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Posted on May 5, 2008 | 80 comments

Review: Cheap lunch containers at Target

Review: Cheap lunch containers at Target

Lunch containers at Target

Seasonal lunch containers from Target

Reader “K” gave me a heads up that Target now stocks cheap lunch containers in their seasonal section in the front of the store, so I popped by and picked up a couple to try out over the weekend.

Part of the Whim by Cynthia Rowley collection made by the Israeli Bramli Company, these plastic US$2.99 containers are definitely the right price, and come in colorful pink and blue. I picked up two versions that I thought bento-packers might be interested in: the Divided Lunch Set (in blue) and the Personal Salad Set (in pink). They do have pros and cons, though… (Read on for the full product review.)

The Divided Lunch Set has a plastic knife and fork built into the lid, and has three divided sections: one large 480ml section and two smaller 280ml and 240ml sections. (I measured these with the water method described in my guide to choosing the right size bento box.) With a total capacity of 1000ml, this is the right size for someone with a large appetite or a normal adult packing less calorically dense foods such as salads or a sandwich. I filled it with water, fastened the lid on, and quickly discovered its major drawback — water poured out freely from under the lid. So if you wind up getting this container, beware of the loose lid and avoid packing liquidy foods (or pack liquidy foods in a separate lidded condiment cup like the ones I used for fruit jello cups). The lid stuck a bit when I tried to remove it; this may be a bit tricky for a child, but an adult should be able to manage it just fine.

Divided lunch set from Target

It’s marked as being safe for the dishwasher and microwave (vent before microwaving), but I wasn’t able to find any information on what kind of plastic it’s made of. Given the recent hubbub about bisphenol A (BPA), this makes me a bit anxious… If you intend to microwave your lunch in its container and are concerned about plastics, consider tempered glass bento boxes that I reviewed earlier. Ichiban Kan now stocks GlassLock boxes at reasonable prices, with a multiple-item set available in their retail stores.

If you’re looking for a no-frills watertight container, check out the excellent Lock & Lock food container line instead (U.S. online store here). Their lids have four locking flaps that are absolutely watertight and stand up to whatever abuse you throw at them (dishwasher, microwave, etc.). I’ve used Lock & Lock boxes for years with no problems, and their lids are even easy enough for a three-year-old to open without help.

1250ml Personal salad set from Target

The 1250ml Personal Salad Set from Target has the same lid issue: it’s not watertight at all. Experienced lunch packers know not to pre-dress a salad hours before eating, as this causes the greens to wilt during transit. A small dressing container snaps down into the lid to keep dressing separate, and is secure enough to keep the dressing from leaking even when shaken. The dressing container is very easy to remove, but falls right out if the container is turned upside down. The fork is very easily removed — points for that. But the large lid to the main container itself is tricky to remove; be careful or you might get a lapful of salad. Because there’s no built-in ice pack, you might want to pack this inside of a larger insulated lunch bag with an ice pack to keep your greens crisp and fresh, especially in hot weather.

Fit & Fresh salad container (assembled) Fit & Fresh salad container lunch (exploded)

This reminded me of a bulky Fit & Fresh Salad Shaker that I bought a couple of years back, with a cool lid with built-in ice pack, little plastic fork and spoon, and dressing dispenser. Although the lid was secure and pretty easy to remove, I found this container to be better in concept than in practice. The dressing dispenser sticks and is difficult to turn, and after only two uses the bottom cap of the dressing dispenser no longer stays on. All in all, not a good use of the US$10 I spent on it at Bed, Bath & Beyond. (Don’t even get me started on the faulty ice ring in the Fit & Fresh Soup & Salad Set that broke after one use.) (Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliations with any of the companies mentioned here.)

Have you found a salad container or cheap lunch container you like that’s widely available? Tell us about it in comments!

FURTHER READING ON LUNCH IN A BOX:

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  1. @29 from Summer: Thank you so much for the lunchsense.com link with those Lock & Lock sets. They do look a bit pricey, but at least they have nicely put-together sets!

  2. @40 from Mika in Seattle: Thanks for the offer, Mika, but I don’t think I have the time to be a good intermediary. Feel free to post your e-mail address here in comments if you like, though, and interested parties can contact you directly. (NOTE to other sellers: Lunch in a Box is not an appropriate place for you to advertise your stores in comments without my permission; this is an exceptional case.)

  3. @41 from KCatGU: I have those little dressing bottles — they’re very handy.

  4. @44 from Jazz: For Bug’s drinks, I often use the drink container that came with my Lock & Lock bento set to pack 25% juice with 75% water. Lately Bug has been begging for juice boxes so that he can be like one of his friends, so sometimes I give in. If I don’t pack anything at all, his preschool serves all of the kids water.

  5. @47 from Sunflower: Thanks for the lockandlockusa.com link, Sunflower! I’m glad Walmart still carries the Lock & Lock boxes — I wonder why Target discontinued them?

  6. @48 from Elli: Nice improv on the aluminum Almond Roca box! Very inventive.

  7. @50 from Ben: Okay, it looks like Fit & Fresh has some quality control issues with their ice packs — that’s really unacceptable to have one split apart all over your food. I’ll be passing on any of their new products unless I hear rave reviews from trustworthy sources.

  8. Just wanted to give an update on my Fit and Fresh – I microwaved some leftover lasagna yesterday and the heat (and possibly oils from the cheese?) seemed to damage the container. It looks like there’s something stuck on it, but when I scraped at it with a scrubber, it seems more like the plastic was actually damaged. It happened earlier on one of the smaller side dish containers, but I figured it was because they seem to be a less durable plastic and I stopped microwaving the. But this happened in the big main dish container that I thought was thicker and sturdier. It makes me wonder if any plastic ended up in my lunch! Yuck! I think I’m going to look around online and just fork over the money for something of higher quality. I still like my Fit and Fresh for cold lunches that won’t stain, but I don’t want to have to plan every meal around the quality of my lunch containers!

  9. Regarding the Bisphenol-A scare, it’s only found in polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is the hard, sometimes highly colored plastic. Think Nalgene bottles, baby bottles, anything that has a hard plastic that resembles glass. Hard, meaning will not deform, even when filled with boiling water (that WILL leach the bisphenol-A). I have never seen a bento box made from polycarbonate. They are usually made from polypropylene or HDPE.

    HTH :)

  10. I have to agree with the concept of the Fit and Fresh being great- execution not so much. The size isn’t conducive to being packed in my bag, and having to ‘drip’ the dressing in from the top and shake means all the heavy salad stuff ends up at the bottom of the container under the lettuce, and there’s oily dressing to scrub off every part of the container, lid, and ice pack each time I use it. Which is very infrequent now because of this. I’ll have to find the Lock and Lock! Thanks for testing out the Target ones, I was tempted last week and am happy to have saved the $$$.

  11. @52 Biggie: I scored the Lock and Lock from my Dad. He had to buy a fridge for the company he works for and they threw them in with the fridge, so he gave them to me. ^_^

  12. @63 from Pavlina: Thanks for the good information on BPA and polycarbonate, Pavlina! Very reassuring, and reinforces that I shouldn’t post about something before thoroughly researching it first.

  13. @67 from PBVox: Okay, now you and Tory have me curious! Do you have a link to these Ziplock containers?

  14. Biggie, to confirm what Pavlina said @ comment 63, I went to the top and wrote to Cynthia Romley and to Eli Bramil:

    “I am interested in the Whim by Cynthia Rowley Divided Lunch Box you designed and made for Target. Your packaging says that the lunch box is safe for the dishwasher and microwave, but does not indicate whether it is free of bisphenol A (BPA). Do the lunch boxes contain BPA?”

    Romley hasn’t responded, but Bramli did:

    “Thank you for the e-mail. All Bramli products are free of bisphenol A (BPA). Please feel free to enjoy our products.
    “Best regards,
    “Samuel Bar
    “BRAMLI
    “Sales and Marketing Manager”

  15. Biggie,
    Thanks for reviewing these items from target. I love to buy all kinds of bento gear, but from your comments I would have been disappointed if I had bought these. Thanks for taking the time and spending the money! Thanks!!

  16. Hi, Biggie!
    2 things:
    1. I am SO GLAD you posted this, as I saw them in Target the very next day and, undoubtedly, I would have purchsed them with reckless abandon.

    2. This may seem a silly question, but how do you know how to run this website? Not the hosting and such, but how to post and the format and all that jazz? I’m looking to start a site of my own, but I’m not sure how difficult it is.

  17. Thanks for a great review – I probably would have just bought one of these (I’m a sucker for stuff like this) and would have been frustrated. Salad in my lap is not for me!

    @princess_design – do you blog? If you start by setting up a blog (go to blogger.com, wordpress.com or something like that) you’ll get some experience to get you started. http://www.w3schools.com/ is a great place to go to learn how how to format, post HTML, etc. Good luck!

  18. @69 from Great Stone Face: Thanks for passing along Bromli’s response about BPA — I appreciate it!

  19. @71 from princess_design: Gosh, I figured out how to post on WordPress by trial and error, mostly. I do use the WYSIWIG editor in WordPress so I don’t do much manual coding for any of my posts, which makes life easier. When I see a post elsewhere that’s formatted in a way that I like, I view the source code in my web browser to see if I can figure out how they did it. No real secrets here!

  20. @ Biggie: Thanks! I’ll keep you posted if I ever get moving on this! (I’ll want to link to you.)
    @ Mary: Thanks for the tips. I have a personal blog, but I want to do something like this one…a little more global.

    You guys are the best!

  21. I have some of these from last year. We use them for picnics or packing lunch when we travel. I don’t like them for everyday use, but for a quick picnic lunch, it beats using disposable products. Ours have held up well. For storage, i stack all the containers and then all the lids on top, works fine for us. I love the new pink, i may have to get some of those. Look out for the clearance, those go down to 75% off, that is when i got ours.

  22. I bought a box by the same manufacturer at K-Mart. It is a box (in blue or pink) that has a waterbottle that nestles in the lid. I love it. I never tested whether it’s leakproof, but I pack it flat in an insulated bag and have never had a problem. In fact, my secretary liked it so much, she bought one too. For $3.99 it’s a great little “bento” box

  23. @76 from sahminaz: Nice tip on how to store multiple containers in a space-efficient manner!

  24. I bought two of those containers. I got the blue one with the knife and fork for my husband and the pink one with the water bottle for me. I use them only rarely, but the blue one does come in handy when I’m packing something watery into my husband’s bento. The partitions keep everything in place better than the removable divider in his Relaxy Space bento box. He hates that people can see through it, though.

  25. @79 from Jenny: I haven’t tried sending these to work with my husband yet, but I could see him not being happy with the bright blue or the see-through aspect either. Good point!

  26. I bought the Cynthia Rowley Salad container. I’m glad that it was only $2.99 because I’ve only used it once. Pros for me: I like the amount of salad it holds. I like the idea of the dressing container being seperate and fitting in the lid.
    Cons for me: The first one I bought had a hole in it (under the cardboard wrapper so I didn’t see it in the store). As you pointed out the dressing container doesn’t stay in the slot very well. (My lunch bag does not always make it to the office without being tipped.) It was difficult to open and I don’t want a lap full of salad.
    Wish I’d seen your review first…but thank goodness it was only $3. I’ll keep it on hand but I doubt I’ll use it often especially after my Mr. Bento arrives next week. (Thanks for the reviews of him too!!! Can’t wait to try it!!!)

  27. Sorry, my mistake – You didn’t exactly review Mr. Bento, but you talked about it which led me to research it and buy one. Thanks for that! Your site has been very informative. I wasn’t planning to do lunch bento-style, but it is a lot of fun learning about it!! I think I may be hooked.

  28. @81/82 from Kate: Well, I think salad containers and the Mr. Bento are good for different types of food; I just haven’t found the ULTIMATE salad container yet. The Mr. Bento and similar thermal lunch jars are pretty cool for packing soup, rice, main & side dishes all separately (and warm!), though.

    And about doing lunch bento-style, just take the tips and ideas that work for you, and leave the rest. It doesn’t have to be complicated!

  29. I agree with Tory (May 2008)…the Ziplock brand divided “disposable” boxes are the BEST!! I’m babying my last 2 left after 4 years – they do not leak and fit perfectly in rectangular lunchboxes… Have yet to find anything else to meet my needs, though will check out the Cynthia Rowley/Target version.

  30. These are such a lovely launch box. Kids will love them.

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