Head of the Class: Eco-Friendly Lunch Containers for a Smarter Planet

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Every winter tends to lead to the infamous lunch-packing rut. To break the cycle this year we made a resolution to reduce our lunchtime waste. We decided to shed our plastic baggies and set out to investigate eco-friendly lunch containers. As a family, we learned a lot along the way and feel great about the choices we made for both the planet and our bodies.

Here are some tips that might be helpful as you start to navigate your green minded lunch-packing options.

The Food

When deciding which food-storage products are right for your family, the first thing to consider is the types of food you will be putting into your new reusable containers. When making choices about what to include in your child’s lunch, it is helpful to have a formula in the back of your mind.

Below is a list of the daily food essentials that we use to guide our decisions, along with a few options for each category:

  1. Fresh fruit: apple, orange, strawberries, blueberries
  2. Fresh vegetable: carrots, cucumbers, edamame, celery
  3. Main meal: sandwich, soup, leftovers
  4. Salty and crunchy: nuts, seeds, whole grain pretzels or chips
  5. Sweet: dried fruit, yogurt, applesauce, Fig Newmans
  6. Drink: water, milk

The Reusable Containers

With a clear idea of the types of food that you will be putting in your new containers, it will be easier to make selections that suit your family’s needs.

Here are a few of our tried and true favorites:

  • LunchBots Stainless Steel Pico (small) – LunchBots’ Pico is a versatile container that has two small compartments that are perfect for holding two halves of a sandwich, fruits, vegetables, snacks, and desserts. I bought two for each of my children’s lunches and use them every day. I find it helpful to use one Pico to hold their fruit and vegetables and the other to hold their sweet and salty snacks. Although the lids are not leakproof, they stay closed tight and have never opened unexpectedly. The only drawback to these containers is that the paint starts to chip after repetitive use in the dishwasher—yet the convenience of their size and two sections keeps me coming back to them on a daily basis, paint chips and all.

  • To-Go Ware Stainless Steel Sidekick – These small, round stainless steel containers are great for snacks on the go. They are the perfect size for small helpings of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or pretzels. The lid seals tightly and I often put these in my bag so that I have snacks on hand when needed.

  • Lunchskins Snack Bag – Lunchskins Snack Bags are simply genius and have allowed us to completely replace our plastic bags. With Velcro closures that seal tightly and keep food fresh, there is no need for the plastic alternatives. The Lunchskins bags are made out of the same food-safe material used in bakeries and are easy to clean with soap and water. We use these for lunches and for on-the-go snacks in the car. They come in really fun colors and patterns and are a big hit with the other kids in class.

  • Klean Kanteen 12-oz. Stainless Steel Bottle – We have been happily using our Klean Kanteen water bottles for years now. We started off with the sippy-cup lids, transitioned into the sports tops, and now use the screw tops for lunches (the sports tops are not leakproof)—all with the same 12-oz. bottles. Klean Kanteens are dishwasher safe and nearly indestructible!

  • Thermos Lava Food Jar – The Lava Food Jar is a nice compact size and is great for keeping soups and pastas warm. They seal tightly and are a breeze to clean both by hand and in the dishwasher. We have been Thermos fans for many years now and have been happy with all of their products thus far.

What we found after investing in our reusable containers is that the routine of using them on a daily basis inspired a more consistent approach to packing healthy foods. Our daughters love the fun colors and prints, and we love the empty lunch boxes that come home from school!

More Lunch Packing Inspiration:

What are some of your tricks of the trade when it comes to packing lunches?

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Comments

  1. We too, are big fan of reusable food containers for snacks on the go and school lunches. The Thermos containers do a fantastic job of keeping food just the right temperature right until lunch time and are so easy to clean up. We bought some of the fabric “sandwich” bags which we also use for snacks instead of plastic baggies. They were pricey but I bought them to test the waters and to have a pattern to make our own (fabric purchased – just need time).

    We even send fabric napkins and our everyday silverware to school with our 3 and 6 year olds. They know to bring everything home so it’s never been a problem.

    Having a variety of ways to package up their lunches brings an element of fun too. They’re not having a sandwich in a plastic bag everyday – it’s like a food adventure for them.
    .-= Gina ´s last blog ..Are You Watching Serving Sizes? =-.

    • Gina – I love the idea of sewing your own sandwich bags. I also agree with you that having a variety of containers makes lunch packing (and eating) more fun for all of us!

  2. I’m a huge fan of this post’s subject matter. When I worked in a office, I always packed my lunch with reusables. My tip is don’t bother buying the “special” compact silverware sets, just look in your cutlery draw for a fork/spoon that doesn’t match your main set. That way if the silverware is accidentally lost it’s not a huge deal.

  3. We use reusable containers as well. We love Kleen Kanteens. While they seem expensive up front, they are more than worth the money because they are indestructible, as you said. We use them for lunches, day trips, water bottles for sports, etc. My kids also take cloth napkins and “real” flatware. There are a ton of fun and useful containers out there! Thanks for the great post! I hope more and more people will start to go the reusable route!
    .-= Cindy @ Country Living Mom´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday =-.

  4. We just began using Planetbox a few weeks ago. They were a HUGE hit with my older kids, 10 and 12. When looking for an alternative to the Laptop Lunches we had been using for two years, I noticed that most ecofriendly kids’ lunch containers were cutesy or patterned, or too colorful for my middle schooler to get excited about. The Planetbox is all stainless steel and has a very chow-hall look too it that they like a lot. I do wish the covers were in deeper shades, and maybe black. But overall we love it.
    .-= Visty´s last blog ..Family Portrait project 01.10 =-.

    • Visty – Thanks for mentioning Planetbox. I just looked up their website and it looks great! I am glad to know that after using them you like their product :)

  5. AWESOME! On my to-do-list today, “search for re-usable lunch containers for Amelia.” You just did all of my work for me and I love getting things other families have used and love. THANKS!!!
    .-= Erin Long´s last blog ..Emery’s Memory Verse =-.

  6. We use mostly reusable things for our lunches. What amazes me as a teacher though, is the number of parents who think a school lunch is a frozen dinner that takes 5-10 minutes to microwave! What happened to lunch boxes and sandwiches? We’ve actually had parents get mad when OUR microwave breaks and we don’t run out to buy a new one WITH OUR OWN MONEY!

    • Melanie – I can completely empathize with you… We had the same problem at a school that I worked at. As administration we finally decided to remove the microwaves from all of the classrooms. It was taking up too much class time to warm up the children’s lunches!

  7. Wonderful list! I’ll have to check these out and see if they have some grown up sizes for my man to take to work with him.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Spaghetti Pizza =-.

    • He might like Corningware Pop-ins. DH and I have been using them for our LOs for years. They’re durable ceramic (ours are 10 years old and counting), dishwasher/microwave/freezer/oven safe, and come with vented lids. You can get them almost anywhere–I’ve seen them at Target, on Amazon, even at the grocery store. The drawback is that they’re breakable, of course, and don’t have stainless steel’s recyclability.

  8. I love this topic as well, as it’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve been packing my son’s lunch bento-style (and blogging about it ad nauseum) since he started preschool and it makes what could be an onerous chore fun for me. I love including little drawings or shapes in his lunch to let him know I’m thinking about him and I also love that his lunches are 95% waste free.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Bento Inspiration =-.

  9. Always love this topic! We are waste-free as well but looking for more ideas. Love the Lunchskins & Stainless Steel Sidekick! I am going to try out the Goodbyn next year for the kiddos… I’ve heard good things about it and love it’s all one piece. Lunchbots + Thermos looks like a great way to FINALLY get my husband to bring his lunch to work! =) Love your site! Thanks.

  10. This is great! I’ve been thinking about getting reusable, non-plastic containers for our snacks, lunches, etc., and this post gives me a very helpful starting point for researching options. One recommendation: I chose Pura bottles instead of Kleen Kanteen when we got rid of our plastic water bottles last year because Pura uses stainless steel (not plastic) for the bottle stopper.

  11. These sound really good. I’ve been wanting to get away from using plastic lunch baggies. I just needed to find some alternative containers. I love the Lunchskins. I ‘m going to order those.
    .-= Rana´s last blog ..Life Lesson # 255 : Stranger Danger =-.

  12. I am taking notes!

    My oldest starts school next fall and I want to get off on the right foot.

    Great post!
    .-= Aimee´s last blog ..Weekend Links =-.

  13. Perfect timing!! We need to replace Dacey’s lunch stuff (LOTS of wear and tear in Pre-K), and I’ve been needing to investigate options. So helpful to hear recommendations. Thanks, Mariah!
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..Let’s Talk about N-F-P! (answering The Birth Control Question) =-.

  14. I definitely recommend Bento Boxes (www.laptoplunches.com) – my kids don’t take lunches yet (half-day kindergarten and pre-preschool) but I send them with my husband. The good thing about them is that the containers can be microwaved (sans lids). This wouldn’t be an issue for the kiddos in school, however, and I definitely like the idea of metal containers. will check those out!

  15. thaks to Katie for directing the Simple Organic crowd over to this post. I don’t have kids but this gave me great info just for us. I’ve been looking for things like this. Thanks both of you.

  16. We use the Lunchbots and they are fantastic! We use the 2 compartment one for snacks and fruit and a bigger size with one compartment for sandwiches or side salads. I can’t even begin to tally the amount of plastic sandwich bags we have saved by using these for lunches!

    We also use the small kleen kanteen bottles for the girls’ lunches. We have sport tops and they are just perfect!

    Thanks for the other suggestions! I think the Thermos Lava Food Jars would be a great addition to our eco-friendly lunch bags!

  17. We homeschool, so no sending lunch w/ the kids, but I got lots of ideas on trading up from plastic baggies for Chris’s lunches and for those field trip days or just carting around snacks in the diaper bag.

    thanks Mariah!
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..Head of the Class: Eco-Friendly Lunch Containers for a Smarter Planet =-.

  18. Thanks Mariah! Great ideas…

    I have a question about the LunchSkins. Some of the reviews mention a chemical taste/smell from the bags. Have you noticed that? I would love to use fewer plastic baggies!
    .-= Emily´s last blog .. =-.

  19. I use Laptop Bento Boxes for my kids lunches. I have three kids one of which is in public school. Just last week a friend of mine called and asked if my son was bringing all of his trash home? Her kids had been and told her that the school wasnt allowing them to put their from home school lunch trash into the trash at school (too much garbage was being collected). I had to reply that I didnt know because I pack ‘trash-free’ lunches for Gabe. It felt so great to say that. The lunch boxes were spendy but well, worth it, when considering the environment, everyones budget, even the schools.

    We also use reusies. No funny taste. Cute and easy to clean.

    Aimee
    .-= Aimee´s last blog ..Its a love, not love thing… =-.

  20. These are great resources. We make our own lunch/snack bags, and they are a great alternative to plastic

  21. I just finished an article on the same topic for What’s Up! Love those Lunchskins.

  22. I don’t have kids, but I pack my and my hubby’s lunches each day. (One day of the week he has pizza with his coworkers, so don’t have to pack it that day.)

    I haven’t bought any cute containers though. I have found that regular tupperware works just fine (and we both have accessible microwaves so reheating is not a problem). Is there any reason we need to spend extra money on them?

  23. Sounds great! My only question is, what about foods like hummus or a veggie dip? You mentioned applesauce and yogurt – are those in their own manufactured containers? Which of the containers listed in the post would hold hummus or applesauce without leaking? (The To-Go Ware Stainless Steel Sidekick, maybe?) Thanks!

  24. Our little one is starting school next fall and I have been wondering about safe options for her. Thanks for all the tips!
    .-= Julia Janzen´s last blog ..SimpleMom is Having a Giveaway! =-.

  25. Thanks for the links! I have never found an affordable source for stainless steel containers near where I live. Actually, I have only ever found them in one store before so this was very helpful.

  26. What an excellent resource! I just checked out the Planetbox website and it looks wonderful. I also can heartily recommend Corningware Pop-ins for the adult lunches. My husband and I have been taking leftovers for lunch in them for years. I’ve only had one break. I’m starting my pre-schooler out trash free but getting the teens to be trash free (at the high school level) is more challenging. They don’t want to carry around a lot of reusable containers all day and then when they do get them home they tend to sit in their rooms, not come straight to the kitchen.

  27. Thank you for the great review! I have been curious about the lunchbots, I just may have to try them out. I am always a little nervous putting nicer containers into the lunch bag with an 11 year old I am never sure what will come back.

  28. lunch bots are the best! love your other ideas too. I’m about ready to ditch the plastic baggies myself.
    .-= Nicole aka Gidget´s last blog ..Encyclopedia of Me =-.

  29. Oh, those lunchbots look fantastic! Will have to track those down…
    .-= molly´s last blog ..file under impossible =-.

  30. One tip I picked up from a book recently is to buy more branded products to eat than “shops own brands”. Seems strange but here is the reason… Most manufacturers who make “shops own brand” products are contractually prevented from making products for any other store. So in this way if the supermarket downsizes it’s order, the manufacturer will probably have to throw away a load of perfectly good food because they can’t sell it to anyone else. However “branded” products *can* be sold to other retailers if one major customer reduces it’s order. This means far less food waste and so is better for the environment. So when it comes to buying bread, for example, buy the nationally-recognised brand rather than the one from your local store.
    Richard @ How To Be Eco Friendly´s latest post: How To Attract Dragonflies And Damselflies Into Your Garden

  31. Hi Mariah, as it has been some time I really feel the Easy Lunchbox System should be added to this list. It has different compartments plus it’s microwave and dishwasher safe. Best of all, it’s perfectly safe for kids. No nasty chemicals. My kids love it. An attractive lunchbox is half the battle won :)
    Alison @ Femita´s latest post: 5 Back-To-School Lunchbox Ideas For Demanding Kids

  32. well done for doing the homework on behalf of all parents out there! These are some great choices you posted for them.

    If individual food is wrapped in tin foil then make sure your child brings it home to be recycled.. just my tip!

    Avoid microwaving food too. Its now a healthy option and apparently causes changes in the make up compounds in food. Just another tip!
    karen @ Pledging for Change´s latest post: The Warrior needs you

  33. I think using any brand of reusable containers and carriers is super important. Why create waste everyday when we don’t have to? My daughter loves bringing her lunch to school. Great article!
    Scarlet´s latest post: Great Deals on Great Meals Event and 25 Publix Gift Card Giveaway

  34. Mariah,

    Awesome post.

  35. Whoops bumped send a little too early. The Lunchskins velcro bags sound really cool. I’ll have to check them out!

    Thanks,

    Jon
    jon´s latest post: On Device or Cabled iPhone Solar Charger

  36. Love the Lunchskins!
    Thanks for a perfectly timely article!
    debbye´s latest post: How To Parent The “Right” Way and Baby Sleep Tips by Brenda Nixon

  37. The Lunch Bots are so simple yet so practicle that I had to order some for my young daughter! Thanks!

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