August 15th, 2012

2012 Back-to-School Lunch Gear Guide

Salmon cream cheese roll up lunchbox

Another school year has begun for some and is just around the corner for others. That means bustling mornings, quick and hearty breakfasts, book bags and—everyone’s favorite!—school lunch.

Whether you make a lunch every day or just need a few things to cover field trips, I’ve got the gear you need to pack a fabulous, fun, and nutritious lunch. And, by the way, this stuff isn’t just for kids. You eat lunch, too, and aside from the cute hippo lunch box, there’s a lot of stuff in here that you can use, as well. I mean, unless hippos are your thing.

Don’t forget to LIKE One Hungry Mama on Facebook so that you can follow along as I document all of the Hungry Boy’s school lunches (starting on Sept 10th!). And also check out last year’s Back-to-School Lunch Gear Guide. There are many things on that list that I still love.

In the meantime, here they are: my favorite non-toxic lunch boxes, baggies, and accessories for the 2012/13 school season.

Happy lunching!


Note: I am not currently working with any of the companies listed in this guide. I have not been paid by anyone to write this, nor have I received any products related to this guide for free. I either have personal experience or am excited to try the products on this list. Each one fits my guidelines, developed by lots of experience packing lunches. If you have experience with any of these products—good or bad—chime in. We all want to hear what you think!


I love the “old fashioned” look of this clever lunch tote. Though it appears to be a classic brown paper bag, it’s actually an insulated, washable, and reusable tote. It’s also tear-proof and leak resistant with a magnetic closure. The best part is that you can doodle on this just like you can a real paper bag. So cute!



Lunch Sense small lunch box
I’ve just discovered Lunch Sense, a lunch box system with an ice pack, removable containers and a bag that folds flat. Why’s that so great? Wiping out a lunchbox—and getting the crusty stuff out of its nooks and crannies—is hard work! This makes it easier and gives your little one a mat to eat on, too!



An oldie by goodie! I love Zoo Lunchie Lunch Boxes and that we can count on Skip Hop to give us cute new animals every year. I’m digging the new hippo, but gotta admit that the dino is awesome, too. We have a Zoo Lunchie and though I sometimes find it hard to fit everything, it’s a go-to bag.



Dabbawalla Lunch Bag
Of all of our lunch boxes, the Hungry Boy’s Dabbawalla lunch bag gets the most action. Made of an eco sponge neoprene, the bag has give so that I can pack whatever I want without problem. No squeezing, tucking, or hoping that the sippy or kiddo’s extra container with ketchup will fit. It will. And you can throw this bag in the washing machine, too.



Dabawalla Lunch Purse
Speaking of Dabbawalla, they’ve got an adorable new lunch purse that’s making me wish I had a girl (or at least a boy who would carry his lunch in a purse!). Made from the same machine-washable eco sponge neoprene as the other Dabbawalla bags, the purse is sure to be easy to pack. It comes in purple with flowers (pictured) and also red with butterflies.



Lands End MadBox lunch box
A lunch box for kids, by kids, the MadBox lunch box was designed by expert eaters who chow on school lunch everyday. The 5-kid design team created a lunch box that has lots of space, easy zippers, a front pocket for snacks and money, and an adjustable ice pack that ensures that food stays cool for up to five hours. Because that’s what matters most.



The Nibbler Lunch Box by MadPax
The Nibbler from MadPax is an edgy way for older kids to brown bag it. Style over function? Perhaps a little bit, but these lunch boxes are insulated and, with a stand alone shoulder strap, they double as a tote.



PackIt lunch box
The PackIt freezable lunch cooler has an eco-gel permanently built into the liner that eliminates the need for ice or gel packs! Just store the bag in the freezer until it’s time to pack kiddo’s lunch, then this toxic-free bag will keep food cool for up to 10 hours. Genius!



Goodbyn lunch box insulated tote
I featured Goodbyn boxes last year when they were all the rage. Turns out, these BPA- and phthalate-free containers were more than a passing fad. Not only have they held up (thanks to five easy-to-pack containers and a water bottle that fits right in), but now you can buy an adorable insulated tote to keep kiddo’s lunch fresh. I love an upgrade!




Lock&Lock Lunch Box Container
The one, the only, the Lock&Lock lunch box container. This is the one you see all the time on the One Hungry Mama Facebook page (where I document the Hungry Boy’s school lunch). The fact that I’ve been using this almost exclusively for the two years that kiddo has been in school says it all. The perfect size, four removable cups, a strong seal—this is the one.



Frego Lunch Container
Frego is the ultimate go-anywhere food container. The shatter-proof glass container is nestled in a silicone sleeve with a SoftSnap lid (that keeps little fingers safe!). The glass can go from the fridge to oven, freezer to microwave. Put on the silicone sleeve and it’s safe to pack for lunch, too.



Container Store Klip It lunch cubes
These colorful Klip-It Lunch Cubes are ingeniously designed to keep a sandwich, snack, and fruit all neat and separate. It’s also BPA-free, features a strong seal, and is safe for the refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, and microwave.



Container Store Fresh Lunch Box
This Fresh Lunch Box is like a supercharged version of the Klip It lunch cube (above). This container has room for a sandwich and extras, along with three handy snack containers. It comes with a fork that clips under the lid and there is a beverage container that can be frozen to help keep lunch chilled as it thaws.



Sipp Vacuum Insulated Food jar
The Sipp Vacuum Insulated Food Jar by Thermos is a lightweight, BPA-free food jar made of unbreakable stainless steel. It has a double wall vacuum insulation that keeps food hot for 5 hours and cold for 9. It also has—and this is key!—a leak-proof lid. I love me a good thermos!



Salad Blaster Bowls
Salad may rise in the lunch box ranks with this Salad Blaster Bowl. The container comes with a lid that has a 2-ounce compartment for dressing. Press down to “blast” your salad with the dressing, shake, and eat. What kid isn’t going to love that?! Skip those pesky “leaves” and pack something like this Lunch Box Caprese instead and you’re good to go.



small resealable leakproof jars
I’ve had a heck of a time finding a small-enough, leakproof container for days when I want to send the Hungry Boy to school with a side of dressing or ketchup. I’ve finally found what I’m looking for in these resealable, BPA-free Nalgene Jars. They are perfectly sized, dishwasher safe, and made with a leakproof laboratory-quality seal—sold!



Bento Box Mini Cups
Cute overload! These Bento Box mini cups can be used to keep crunchy granola or berries for yogurt from getting soggy. They may not be as reliably leak-proof as the Nalgene Jars (above), but they’re way more fashionable. And that counts for something!



Container Store Snack Time container
I’m smitten by this snack-and-drink-in-one container that’s perfect for little ones in daycare or preschool. It’s also a great way to pack a separate after-school snack for when kiddo isn’t coming straight home. A non-toxic freezer gel built into the leak-resistant top keeps drinks cool.




Yep, Lunchskins again. Love these! My original bags from two years ago are holding up great. They are still clean (Lunchskins are dishwasher safe) and strong (they seem to use the Superman of all velcros). Even so, I might need to buy just a couple of new ones. I mean, who couldn’t use a zebra print snack bag?!



Dia de los Muertos snack bag
I haven’t tried these laminated canvas snack bags from Ore, but the pattern caught my eye. I’m digging the Dia De Los Muertos theme and also that this comes in a set of three (one of the bags is transparent). These are BPA-, phthalate, and PVC-Free. And, if you love the pattern as much as I do, you can get the matching lunch sack or backpack.



Produce Sack
Low key and practical, this produce sack from Snack Taxi goes back to basics. Made of silicone (impregnated nylon), it’s stretchy, durable, and lightweight, perfect for a whole piece of fruit, loose granola, or keeping a bunch of packaged snacks from floating around—and getting crushed—in kiddo’s lunch box.




Tripoli Foogo Thermos Cup
The Tripoli Foogo Insulated Leak-Proof Straw Cup is made of unbreakable stainless steel and is BPA-, PVC-, and phthalate-free. It holds 10 ounces of drink which will stay cold for about 10 hours. The straw is made of soft silicone and pops up with the press of an easy-push button which is good for little ones. The whole cup is dishwasher safe which is good for us.



Eco Vessel Straw Bottle
The Eco Vessel Straw Bottle is made from a thicker stainless steel and more durable paint than most other steel bottles so that it can hold up to abuse most sippy cups endure. I love that this cup is made from 100% recyclable materials and that it comes with 2 replacement straws. (I don’t love that it’s not dishwasher safe.)



LifeFactory Glass Water Bottles
The Hungry Boy has started requesting a glass cup, “just like Mama.” Fine at home, but in his lunch box? Enter the 9oz Lifefactory glass water bottle. It’s smaller than a lot of glass bottles and comes with a protective silicone sleeve that helps prevent breakage. The bottle and sleeve can be put in the dishwasher together.




Bamboo spork
I’ve tried a number of on-the-go cutlery and end up feeling like my regular cutlery is just as “on-the-go,” but this bamboo spork from Snack Taxi has piqued my curiosity. It’s more compact than the sugar spoon and baby fork that typically end up in kiddo’s lunch box and it’s novel, which scores points with the Hungry Boy.



Mini Lunch Notes
I admit it: I write a lunch box note nearly every single day for the Hungry Boy. I also admit: it gets tedious. These adorable mini lunch notes (and stickers) to the rescue! I’ve seen a bunch of lunch box notes and love that these leave room for personalization. I won’t complain that they remind kiddo to eat his veggies, too!



Heart and Star Egg Molds
Remember this tutorial on making a heart-shaped egg? Well, for just a few bucks you can make them even easier—and star ones, too. All you need are these handy egg molds. These are two words don’t normally sound good together but, in this case, I’m all for it!



People Towels reusable napkins
The average person uses 2,400-3,000 paper towels at work alone in a given year. Whoa! Packing a reusable napkin in kiddo’s lunch is a small thing that can make a big difference. I included People Towels in last year’s Back-to-School Gear Guide, but am doing it again because I love them so much and there are new designs to choose from.



Ultra Dry Fast Towel
In addition to our People Towels (above), I’m keen on the idea of using the extra small Ultra Fast Dry Towels as lunch box napkins. Why? Well, see, the Hungry Boy is a bit of a pig pen when it comes to eating. He could use something a little bigger and, uh, more absorbent. These just might be our ticket.



Kotobuki Vegetable cutters
I’ve never really understood sandwich cutters. I’ve posted about them and purchased a bunch, but they don’t work for me (or for my containers!). Vegetable cutters, on the other hand, are a whole other story! My kiddo is more likely to eat his sammy over his veggies, so why not make his veggies more interesting.



Japanese silicone coated cooking paper
I see some serious preciousness in the Hungry Boy’s lunch future! There is no way to resist this silicone coated cooking paper. Must wrap everything! (A quick note: If you hop on over to check out the silicone paper, you may notice pretty printed aluminum foil. It’s just as cute, but coated with a PET film, which I encourage you to look into before making a purchase.)



Silicone Bento Separators
In last year’s Back-to-School Gear Guide I told you about how I like to use silicone muffin cups to keep things like hard boiled eggs or fruit separate. You can also use these silicone bento box dividers. They are more flexible and just as safe. They are also reusable and can go in the dishwasher.



Transportation Bento Picks
I’m often asked about the little picks that I sometimes throw into the Hungry Boy’s lunch box. I included the exact ones that I have in last year’s Back-to-School Gear Guide, but found these vehicle picks for this year. He’s going to love them and your vehicle-obsessed kiddo will, too!

So, what have I missed? What are your favorite lunch gear picks this year? Tell us!

47 Responses

  1. Marisa says:

    LOVE this list! Thanks for all the great info and the inspiration. Mama’s gonna do a little online shopping tonight! I also just discovered Contigo Kids auto seal water bottles. They really don’t spill and are easy to clean (no little straws or tons of parts). Here is the link, but you can also get on amazon.

  2. Amy Hadden says:

    Hi, If you and your readers want to add a lunch note I post free printable lunch notes every school day on my site Jokes, fun facts, etc. – please take a look.

  3. @Marisa – those Contigo Kids cups look awesome! What an exciting find.
    And thanks @Amy for the link.

  4. Great list! Makes the hurdle of back-to-school lunches seem a bit brighter!

  5. Tiffany says:

    Thank you so much for this. I will mention this post in my monthly food column! I have Lunchbots for my son and they are holding up very well. They are a little pricey but they are so strong. My son got busted in kindergarten because he and a friend thought it would be cool to throw their lunch boxes down the stairs instead of carrying them! So that is the kind of abuse his lunch box and containers take!

  6. Maggy says:

    Love all this fun stuff – probably gets kids excited about packed lunches too. My mom packed our lunches every day and I we just got a paper sack (lame!), haha.

  7. I just organized all of my bento gear and am ready for the new school year! Great guide! I actually saw some stuff I don’t have! hehehe Time to go shopping :) XO

  8. stacey says:

    if it won’t go through the dishwasher or washing machine, it’s a deal-breaker over here… which knocks out all but the Dubbawallas in the lunch bag category I think? — but Neoprene is a MAGNET for blacktop shmutz. (we have the Ore lunch sacks, which I toss in the washer once a week and hang dry with the top flap tucked back.) also, i’m allll about stainless steel storage whenever possible, and colorful bandanas as napkins.

  9. One Hungry Mama says:

    I throw our Dabbawalls in the washing machine all the time! They totally hold up. Stainless steel is great, too, of course!

  10. JeeJee says:

    Thank you for including us in your list (^_^)

  11. Sarah says:

    THANK YOU! This was super helpful…

  12. Barbara says:

    Hi! This is a great list! My son is starting school this year so I am just trying to get everything ready! I was wondering if anyone has heard anything or has the Planetbox lunch box. It seems pretty awesome and durable but want to know if it is worth the money? I love that there really wouldn’t be much waste of lost containers and plastic bags. Also no washing of a bunch of small containers. Thanks!

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