August 14th, 2013
I’m thrilled to share with you the annual One Hungry Mama Back-to-School Lunch Gear Guide for the best non-toxic lunch boxes, containers, baggies, bottles, and accessories for the 2013/14 school year.
I can hardly believe that school has started for many of you and that it will be starting for my hungry boys—both of them!—in just 3 weeks. This will be my first year packing TWO school lunches day after day. So, more than ever, it’s important to have the right school lunch ingredients on hand, a lot of school lunch inspiration and, of course, the right school lunch gear.
Whether you make a lunch every day or just need a few things to cover field trips, I’ve got everything you need to pack fabulous, fun, and nutritious school lunches all year long.
Don’t forget to LIKE One Hungry Mama on Facebook so that you can get daily school lunch ideas. I’ll be posting every single school lunch of the year starting on Sept 9th! And also check out the 2012 Back-to-School Lunch Gear Guide; there are many things on that list that I still love.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Dabbawalla lunch bags. They are on my list year after year but, more over, my kids carry them year after year. These bags are made of an eco sponge neoprene that has give so that I can pack whatever I want—no squeezing, tucking, or hoping that the sippy doesn’t fall out. Plus, you can throw this bag in the washing machine.
As my hungry boy moves from being a little kid to being a big kid, I’ve started shopping for him differently. We’re trading in cute toddler stuff for full-sized gear with classic function from places like LL Bean. So good thing that they still get the value of fun design. While you can easily grab a plain classic LL Bean lunchbox, they also have some fab prints. Because even big kids like a little flare!
Did you know about Dwell Studio for Thermos? I know. Mind blown! The line of lovely looking lunch boxes and containers is both beautiful and functional thanks to this brand match made in heaven. While the food containers are great, I say you show off with a chic lunch box. The dino pattern is my favorite, but there are also butterflies, the classic Dwell cars pattern, and much more.
I spied these stylish Milkdot lunch boxes over at Cool Mom Picks and love that Liz reports on these with experience. Her girls have been carrying Milkdot lunch boxes for a while and if they like it, I can recommend it! Especially with this fun new stripey pattern. Want higher fashion? Milkdot also has a line of lunch boxes with illustrations from Marc Jacobs collaborator, Matthew Langille.
My kids may be getting big, but that doesn’t mean that yours are quite yet! The Thermos line of infant products is perfect for those of you packing lunch for wee little ones who head to day care or preschool. My favorite—and the most convenient baby lunch set I’ve ever seen—is the Foogo 3-piece Baby Bento Set. It comes with two 8-ounce food jars and an insulated bag into which they fit perfectly.
PlanetBox lunch box/container sets have been around for a while but, the truth is, I was never drawn to these. I finally decide to give them a test run this summer and while I find this system, on a whole, a bit oversized, it’s pretty great. The container compartments in the Rover are perfectly portioned and my kids love that these metal containers come with magnets. So, overall, we’re fans.
The one, the only, the Lock&Lock lunch box container. This is the container you see all the time on the One Hungry Mama Facebook page where I document every school lunch that I make. The fact that I’ve been using this almost exclusively for three years says it all. The perfect size, four removable cups, a strong seal—this is the one.
The only problem with my favorite Lock&Lock container is that it’s too often sold out. When you can’t get your hands on it, you want to pick up this 29-ounce square container by Kinetic Go Green. I have several as my trusty back ups and they never fail. In fact, shhh, you can barely tell the difference between them and my favorite Lock&Lock.
Sistema is this year’s breakout brand of lunch gear and, with an ingeniously designed, colorful, BPA-free family of products, it’s no surprise. These Klip-It Lunch Cube containers are designed to keep a sandwich, veggies, and fruit separate in a single two-level container. I also like their Slimline Quaddie Lunchbox for smaller kids and the Klip-It Breakfast To-Go for things like rice and beans.
If you like the idea of PlanetBox lunch boxes (above), but aren’t into the whole system, bag and all, check out ECOlunchbox containers. These stainless steel food containers are similar, but come la carte, if you will. I like the ECOlunchtray myself, but you can also get a bunch of varying sized rectangular and circular bento containers that stack and fit together.
Don’t always want to cool everything in kiddo’s lunchbox? These Fit & Fresh containers with removable ice packs are the ticket when you want to give your hungry kid warm leftovers with a side of still-chilled fruits and veggies. Honestly, it’s kind of genius to keep food cool on a container-by-container basis, which makes these a super smart purchase (especially when a 14-piece value set is only $14.99!).
While I’m a sucker for a cute little sauce container on the side, I’m always looking for a container that has a little compartment for dip built in. I’ve tried a bunch that have room for dip in the middle of the container, but find them awkward. I’m digging the designer of these Dip ‘N Dunk containers which tucks hummus, dressing or whatever you like into a compartment neatly tucked under the lid.
Before packing school lunch everyday I would have scoffed at this banana saver. But now? USE-FUL! Packing bananas is the bane of my existence. If I cut ‘em up, they get brown and slimy (according to the boys). If I don’t cut them up, they risk getting smashtastic, which is to say smashed and not at all fantastic (according to the boys). This handy little case is the answer.
The 2012 Back-to-School Lunch Gear Guide had an entire category dedicated to water bottles, but this year I’ve got just one. I find that all bottles are more or less, the same. This Thermos Funtainer, though, insulates like no other. Pack it full of ice, fill it with water, and kiddo will have icy cold water ALL DAY. No joke. Even in the hot weather! (They also come in a 16-ounce size.)
Yep, Lunchskins again. I love these as much as I do our Lock&Lock containers (above). My original bags from three years ago are holding up great, though I’ve decided it’s time to add a few fresh bags this season. I expect my new Lunchskins will last just as long. And, thanks to the fact that they are dishwasher safe, that’s true with hardly any work on my part!
I’ve been using cutesy bento food picks for a while now, but they’re getting to be a little small (ahem, useless) for my big hungry boy. These colorful, metal snack picks by Vacu Vin are our upgrade. A little stronger, these work much better for picking up big kid chunks of fruit and veggies.
If you’re looking for snack picks that are more grown up, but not quite as sharp and sturdy as the picks above, these mini kid fork and spoon sets may be just right! They are perfect for my nearly 4-year-old and I even pack them for his big brother, too, (for a fun change of pace). They work just fine and no more lost silverware!
Okay, this is a practical one. No bright colors. No adorable pattern. Just an ice pack. A perfectly sized lunch box ice pack that actually keeps things cold. I’m giving up on all those cute thin ice packs shaped like basketballs and butterflies. They just don’t cut it. These might be a little thick, but they fit in our lunch box just fine and get the job done.
Last, but certainly not least, here’s a find that makes writing daily lunch notes a whole lot more fun. This lunch note pad reminds me of the Sanrio stationary that I used to collect when I was a little girl (remember Kerokerokeroppi?!) which puts a smile on my fave every morning. Seeing these cute characters in their lunch certainly makes my boys smile, too.
What have I missed? What are your favorite lunch gear picks this year?
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. I want to hear what you think!