By Katy Killilea
Managing children’s lunchboxes is an interesting chore: What will they eat? Will it get smushed? And why do bananas get disgusting so quickly when traveling by backpack? Over the years, Kidoinfo has tested and reviewed many lunchboxes and reusable containers. Many are beautiful to behold and all cut down on waste and the cost of baggies.
Two new dazzlers have moved into our backpacks this fall. Both utilize the ever-popular Laptop Lunch or bento box format—packing lots of little containers into a tidy package. Lunchopolis is a soft, insulated shell with color coordinated BPA-free plastic containers—big enough for an adult’s lunch—and with a few studied unsnappings, Lunchsense‘s case morphs into a placemat. High-quality containers—including a tiny one for dip or a few jelly beans—and a perfectly-sized ice pack are nestled inside. Both of these sets have been spotted locally at Whole Foods stores. And if you’re satisfied with the state of your container collection, and need only a new holder, check out the graphic punch on these washable bags from Dabba Walla. They’re amply sized, comfy to hold, keep foods cool, and are machine washable.
When you’re forking over the initial dollars for lunch accessories, an additional purchase to consider is strong waterproof labels. Many companies offer customized labels that advertise an allergy and/or a love of mermaids, and they’re tough enough to withstand the dishwasher. You can find them in all kinds of kicky designs, even Pucci-inspired prints. Labeling your child’s containers—masking tape and a Sharpie can be just as handy here—will help them make all 180 return trips. Hang tags or dog tags are perfect for looping through the handle of a lunchbox, and will work better than a sticker if said lunchbox is not hard plastic or metal.
Meanwhile, eating lunch in a school cafeteria has its own challenges. The classmate who chews her tuna salad sandwich with her mouth open. A long wait in the milk line. And lunch envy: Did you know there’s someone who gets a mini bag of Doritos and an entire box of lemon-lime TicTacs in his lunch every day? Kidoinfo polled some experienced parents, and here’s a list of some of the things their children are happily eating—remember that these are packed in hard containers (not plastic bags) to prevent smushing, crushing, and other deal-breakers:
- Cream cheese and black olives sandwiched between Seven Stars Bakery’s pain de mie
- Triscuits with whipped cream cheese
- Mini Baybel cheeses (red wax-coated circles)
- Cold pizza, cut into bite-sized pieces, accompanied by a toothpick
- Almond butter and jam sandwiches
- Pita pocket with peanut butter and shredded carrot
- Graham crackers with peanut butter
- Peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches
- Nut butter sandwiched between rice cakes (the parent noted rice cakes are very sturdy)
- Salty cashews
- Deli turkey and cheese slices rolled together and sliced to make spirals
- Corn muffins baked with chunks of ham and sharp cheddar mixed into the batter
- A tortilla or lavash, spread with cream cheese (which acts as glue) and covered with a thin layer of roast beef, rolled tightly and sliced into spirals
- Mini bagel with hummus and shredded carrot
- Frozen petite peas or shelled, cooked edamame
- Carrot sticks or other dip-able veggies with a side container of Annie’s Green Goddess dressing
- Customized “Lunchables” with lots of little containers of ingredients that can be combined: crackers, cucumber slices, hummus, veggie pepperoni, cheese…
- Vegetarian chicken nuggets, baked on Sunday, stored in the fridge and doled out throughout the school week with a side of ketchup or honey mustard
- Sliced Tofu Pups with a side of ketchup for dipping
- A tortilla with hummus or any kind of mashed beans and any veggies, rolled up and sliced in half–on the diagonal, to make it look more professional
- Cucumber maki with a side of soy sauce and training chopsticks
Hot (toted in a pre-heated, squat thermos):
- Soup: favorites mentioned were miso, tomato, and chicken noodle. The importance of packing a soup spoon was noted–some schools only offer dinky sporks
- Baked beans (with or without hot dog or veggie dog slices)
- Black beans and rice
- Leftover sauced spaghetti
- Frozen cups or tubes of yogurt
- Frozen mango or pineapple hunks
- Frozen berries
- Frozen juice box (any frozen items can act as ice packs in the lunchbox and will have thawed enough by lunch time to eat)
- Blueberries, grapes, strawberries, clementines, and diced kiwi were all mentioned as good travelers
- Black bean brownies (Several parents mentioned these, and many versions were suggested. These are especially tasty if the eater is not also a witness to the creation)
- Trader Joe’s blueberry bars
- TLC oat and honey crunchy granola bars
- Mini marshmallows
- If you have a dedicated banana lover, you may wish to look into the Banana Guard (also available in quasi-spherical shapes, so you can sheath an apple, peach, or plum in perforated armor as well)
- Cheetos, Smartfood “or some other processed thing” (one parent mentioned that these are an occasional MUST for children who would otherwise fixate and obsess)
- Oyster crackers
- Goldfish crackers
- Puffins cereal
- Wasabi peas
We also love My Lunch Box, Hilary Shevlin Karmilowicz’s chunky box set of recipe cards. (2009, Chronicle Books, $16.95) More user-friendly than a cookbook, it’s an old fashioned recipe file with mains, sides, and treats, all with kids in mind and perfect for mixing and matching.
Share your child’s favorite packed lunches with Kidoinfo. We need all the ideas we can get!
Banana Guard, Chronicle Books, and several lunchbox and label companies provided samples for this article. No company nor Kidoinfo has received any monetary compensation for this and we have no undisclosed relationship with the companies who provided review samples.