We've started school and a year ago I said I'd do a post talking about my favorite lunch box system, only I wasn't sure what it was a year ago, as I still was figuring it out. A year later, I know what it is (after road testing it for a year) so here I am, posting about the lunchbox system I like.
To give some authority to what I am saying, I pack a lunch for Daughters DAILY. I do not like the hot lunch vendor at our school one tiny little bit (the list of reasons why I dislike it is long, but I won't go into that here), so until there is a change on that front, I will not consider hot lunch an option. This means that every single day, I have to be able to put something in a lunch box that Daughters will EAT, without making me insane.
I also do not like using many plastic bags, because already our school playground has enough wrappers and plastic bags to pollute the oceans several times over, and I care not to add to that madness and chaos, for our school is windy most days, and inevitably, something WILL blow away.
So after some trial and error and two years of field testing, the lunch box that I prefer, is the Ziploc, rectangle, divided lunch container. These are readily found at Target, for under $4 for the two pack, or you can also buy them on Amazon, $6.78 for a pack of four. This is a bento box system, which basically means one box divided into sections to you can put a few different things together.
Why do I like this so much? I like that I can pack three different things in one container. I can pick a couple of things very quickly, because I'm not fiddling with different containers or bags, but just have to fill one. I mix it up - sometimes it's rice, with a few side dishes, and a pack of seaweed thrown in. Other times it's a sandwich, a fruit and a vegetable. Sometimes I can put cheese and crackers, grapes, and celery in there. The combos are endless. People have asked me if each individual compartment is completely separated and isolated - yes it is, so you can even put yogurt in one section, and not worry that it's going to turn the tuna sandwich into some weird yogurt mush. The container itself is leakproof, and it does snap shut, and I don't worry about leaks. (I also can throw it into the dishwasher!)
Easy Lunch Boxes
Now, Easy Lunch Boxes has their own version.
This was the one I thought I'd like the most originally, only I ran into a couple of problems.
1. Their lids are NOT snap tight. They shut, but they are easy to take off (which is a pro and a con, but mostly in the case of spillage, a con.) My friend solved the problem by using a rubberband to help lock it into place, which seems okay, only I worry about the rubberband snapping off and getting someone in the eye. It isn't my favorite. But if you're packing mostly dry things (no soup or yogurt or syrupy fruits) then it's nice and sturdy.
2. Their compartments are not totally individually sealed. Because the lid isn't "snap tight" it means that stuff from one container can seep into another one. I've seen the solution to this which is the "press and seal" saran wrap type products, but that annoys me as once again, it's an extra step, and an extra piece of trash that can go sailing onto your child's playground.
The containers are incredibly sturdy however, and last a long time, so it is my second choice, but not a first. Again these are dishwasher safe and are BPA free. You get four in a set and you could easily test it out and split a set with a friend (which is what I did.)
Easy Lunch Boxes does have a fabulous website for you to check out their gallery of really fun lunch ideas that others have come up with. Get some lunch ideas here.
With these bento type box lunches, how to carry the lunchbox to school becomes another issue that must be dealt with. You generally want the boxes to be carried upright so that things don't get too squashed or moved around.
Easy Lunch Boxes. I love that the Ziploc container fits in it, and I can even add a water bottle and additional fruit for snack (in the case of a longer day) and it all fits in. It's insulated, so if you want to throw in an ice pack, do that too. Some may think that this is a rather large lunch box, but Neither Daughter has complained about the larger size, and in fact, both like it. I think they like the bigger size because trying to cram containers into a lunchbox that is too small isn't fun, and this is pretty much the lunchbox that can hold anything.
Thermos for hot food
As a final note, Daughters like warm food when the weather gets cold. Our school doesn't have an indoor cafeteria, so as fall and sometimes winter approaches, they'll be eating their meals outside, and I like to pack them something warm to eat, like soup or a warm pasta. (Sometimes hot rice and poached chicken on top.) Sometimes I'll even pack the ziploc box with the thermos full of soup for extra sustenance, or sometimes it's just the thermos with their water bottle. This also still fits into their lunch bag, with no problem and no headache for me.
Just a final trick to keeping that soup or pasta extra hot - you should warm up your thermos BEFORE putting the hot food in it. Put boiling water into the thermos and allow it to sit there, covered, for 5 or 6 minutes, and then dump the water out and add your piping hot food. Heating up the thermos and its surrounding insulating layers means that the food inside will be hot when your child opens it up.
I hope this post at least helps one or two of you plan a better lunch for your child this school year. You need to find the system that best works for you, so give yourself time. Best of luck everyone, and happy happy packing!