longer than a soft-sided ice pack will be ideal.

Do I need a certain size ice pack for my lunch bag? If yes, then consider if one comes in the size you need. If not, a soft ice pack might be better. Igloo’s Natural Ice ice packs, for instance, can be cut to size for unique lunch box shapes.

How Long Does the Ice Pack Stay Cold?

Hard-sided ice packs take longer to freeze but also stay cold longer. However, soft-sided ones (particularly water-filled ones) have benefits such as being more natural and able to fit tricky spaces.

8 Best Ice Packs for Lunch Boxes

1. Rubbermaid LunchBlox Ice Packs

Rubbermaid’s LunchBlox system is a convenient way to pack foods separately in lunch boxes. When it comes to keeping those lunches cold, Rubbermaid LunchBlox Ice Packs are the best ice packs for Rubbermaid containers. They snap to the top of the containers, which is pretty cool. Mine came with a Rubbermaid container set, but they can be purchased at Target and other stores separately as well.

2. Thrive Ice Packs for Kids or Adult Lunch Boxes

Colorful and fun, these long-lasting ice packs come in a variety of designs and colors. Made from BPA-free vinyl, these gel ice packs are a bit thicker than some of the others in this list. But they are durable and will last for years. They can be found at some online retailers.

3. Fit and Fresh Penguin Shaped Ice Packs

These are our favorite cute ice packs for lunch boxes. The slim design fits into most lunch boxes and the fun penguin shape makes these the ideal ice packs for kids. Plus, they come in packs of four (each a different color!) so you can have a little fun packing lunch too.

4. Igloo Ice Block

Looking for a thin ice pack? The small Igloo Ice Blocks are just 0.812 inches thick and stay cold for hours. Filled with non-toxic gel, they can be refrozen and used again and again. And since Igloo has been in the keeping-food-cold business for decades, you can trust their expertise. I found these at my local Target, but they are available at other stores as well and online.

5. Fit & Fresh XL Cool Coolers Ice Pack

Looking for the perfect ice pack for a large lunch box? The Fit & Fresh XL Cool Coolers Ice Pack is the ultimate in oversized ice packs. This ice pack measures 7 x 4.5 x 0.50-inches, so it’s thin and will work well in a bigger lunch bag or lunch box.

6. PackIt Lunch Bags

What if the only thing you needed to remember was the lunch bag? That’s the case with the PackIt line of lunch bags. These inventive bags are both the lunch bag and the ice pack (they have a gel in the bag material. So stick the PackIt Lunch Bag in the freezer and it’s ready to keep lunch cool for hours the next day. Pretty nifty!

7. TOURIT Vapor Ice Packs

How fun are these? For a truly space-saving idea, try these ice pack rods. TOURIT Vapor Ice Packs measure 8.75 x 1.5 x 1.25 inches, and are long-lasting ice packs that fit into many lunch boxes and lunch bags. Just make sure to freeze them for at least 8 hours to get the full cooling power.

8. Igloo Natural Ice

These soft ice packs are filled with water. Also, because of their ice cube-like design, they are flexible when frozen. They freeze quickly as well and can be cut to fit small or unusually shaped shapes. I love how versatile these Igloo Natural Ice packs are for shorter-term cooling needs. I found these at my local Target, but they are available at other stores as well and online.

How to Properly Use an Ice Pack in Your Lunch Box

Ever wondered if ice packs go on top or bottom of the lunch bag?

Where to put ice pack

Frequently Asked Questions

How many ice packs do I need for a lunch box?

Are gel packs better than ice?

Absolutely. Ice will melt, leaving water everywhere! No one wants a soggy sandwich, so the gel packs are way superior in that vein. In terms of gel-based ice packs version water-based ice packs though, they both have pros and cons.

How long do ice packs last?

They last between a few hours and many hours depending on the size of the ice pack, the materials used and the vessel they are contained in. A good insulated lunch box and thicker ice pack will last longer.

Do ice packs stay cold longer than ice?

Some hard plastic, gel-based ice packs will stay cold for much longer than ice. And remember: ice melts into water.

Is the blue liquid in ice packs poisonous?

No, it’s considered non-toxic. But, that said, you still shouldn’t eat it. If you do, by accident, you might get a tummy ache.

Ultimately, the best ice packs for lunches are the ones that meet your unique needs. The biggest factor you should consider is the size of your lunch box and whether or not the ice pack can fit comfortably. Happy lunch packing!

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