Admittedly, I’ve had a recent love affair with Instagram. It’s so easy to snap a shot of my subject, tweak a little filtering and editing, say a couple words and bam, you’ve got a post of your amazing creation sent out to the world. And apparently people like me on Instagram. #stillbogglesmymind However, a friend I’ve known for years sent me a message and basically requested this post. At first I was like, “Seriously? I have no time for that…” but then I got to thinking….I kind of owe it to my followers. I mean, how else can I expect them to be brilliant at making lunches like me if I don’t break it down for them? Ok, just kidding. I’m really glad she asked for this post and I hope you will be too.
Here’s what we are going to talk about in a multipart series.
- Gear – the things I use most to transport, contain, refrigerate and accessorize my lunches.
- Grocery List – my favorite pre-packaged and fresh healthy and natural lunchbox foods found at the grocery store or online.
- Prep – some foods you can make at home to pack an extra nutritional and yummy punch in your lunchboxes and some minimal prep tips for making your week of lunch packing easier.
- Tips – golden nuggets I have gleaned over the years that I’m finally throwing down into a list to help make lunch box prep easier.
Lunchbox or Container
As you can see from my Instagram Feed (@therealisticlunchbox) or my Facebook Page (The Realistic Lunchbox) I have some favorite Lunchboxes that I use repeatedly. I’d love to try others but if you don’t see me mention one here it’s because if I buy another lunchbox my husband will withhold my credit cards. Here are the ones I have with pros/cons so you can possibly extrapolate to other lunchboxes.
I own their mid-size, the Rover, and it is hands down my FAVORITE, also the most expensive (this fact being the top of my husband’s CON list!). I bought the first one as my first son entered Kindergarten and we are now in 2nd grade with the same one and going strong! Another great thing about the PlanetBox is that the lid closes to seal all the compartments completely. No leakage. This is important when packing… let’s say a sandwich and raspberries. No one wants soggy bread. Lastly, my favorite feature is the way they designed the compartments. They are so easy to fill to make a balanced lunch that LOOKS good. I would say my only con for this lunchbox is that you can’t send warm/hot foods (well you can but they won’t stay warm/hot!)
(Quad on top, Cinco on bottom)
The first lunchbox we owned for kids was the “Quad” and it’s quite durable – we are approaching 4 or 5 years with this one. I love the size for toddlers and preschoolers but it’s a bit small for an elementary school appetite. I’m a big fan of the fact that it’s stainless steel and not plastic, and like the PlanetBox it is dishwasher safe. We still use this one quite frequently for my 3 year old (as you will see in my feed). Most young kids like their food separated and not touching so the Quad accomplishes this well. However, I do have a few cons for this one. First, the lid is sometimes hard to open (maybe because we dropped the lunchbox a few times??) Also, the lid is not attached to the body (one more thing to misplace…). The compartments are NOT sealed, so sometimes moisture from one food goes to visit another food and the result is not appealing.
We picked one of these up at a garage sale (#winning) so we couldn’t pick the color but my 3 year old son doesn’t seem to mind the pink/purple! Same as the LunchBots Quad, I love the size of this lunchbox for toddlers and preschoolers and the many small compartments. Unlike the LunchBots Quad, this one seems to seal the compartments quite nicely. Also a pro for me is the attached lid BUT it’s not super easy for small kids to open and close well. Sometimes I get the lunchbox coming back in the lunch bag only partially closed which means….total mess if he didn’t finish his lunch or if I packed cottage cheese 😳. My biggest issue with this lunchbox is that it is plastic. Yeah, I don’t care if it’s BPA free or not, there are so many different types of plastic and most of it touching food is not great. Today it’s “BPA is bad for you” and tomorrow it will be another type of plastic that will slowly kill us. #notafanofplastic
(UKonserve divided rectangle is on the right, Thermos Funtainer on the left)
I actually have the divided rectangle and the “round nesting trio” pictured above. These containers are very affordable, fairly easy to open/close for little hands, made mostly of stainless steel, and dishwasher safe. My complaints for the divided rectangle is that it’s too small for an elementary lunch and the divider seems to shift sometimes (it’s meant to be removable and movable). The nested trio I use for snacks.
Plastic Divided Containers
I found these simple plastic divided containers on Amazon. 4 containers cost me about $16, so very affordable in my opinion. As you know, I’m not a big fan of plastic, but sometimes it comes in handy. I use these containers for certain outings or summer camps when I know that I would blow a gasket if my child lost a more expensive lunchbox and the odds of getting it back were close to zero. I also use them when we need something lightweight, like for hiking or carrying it around all day. The compartments don’t seal 100% and it’s a bit sketchy as to whether they get closed up tight after a meal. They are a great option if you are a family that likes to make multiple days of meals at once and store them in the fridge. (Also pictured is a silicone Squeasy Gear bottle which I will talk about under Accessories).
Well, not much to say here other than make sure you can fit the lunchbox and/or containers in it with room for an ice pack! PlanetBox lunchboxes are a hard fit for most of the lunchboxes you will find. I just buy their brand and have been pretty happy with them. And make sure the lunch bag fits into the child’s backpack!
Gotta have one. Try Target. They seem to have all shapes and sizes. I would recommend saving some money this way instead of buying the ones that are brand specific.
Yay, the fun part! While I don’t recommend going crazy with accessories (kids will spend more time taking them out of the food then actually eating the food) I do think a few here or there can really make a child smile or be more engaged with their food. Heck, I even managed to quiz my child on spelling words without using technology and while miles away from him. Stumped? Just wait. Here are some of my favorites….
Bento Food picks So many options here. Just check out Amazon for a variety of choices. My favorites are listed. Food picks are great to dress up a strawberry into a little strawberry creature or to simply make mini skewers of olives and cheese (or anything else you want to string together.) It can add a lot of variety and creativity to how foods are presented in a lunch box. Kids are much more likely to eat an olive on the end of a cute eyeball pick then one that’s not! (Here you can see a few of the bento eye food picks…)
CutezCute Bento Eyes Design Food Pick (Set of 10), Black/White https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HQXU194/ref=cm_sw_r_oth_tai_l56Nzb8089G5V
1 X Japanese Bento Cute Food Pick 100 pcs – Clear and Slim by JapanBargain https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0011NDYYO/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_6jfOzbRZ5NNA4
Torune 26 Piece Japanese Bento Accessory Food Pick Letter Set https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002BHHHUQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_7kfOzbPN9A90P
Silicone Muffin Cups (round/rectangle/square/star) These are great to add divided spaces to lunchboxes with larger compartments. While they won’t work for things with high liquid content, they are perfect for the toddler or child who doesn’t like their food groups touching. (In this lunchbox I used a green star shaped silicone muffin cup).
Ipow Thicken Silicone Cupcake Baking Muffin Cups Liners Molds Sets,24pack https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N4ONBGY/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_f-6NzbYPAVM1D
PlanetBox Silicone Pods These can be purchased through PlanetBoxes website and they are SO helpful to create more compartments if wanted. **NOTE – they also fit perfectly in the LunchBots lunchboxes! Here you can see a yellow and green pod along with two orange silicone muffin cups.
Small containers with silicone lids I use the ones from PlanetBox that come with the lunchboxes but there are other brands that make similar small containers for dips or salad dressing or yogurt. Make sure they fit in your lunchbox (this is why I like PlanetBox – they come custom made for that lunchbox and work seamlessly together). This is also a great way to reduce your waste and get away from all the individually packaged disposable containers. #reuse #reduce
Here you can see a large Planet Box Dipper (silicone lid not pictured)
Squeasy Snacker Silicone Squeeze Bottles These come in a 3oz or 6oz size and are AMAZING for young kids and toddlers. They do a pretty good job of preventing messes when drinking (my 3 year old figured out the only way he could make a mess was to use it like a squirt bottle but other than THAT method they are pretty much mess-free!) They are dishwasher safe or very easy to hand wash and it’s food grade silicone! I like to make my popular chocolate spinach smoothie and put that in there as an accessory to a lunch. (The kids have no idea how much spinach I can hide in there!) You can also use these to make a homemade version of prepackaged versions like GoGurt. This will cut your child’s sugar intake by at least half! Here is a green 6oz Squeasy Snacker…
Thermos Funtainer For soups or dishes you want to send warm for lunch. 10oz size. (Funtainer is pictured on the right, with leftover Chipotle.) You heat the food first and then add it to the thermos. It’s easy to open, perfect size for kids and keeps the food nice and warm!
Random Small Dinosaurs Huh? Uh, yes. You know those tiny dinosaurs that kids get in party favor bags or as prizes? It doesn’t have to just be dinosaurs, any small toy can be used to add some pop to a lunchbox. I don’t use these things everyday but once in a while I do and son feels like he found a treasure in his lunchbox. I’m starting to think my 7 year old is a little “over it” but the 3 year old just loves the days I put a small dinosaur or planet or lego guy in his lunch. Go search your kids’ toy boxes and let your imagination go wild! (And wash the toys first! 😜)
I hope this gives you some great ideas! Making homemade lunches in reusable containers for your kids gives you the chance to offer them a balanced, nutritious meal to power their bodies and brains, saves you money (even after forking over the big bucks for the perfect lunchbox!), and reduces waste in the environment. It even saves them precious time by not having to wait in line to get a school lunch. With the average American child getting 20 minutes or less for lunchtime, these minutes saved is a big deal! Not to mention you can have a visual on how much and what they are eating for lunch.
Stay tuned for the next posts in this series. We still have a lot to cover!