If you've ever tried to locate an all-inclusive, eco-friendly, reusable lunch kit for your child, you're probably frustrated, because they don't exist. I know it's frustrating to me. Frankly, how hard is it to create a lunch kit that comes with everything your child needs to pack a safe, healthy and waste-free lunch? Apparently, this is 100% impossible for companies to manage, because what's on the market is a mash-up of lunch kits, and absolutely zero of them are all-inclusive AND eco-friendly, at least not since Citizenpip closed up shop. You may find a perfect bento carrier but it's likely missing a beverage bottle or lacking utensils. You might score a couple of stainless steel food containers but then surprise - no carrying case. As for beverage bottles, they're the worst. Even the very best reusable lunch kits I've seen almost always come with lame, flimsy, plastic water bottles, so small that a wee elf would complain. So, the first rule when hunting for lunch gear is to expect that you will not find an all-in-one amazing lunch kit. You're going to have to mix and match lunch gear to get what you want. Still, it's possible to create the lunch kit your child needs, just stick to the following rules.
Supplies you’ll need for an all-inclusive lunch kit
Because there are zero all-inclusive (and non-toxic) reusable lunch kits on the market, you’ll need to create your own. Below is the gear you’ll need to pack your child the perfect waste-free lunch each and every day.
- Lunch containers or an all-in-one bento box. For young kids with smaller appities one decent-sized bento box is fine. For older kids, you’ll need a bento box and/or a couple of decent stainless steel or BPA-free plastic containers too. I suggest buying a few extra containers unless you want to wash them every night.
- A decent non-toxic carry case or lunch bag that fits all your child’s lunch gear plus a couple of ice packs.
- A NON-plastic water bottle. Stainless steel is best. Buy one that’s bigger than you think your child needs because kids need to stay hydrated.
- A small thermos container for taking hot foods or soup to school.
- Cloth napkins – buy a bunch, so you don’t have to do laundry each night.
- Reusable utensils such as spoons, forks and possible a butter knife if it’s allowed at your school.
- At least four ice packs. In my experience, ice packs easily go missing, so get four because you’ll need to put at least two-three in your child’s lunch each day to keep it safe.
Non-Toxic & Safe
Look for products that are 100% lead-free, BPA-free, PVC-free and phthalate-free. This goes for water bottles, containers and reusable sandwich wraps. Your best best is to go with stainless steel products or glass. Think kids can’t handle glass? They can. Nowadays, glass lunch gear is made super sturdy. As shown above, I send my son to school with a glass container almost daily, packed with extra fruits and veggies for snacks, and he’s never broken it. Just make sure to place glass containers in a good carrier. If you can’t find suitable stainless steel or glass containers, you may have to go with some BPA-free plastic lunch gear or silicone. As for napkins, look for organic cotton or hemp, both better choices than regular cotton.
Easy to Clean & Extremely Durable
My son uses his lunch gear daily, so it’s got to be easy to clean. Too many small parts or crevices will drive you insane. Make sure any and all lunch gear you buy can be easily popped into the dishwasher. As for lunch bags or carrying cases, look for sturdy fabrics that wash well or wipe down well. Quality is very much a consideration. Read reviews online to make sure you’re getting lunch gear that’s long-lasting. You don’t want zippers or stitching busting after four months, because it beats the whole eco-friendly purpose if you have to buy a new lunch box after a few months. You want a lunch box that will last a year at least – longer preferably. My son has had his PlanetBox for over a year, and while it’s not perfect, it is very well-made and has taken on as much grief as your average 11 year old can dish out.
Easy for Your Kid
Make sure you get lunch gear that’s easy for your child to open – some have crazy hard clasps and zippers. Also make sure it suits your child. If your kid is the type to accidentally dump a bento box over, well, buy different containers. My son is a grazer, so I tend to look for clear snack containers, that way he can see the food inside and pick and choose without opening his entire lunch. Also make sure the lunch gear is big enough for your child. A lot of lunch gear is tiny, which won’t do for an active hungry kid.
This is where reading online product reviews really comes in handy. Just because it says, “Leak-free” means nothing. Mad parents on Amazon will for sure tell you though if a product sucks. You need leak-free gear, because icky sticky messes suck for kids and are worse for you, plus draw ants and other creatures. Kids are super wiggly, so make sure containers stay leak-free even if bounced around in a bag. Usually before we use a “leak-free” container, we test run it. This means I fill it with water, stick the container in my son’s backpack, then have him go run around for a while. If his bag stays dry, we’re good. If not, at least I know better than to put soup in it.
Easy to Carry
Lunch boxes with handles are best for kids. For example, many bento-style containers come without a bag, which is terrible for kids and gives you zero places to stick an ice pack. Another option is to look for a lunch bag that’s built like a backpack. Make sure the carrier and containers you get are lightweight enough for your child to manage.
Easy to Recycle
No matter how quality your lunch gear, most of it meets it match at some point, so you need to make sure that everything you buy is recyclable. Most lunch gear is a snap to recycle – you can look for a recycling center at Earth 911. If your child’s napkins start to bite the dust, turn them into cleaning towels.
Lead Image by Flickr User Rubbermaid Products