Let's talk about lunch boxes

BlogHer Original Post

I know plenty of you are going to stick your fingers in your ears and chant "LALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" at this one, but I can no longer deny the reality: School is starting up again in just a few weeks. (Yes, I know those of you who don't live in the south have more time; maybe as much as a month before heading back. But for us it's just around the corner.)

Every year I embark on a quest for the perfect Lunch Containment System (LCS). Every year I get a little bit closer to perfection. By the time the kids leave for college I'm pretty sure I'll have mastered it. Ahem.

Yes, I know a majority of children buy their lunch at school. I suspect that might make my life easier. But food is kind of a hot button with me (that's a whole 'nother post), and it turns out that I have one vegetarian and one picky eater, so buying isn't really an option for my kids. Packing -- and fretting -- it is.

The rules of engagement when it comes to the LCS are extensive, and I ignore them at my own peril. They may be expanded upon at any time, and at the moment they include the following:

1) The actual carrying vessel must meet with the owner's approval. That means my son's bag must "look cool" and my daughter's must be "not embarrassing."

2) The carrying vessel must fit inside the owner's backpack.

3) It must include a beverage container which does not leak. Go ahead -- ask me how many years I spent trying to cheap out and still meet this one. I'm not proud.

4) There must be available containers which will keep hot food hot in the winter.

5) There must be available containers which will keep cold food cold the rest of the year.

6) All food containers must be reusable. (This past year I finally broke my Baggie habit.)

7) There must be enough food containers so that when I forget to pull out the lunch boxes and empty them and wash everything the night before, I can still pack lunch in a hurry the next day.

8) There must be substitute carrying vessels which are not cool enough to be enticing but sufficiently cool so that if the main lunch box is left at school, it will suffice for a day until the other bag returns home.

(You know, I'm looking back over this list, and I'm thinking it might be time to tell my kids to pack their own damn lunches.)

At the moment, it works this way: Both kids have soft-sided lunch boxes from LL Bean and water bottles from Sigg. I use a variety of different-sized small plastic food containers to do makeshift Bentos some days (both Ziploc and Glad make good containers for this; Ikea sells a great set for just $5; and if your kids like "dipping sauce" of any kind, search on eBay for Tupperware smidgets), and for sandwiches and such I use Wrap-N-Mats. I have two stainless steel wide-mouth Thermos food jars suitable for sending soup or mac-n-cheese (no extras of those, because they're pricey), and this year I've added a couple of stainless steel food containers from Kids Konserve to round out my arsenal.

None of this, incidentally, will stop either child from complaining about their lunches. Just in case you were wondering. (The one saving grace: I also pack a lunch for my husband, utilizing the same methods and materials; he always thanks me.)

I have only a couple of weeks to get my game face on, and hope that this year's LCS meets with the approval of the school-aged masses.

Want some more lunch box ideas?

Tracy of Beyond My Picket Fence details her lunch box arsenal, down to the fresh bread she bakes (yum!).

Kirstin's Blog has some great suggestions on how to do an eco-makeover of your kids' lunch box.

Blisstree's Jennifer Chait is also on the green theme, with some specific suggestions for greening up the lunch box and what goes inside of it.

Sheri at CafeMom has done a complete round-up of lunch boxes and bags for back-to-school on their Food & Party Daily Buzz blog.

And finally, Monroe on a Budget reminds you which school supplies you might not need to buy -- including a lunch box, if your child will usually buy lunch. (Seems like a no-brainer, but you might succumb to something cute during school supply sales. Resist!)

Are you ready to think about lunch boxes? Is it too early? Am I overthinking this?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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