My search for a replacement insulated food jar when Thermos dropped the ball
I bought Thermos brand food jars in 2010, then again in 2015. These 10- and 16-oz jars have interchangeable lids and have served me well enough for a decade. After 10 years, however, I’m down to six jars and four lids having purchased seven in total between the two sizes.
You can find reviews out there by people who have done scientific measurements of heat retention over time in this type of container, but my requirements are very simple. To wit, if I send a hot meal to school or work in the morning with my loved one, does the food stay warm and enjoyable until lunchtime?
Venerable Thermos brand no longer signifies quality
My first choice would’ve been keeping my existing jars in service with a few new replacement lids. Thermos in September 2020 replied to my email query, however, saying that I was out of luck. Thermos discontinued my jar model(s), and they have no replacement lids to offer.
I made it clear I would purchase lids if necessary, and that I was not asking for extended warranty coverage for old products. Thermos customer service appeared to give little attention to the details of my query; they don’t seem to care about my business.
I got a boilerplate email response indicating only that one item of the two I’d mentioned with model numbers and dates of purchase was out of production, and welcoming me to peruse their current offerings to find my own replacement. No notice was given to my specific question about sustainability or offering replacement parts in the longer term. No attempt was made to point me to the closest current model that might meet my needs.
Total customer service fail by Thermos!
Lids without plastic inside may be a healthier choice
Seeking a totally new product, I discovered that there was no Thermos food jar listed on their consumer site that day with stainless inside the molded plastic lid where it will touch the heated food therein.
BPA free plastic is a red herring; all plastic in contact with warm food should be viewed with caution, but not paranoia. The health effects of plastic use with hot food remain dubious yet suspect. Read up on this case of regrettable substitutes in National Geographic.
Instead of focusing on quality or innovation, Thermos seems to be competing with no-name international brands offering cheap products designed to fail and be quickly replaced. Today’s Taiyo Nippon Sanso* owned Thermos brand is obviously a poor fit for my eco-conscious, health-conscious consumer preferences.
LunchBots Thermal is the best insulated food jar for my family as of 2020
The best insulated food jar for my family turned out to be a LunchBots Thermal. I bought two, in September, 2020—one 12 oz and one 16 oz—from Amazon. I paid retail price, but I did use an Amazon coupon to save a few dollars off the order.
Why I chose LunchBots Thermals over the competition
Interchangeable lids make parents’ lives easier
Parents**: Always buy a brand whose lids interchange between sizes where possible. It’s best for everyone when no one has to maintain a repository of knowledge about which color lid fits which size bottle!
Even better, buy from a brand with interchangeable lids that also promises to offer replacements for years to come. LunchBots and U-Konserve have both proved their commitment on this issue to me, and I recommend either over Thermos brand jars.
Rubbery silicone outer grip makes opening easier
While I wouldn’t have chosen a new insulated food container strictly for its looks, I do enjoy the colorful, rubberized exterior dots on LunchBots’ offerings. Their other design in smooth stainless without the dots is still being sold in 2021; I believe the plain one was their first Thermal offering, and I don’t know if they plan to continue offering both versions for the foreseeable future.
Here’s a visual to compare the aesthetic of my old Thermos jars with LunchBots Thermals.
Because I have arthritis in my fingers and hands, it matters to me that the extra grip of the dotty covering does make these easier to open than a slick metal or plastic outer on a container. What’s true for middle aged hands with a disability should also apply to toddlers still developing their manual dexterity: a jar that’s easier to open by oneself makes for a happier and more independent lunch hour.
LunchBots’ dotty sleeve is made of silicone, not plastic. The dotted part does not seem to come off; it is integral to the container. I.e., you don’t have to peel a tight sleeve off to wash your dish.
I enjoy the array of six colors—turquoise blue, green, orange, pink, purple, and red— available for the two smaller sizes of Thermal, though I wouldn’t fault a company for offering a simpler product line. I suspect they are trying to compete with the commercial characters printed on some cheap plastic lunchware marketed toward little ones.
The largest 16 oz Thermal comes in just turquoise blue, pink, or navy blue, perhaps reflecting the fact that bigger appetites often belong to adults or older teens who may prioritize a more sophisticated palette or simply not reject a boring vessel.
Most parents realize that choosing a favorite color is kid-pleasing, however. As a mom, I suspect that a thermos that feels more special to my child will be treated with more respect. When I invest in expensive individual items that will be carried to school or camp or the beach…, I do everything that I can to maximize the kids’ buy in to taking good care of them.
LunchBots Thermal jars come in 3 useful sizes
Still, the primary reason I went with LunchBots over U-Konserve is because the former offers multiple sizes. The 18 oz U-Konserve food jar appears well made and sensibly designed, but I am very used to having smaller and larger thermoses on hand for different purposes. It also isn’t unusual for me to send more than one hot food in a given day’s lunch. My younger kid in particular likes to be able to tell the dreaded† nutritious soup from his heartier entrée portion.
LunchBots offers 8 oz, 12 oz, and 16 oz Thermal insulated food jars in a standard width. These have a 3.5″ diameter. The lids are interchangeable between them.
Note that the jar’s outside diameter is ≅ 3.5″; the actual opening of the mouth for removing bites of food is closer to 3″.
Below are the other vital statistics on the three sizes of standard Thermal, though please note that I’ve only purchased the smallest (8 oz) and largest (16 oz) LunchBots sizes as of now so I can’t confirm measurements for the middle one. I sourced those from the maker’s website. All measurements are rough and rounded broadly to the nearest pleasing fraction.
For comparison, here’s how my old pair of Thermos bottles stack up:
The smallest Thermal is nearly identical in size to my smaller Thermos container but a bit shorter, and the 16 oz models also measure up very similarly. LunchBots are relatively heavier within those similar dimensions, giving them a higher quality feel. That added heft may well also indicate a larger amount of heat retaining insulation in LunchBots when compared to my version of Thermos food jars.
Both LunchBots and Thermos insulated containers are made in China, though only LunchBots claims their Thermal is “responsibly made in china.” [sic]
Sip soup from tall, skinny Thermal with stainless straw
With any taller, slimmer style of jar—i.e., both my Thermos and my LunchBots models—when compared with a soup bowl at home, my family finds it more convenient to sip soup with a stainless steel straw. Getting the sporks I routinely pack in our lunches—the non-jagged Little Spork by Light My Fire— down to the bottom dregs of soupy food can be frustrating, not to mention messy.
I like these shorter Mini Straws by U-Konserve which pack easily in all of our variously shaped lunch boxes; I bought mine from Thrive Market in 2019 for about 1/3 off the retail price, but they don’t appear to sell this exact product as of 2021.
If you join Thrive Market by following my referral link, you get 25% off your first order with them and I will earn $25 in Thrive Cash store credit. This is my primary mail order source of organic groceries during the pandemic, and their prices are very competitive for specialty foods.
I mention utensils here mainly because sending the correct one can make or break an easily frustrated kid’s willingness to carry and use a particular container. It’s worse than pointless to research and buy an expensive new food jar to find that it only sits in a cupboard unused thereafter.
I usually pack utensils in the lunch bag inside a dishwasher safe fabric zipper pouch by Bumkins (or in a more water-tight, but less flexible silicone snack bag by Stasher when space isn’t at a premium.) FYI: I buy my Stasher bags from Thrive Market at a discount below MSRP, too. The baggie makes the tools easy to find, but also keeps the interior of the lunch sack much cleaner when sloppy used utensils come back home at the end of the day.
When sending an oily condiment like the tiny bottle of olive oil in the Stasher Snack Bag photo, I always pack it inside a reliably water-tight option such as silicone. The likely mess otherwise is too terrible to contemplate.
LunchBots & U-Konserve make parents happy with dishwasher safe insulated offerings
I believe my Thermos food jars were sold with a “hand wash only” caveat. I consistently ignored that advice.
For the most part, my Thermoses have held up well for years in spite of this abuse, so I don’t fault the brand for being conventional on the subject of care instructions for double walled dishes. One reason I’m down in quantity on lids vs. jars is because water got trapped in one due to repeated dishwasher use.
Both LunchBots and U-Konserve now state that their insulated food jars are dishwasher safe, though I believe they both started out suggesting hand washing when introducing these items to their product lines.
U-Konserve still has both statements—”hand wash only” and “dishwasher safe”—on two different pages relating to insulated jars as of January 2021, but their product is also currently out of stock. That might affect what shows on the site. If you buy from U-Konserve, confirm best practice with them directly to be safe.
It’s entirely possible that all insulated items could last longer if hand washed. What I can say with confidence is that even my Thermos jars have remained functional after 5-10 years of careful top rack machine washing. You will have to decide for yourself if the effort to hand wash is warranted in your household based upon the cost of new jars if you ruin one and the time you have available for more specialized care.
Before I purchased my set of matching stainless Thermos food jars, I had a motley assortment of “the cheapest thermos I could find at [my local store].” Some of those cheaper jars were destroyed by dishwasher use, but some simply fell apart. I learned the lesson in my kids’ first years of school that very cheap food storage containers were more frustrating to use as well as much more expensive in the long run due to early product failure.
Reasons a different food jar might suit some better
Wide jars please those with big hands & bigger appetites
LunchBots also sold a 16 oz “wide” food jar with a greater diameter larger opening at the mouth when I was picking my new dishes in the fall of 2020. The wide jars are 4.5″ in diameter. As of January 2021, LunchBots offers both 12- and 16 oz wide mouth containers which should work for most types of food for adult appetites.
I didn’t want to complicate our lid-to-container matching system at home by adding the wide mouth product to our collection‡, but I think the wider, relatively shallower depth size is a great concept, especially for those consistently opting for larger portions. Wider openings also make hand washing easier. This could be a better choice for a household without a dishwasher.
Eating from a wider, shallower dish can also be a lot tidier. If I were buying Thermals for strictly my own use, I may have chosen the wide version for use at work to prevent embarrassing spills. For those with arthritis related or other dexterity issues, a wide mouth thermal jar might be the best option.
* Though Thermos has associations as an American company, insulated flask technology was invented by a Scotsman named Dewar, then brought to commercial production in 1904 by a pair of German glassblowers who dubbed their improved version “Thermos.” A guy from Vienna improved upon the concept and licensed production in other countries, including the United States where the American Thermos Bottle Company popularized and mass produced the items, bringing them to the attention of a wide audience.
** Unless your kids are perfect and never lose anything. I’m generalizing and assuming that none of us has children who lack all faults. I’m fully grown and I still make the occasional error that leads to the loss of a useful small item. But, of course, it is very likely that there are parents whose kids lose less stuff than mine do.
† …that mean old Mom expects him to eat at snack time as a sneaky vegetable front-load before the treats that might be included in the lunch itself!
‡ …but I did gift one of the wide mouthed 16 oz jars to my dad for Christmas 2019 after hearing him mention the long wait for the microwave at his part time “bored retiree” job. Dad felt standard food jars were “too small” to eat from comfortably, and he also found a standard thermos hard to clean with his larger hands.
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