Well, y’all, here we are again: Back-to-school time! In preparation (celebration!?), we’ve gone ahead and rounded up our very favorite lunch gear (bags and other accoutrements) for a new year — and we’ve done it for both grown-ups and kids, because everybody enjoys a fresh lunch set-up, no?
I can’t say enough about my love for LunchBots, a collection of stainless steel containers for soups, sandwiches, fruits, dips, yogurt and more. My personal favorites are the classic four-compartment Bento boxes, which force me to at least consider packing a balanced lunch, but we also use the snack containers a lot, because they’re perfect for cut fruit, crackers, and veggies and hummus. Everything is leak-proof, everything is dishwasher safe, everything is BPA-free and stainless steel, and it all fits nicely in a small lunchbox or bag. It’s not cheap, but we’ve had ours for years and they’re still going strong. If plastic is more your gig, New Zealand-based Sistema also makes awesome BPA- and phthalate-free bento containers with (helpful!) movable compartments and lids that clasp and never leak. They are also dishwasher safe.
As we’ve written before, aside from the unfortunate spelling, there’s not much not to love about Klean Kanteen water bottles. Again, we’re talking stainless steel (so, non-toxic, long-lasting and dishwasher-safe), and they do a great job keeping their contents cold. Whether you get the sippy or the screw-top, they’re pretty much leak-proof. Plus, the kids’ versions are nicely sized for little hands, and both adult and kids’ models are easy to clean. (Oh, they also make baby bottles!) We also like the good old-fashioned Thermos “funtainers”, which are kid-sized Thermoses with pop-up straws. Again, these are mostly made of stainless steel (the plastic bits are BPA- and phthalate-free), and seemingly indestructible, with cute colors and designs. They’re not quite as easy to wash as non-straw models, but the flip side of that is that the lid/straw combo seems like the easiest way to drink for toddlers and little kids. As for sippies: We love the Thinkbaby convertible sippies (they can go from bottles to sippies to straw cups just by changing the lid. I can’t say they’re indestructible as far as leaks go, but I dig the convenience for the daycare set. And finally: For myself, I am — along with the rest of the world — a fan of Swell bottles. No breaking news there.
Lunch bags for little kids (and big kids … okay, and grown-ups) tend to get pretty beat up both inside and out, so durability and washability and absolute musts, and on that front, Built NY Gourmet lunch totes and kids’ lunch packs are proven favorites. The insulated neoprene bags have zippers (sturdier than Velcro closures), seem to resist smelliness (unlike a lot of the canvas bags we’ve had), and dry really quickly. They’re lightweight, BPA-free, and even the smallest, simplest versions easily fit a bento box, several snacks and an ice pack. Another solid choice is any of the square lunch boxes from Pottery Barn Kids/Teens. (The molded square shapes are easier to wipe down than the sacks, and help keep food from getting squished.) They’re well-made and long-lasting; they’re insulated (with food-safe vinyl); they have helpful pockets and compartments; and, well … they’re really cute.
If the idea of one of those plastic, freezable, sweating ice packs sitting there in and among your chemical-free, organic, clean-food lunches gives you pause, you might appreciate the Onyx stainless steel ice pack, which is just steel and water. They’re smaller and sleeker than your average ice pack, too. Also, one of our favorite discoveries in the past year has been the Lunchskins sealable, recyclable paper sandwich bags — they’re great for sandwiches and snacks, and alleviate the plastic Ziploc guilt.
Locally based Tiffin Talk makes a series of cards for young kids (probably best for kindergartners on up) that are designed as a little lunchtime hello from mom and dad, with some conversation-spurring question on it, to be addressed later in the day in person. (“What animal would you most like to be?” or “Are you wearing green today? Do you like green?”) They’re cute! We also like sandwich shapers, which are about as fast and easy a way to jazz up PB&J as you’ll find.
Photo credit, clockwise from left: onyxcontainers.com, thermos.com, tovolo.com, lunchbots.com, kleankanteen.com and builtny.com