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Lunchbox Dilemmas

As soon as Spring Break hit a few months ago, I knew I would need to replace my girls' lunchboxes that had been doing overtime for two years. I found myself completely sucked into a thread on the *Portland Mamas FB group that had been discussing lunchboxes for the last two days, which caused the topic to resurface in my head. This is big stuff, folks. I like newfangled technology as much as the next modern mama, but sometimes I just wonder if the metal Rainbow Brite lunchbox of my childhood was really just fine.

My oldest had been carrying a Blue Q bag that originally contained a birthday gift. She was more into the bag than the gift so it became an accessory as part of her daily ensemble. I have to admit that in a world of the Thermos, insulated sides, waxed canvas, removable liners, and 100% machine washable, I was suspicious! As the months dragged on, that super cute polypropylene bag did its job, and did it well. It suffered endless half-empty, half-closed containers of applesauce, sticky fruit leather, and tuna fish smeared all over the inside. At first, this stressed me out, but after a quick rinse and a wipe with a soapy sponge, the smell would go away and the bag would be ready to go for another day.

Another perk to the Blue Q bag was the size. It was bigger than an average lunchbox/bag, which worked great for my camel-like daughter who requires an 18-ounce Kleen Kanteen of water every day. It also allowed for bulky reusable containers that I could not use in my younger daughter's regular lunchbox. That alone often felt like a victory.

My youngest daughter had been toting the Skip Hop Zoo Lunchie. This was an impulse purchase (because c'mon, who can resist an owl with pink polka dots?!) that actually turned out to be an okay investment. It had soft, insulated sides and a little pocket inside that was perfect for a spoon, lovenote, and/or a tiny chocolate. The handle was handy for attaching it to her backpack, and it actually held up pretty well. My biggest complaint became that the darn thing just wouldn't dry very quickly or well. After two years, it had spots of mold that I just couldn't get rid of. I laundered it once a week and wiped it out frequently, but it had obviously reached its maximum lifetime. 

The size also posed a problem. It held the smallest size Kleen Kanteen and a couple of small containers, but forget about a sandwich container. Everything had to be packed in baggies and it was a puzzle if I was sending a personal-sized yogurt and anything else in a ridged container. Heaven forbid I not be two cups of coffee into my morning routine before this happened.

A couple of years ago I started washing and reusing our plastic sandwich baggies, a habit which I cannot give up no matter how hard I try. Don't judge - you know what I'm talking about. Even the best enviro-mama has something she can't give up. But hey, at least I'm washing and reusing them, right?! (This brilliant contraption helps make it easy). I tried the sweet reusable baggies, but I quickly realized that I was going to need... oh, about a million of them to get through the week. And my quirkly little girlies were not eating what I had packed in the baggies because they couldn't see what was inside. (Oh 5-year-old brains!) 

So I guess what I'm left wondering is this: what lunchbox(es) do you LOVE and would buy over and over again? Are the bento boxes the answer to all of my midday meal woes? Frankly, the thought of filling all of those little containers with something(!) intimidates the heck out of me! Have you encountered any that are a total waste of money? What about the baggies? Reusable can be so cute and seductive, but have you figured out a way to make them work for your family? C'mon, mamas, dish!



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How timely! I just ordered my younger daughter one of the Built brand soft lunch totes after the one my older daughter used last year worked so well, and it still looks brand new. These totes are made of neoprene, not sure if that's an environmental no-no, but they last - even through many washes - and they are flexible enough to put a variety of foods and containers in them and still zip easily. There's lots of fun designs too. Water bottles won't fit, but my kids store their water bottles in their backpack side pockets.

As far as the plastic baggies, like the OP, I use and reuse them, and love the wooden baggie dry rack. For awhile, my kids went to a Waldorf-inspired school where the sight of plastic baggies could earn a nasty comment from other kids, but the "Waldorf approved" little wooden baskets and glass containers of food, while charming to look at, often tipped over, and food and glass went everywhere. We try to make use of the reusable pouches and containers we can get at a bargain, but they are too expensive for multiple kids who pack lunches every day.

I love the "pack-it" lunchbags: www.packit.com

You freeze them overnight and they really do keep the cold things actually cold until lunch. The one I bought for my daughter two years ago is just starting to fade as far as the velco closure goes. You can wipe out the inside with a wet cloth, or if something really spills badly, I've cleaned it in soapy water and left it to dry overnight without issue.

As far as reusable baggies, I bought some at Crafty Wonderland a couple of years ago, they wash fine in the washer and you can dry them too. They are a bit of a pain though because I only have two and washing/drying every night is not realistic.

I really like the BUILT zip top lunch bags (sold at New Seasons and other places) My daughter has had her's 3 years and it is still fine, but I told her she could get a new one this year in a different color. They are neoprene so they are kind of insulated and they stretch a bit so you wedge those reusable containers in there. They are machine washable so I just toss them in with the laundry on the weekend and they are good to go for another week. My only complaint is that most of the prints are pretty "girly" it would be great if they had more fun unisex patterns besides the basic black.

We ordered one from LL Bean. http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/78825?feat=lunch%20box-SR0&page=discovery-lunch-box
It's rectangular & pretty deep, so it does hold tupperware sandwich keepers or a FooGo thermos, plus 2-3 small round plastic containers with lids, has a mesh sleeve for holding a cold-pack (Somewhere in 1st grade I realized I had been using my Medela cold-packs -- how's that for reusing!) and an outside pocket that my kiddo uses for "treasures."

But - we don't put kiddo's water bottle in the lunch box. Her backpack for fall has outside pockets for water bottles so we'll go with that.

I've been known to machine wash & dry this thing & it's still here. Some part of kindergarten the handle frayed; LL Bean sent me a new one & refunded the price when I sent them the old, damaged one so it was a free replacement without any loss of use.

And yes, I reuse baggies but tend to use the ziploc small round containers because they protect foods from getting too smooshed by other items in the lunch box.

Lands End Lunchbag. A "Divided Food Keeper" and "Small Food Keepers" from Container Store.--BPA free. Occasionally, some ziploc bags (which I don't wash out as much as I should.) I'd like to get some decent reusable snack bags, instead of the ziplocs. This has been my system for 4 years--the containers are easy for little hands to open, and the divided one gives me the flexibility of a bento-style lunch (sometimes I use two dividers in one container--borrowing from another one) without all the set compartments of a bento box.

The lunchbox holds a lot, and if there are a lot of containers on a particular day (common in the summer when I pack more snacks for their days at camp), their water bottle can go in the mesh pocket on the outside of the lunch bag.

I can't say enough positive things about Planet Box boxes. My daughter is in year three with the one we bought her for kindergarten (and I don't see it failing before high school). We just bought my son his first one for this fall. No plastic bags necessary. The outside bags wash nicely. They don't absorb smells or mold. They snap closed with leak proof compartments. They are not inexpensive, but I figure if I have to spend it once and get 8-10 years out of it with one or two outside bag purchases, it's worth it!

We have a pretty basic blue bag-box from target that has now lasted for 5 years (since age 4... the one we had at age 3 had too much spilled food to last long). We re-use things like feta cheese containers instead of baggies. It's a pretty simple setup :)

Wow! Way to make a long, drawn-out blogpost about the most mundane issue ever! I never knew buying a lunch box for a kid was this complicated! Lunch boxes get gross. I buy my kids the most quality one I can find at the start of each school year, like I do with any other school supplies. I don't expect it to last more than one school year. There are a lot bigger issues to worry about that stressing over my kids lunch box (insert puzzled look here).

I'm with cranky crank. I let my kids pick out their lunch boxes. If they last, great! If they don't... welll...they might end up with a brown bag, or giant ziplock until we get around to buying another one. A couple years ago, they each picked one of those neoprene type bags from target and they've lasted though regular washing and 2-3 years each. My son will continue using his this year. The girls begged for ones from Justice and I was feeling indulgent the day they did, so they'll be carrying those until they break and we fall back on the target bags they carried each if the past two years.

I try to use little reusable containers as much as possible, but honestly, they always get lots and inevitably we fall back on plastic baggies. And... I don't wash and reuse them. With three kids, a dog, a house to keep clean, and a nearly full time contracting job, I am not about creating more work for myself. A few plastic bags are the least of my worries.

Lol, this has got to be one of the most ridiculous posts ever....;)

Julie, what the heck? How is asking what other people do for lunchboxes ridiculous?

Like ganne, I am a big fan of the Planetbox. I started my kids out in preschool with Laptop Lunchboxes, which I liked at first. But cleaning out all those little containers was a pain after a while. Although I will say, I found the LTLB to be sturdy and very well made. My younger kid is still using his.

I loved the look of the Planetbox but knew it would be too small for my older boy, as the only model they had available a couple of years ago wouldn't fit a sandwich on regular sized bread, or one of my homemade muffins. But last year they came out with a newer, larger model, the Launch.

It's been great. I did not buy the carrying case or any of the acoutrements. The latch is sturdy enough that my boy just tosses the box in his backpack. He's a middle-schooler, so he opted out of the decorative magnets ("Uh, no thanks.). Now all I have to wash is the stainless steel box. It is not cheap, but it's built to last, reduces waste, and works great.

Thanks for the info about the Launch. I have looked at them in the past but they were always too small. How do they do with liquids in them? Sometimes I put in fruit like canteloupe that makes a juice. Does it leak into the other compartments or out of the box?

Kim, I have never tried cantelope, although I've done strawberries, apple slices, oranges and kiwi, with no problem. It might leak, to be honest. Although the PB works great to keep everything separate.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about lunchboxes and containers that won't leak, but are easy enough to open. Plus there's the whole toxicity issue, is it distracting (for younger kids), weird (for older kids), and can they strap it around their bodies while they scooter to school? Our last purchase is the insulated Trader Joe's lunch bag. Can't wait for school to start!

There are certainly many children in my son's school who have very carefully thought out the lunchbox choice... as I said above, we've had the same one now for going on 5 years- it's a plain Target special that is still in good shape and he doesn't choose to change. It's got a domed roof (like a barn!) where his morning snack can go, then the bottom fits at least 4 little containers (I tend to use repurposed feta cheese tubs, etc) and a napkin. Probably cost less than $15. Other kids that we see right now seem to really like the kinds that look like a handbag, ones that fit like a backpack (very flat!), and these silvery teapot things that don't seem like enough space but they are popular for sure.

Last year, this summer and into this school year we have used the $5 (?) Trader Joe's lunch boxes. We have two that we rotate. (Would still be using same ones, but the dog got to them.). The bags are machine washable which I do every couple of months. Also use ZipLock divided containers. http://www.ziploc.com/Products/Pages/ContainersSmartSnapSeal.aspx?SizeName=Divided Rectangle Sometimes I use an empty applesauce cup to add another area. This works very well for the cheese, cracker, meat, fruit, cruncy veggie lunch (ska "snacky lunch"). I use them for my lunches too so we have 6 of them ($2.50 for 2 at Target). I use snapware as well. Always looking for lunch and lunch box ideas.

As an FYI if you have a responsible kid (mine either brings every bit of garbage home to me or dumps everything) and a considerable amount of money to (almost) throw away----I was in a test group for compostable sandwich and freezer bag.

So yeah, I got the product for free AND I was paid $200 for testing and posting about it. ANYWAY, the bags are great to use...but sadly, super expensive. But there is that option, too

Hmmm, I am jealous of those whose kids get a morning snack. Is this elementary school? Mine has to wait it out 'til noon (and make it through recess first!). He already struggles with some sensory issues on the playground. Add low blood sugar, and it's a bad combo some days.

We've always had a morning snack. Provided by school in younger years and now they bring their own- they get 5 minutes to pick one item out of the lunchbox. We also are required to bring home garbage so that parents know what is eaten or not.

Late to the party, but I have to give another shout-out to Planetbox. Our daughter has used hers for three years and we all still love it. On top of all the great things already mentioned about it, I love that she is able to see all of her food at once (rather than having to dig through different containers to see what has been packed). It's very visually appealing to have all of her lunch laid out together on the tray.

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