June 13, 2024, 4:30

Back-to-school gear: Thinking outside the (lunch)box

Back-to-school gear: Thinking outside the (lunch)box

Looking to put a fresh spin on things as kids head back to class after last year’s patchwork of remote and in-person learning?

Back in the day, a typical lunch being unpacked in the cafeteria might have consisted of a sandwich, a piece of fruit, some cookies, maybe a few carrot sticks or a bag of chips. These days, the food in packed lunches is much more diverse, as are the containers.

Bento boxes, lidded bowls, insulated totes — it’s easy to find the right vessel for your food.

One focus now is on Earth-friendly products: Single-use plastics are being subbed out for reusable versions. It’s up to us, parents, to train the next generation to remember to bring everything home to wash and reuse!

You can find portioned boxes in all kinds of styles and all kinds of price points. Rubbermaid makes a no-frills version with a reliably tight lid. OXO has a leakproof Prep & Go divided container in their well-loved Good Grips collection.

The world of bento boxes continues to grow. Bentgo’s assortment included brightly hued, BPA-Free bentos in various sizes and configurations, as well as leak-proof, stain-resistant glass bento boxes.

Mepal offers minimalist, lightweight bento boxes in a flurry of cheerful colors. Bright, insulated OmieBoxes are geared for younger kids, with a small thermos tucked inside. You can choose if you want to keep foods hot, cold or a combination.

Some of these boxes have movable compartments or mix-and-match containers which can be filled with anything from pasta salad to dal to edamame.

But these days, many people are thinking outside the (lunch)box. Porter makes modern, sleek, reusable lunch bowls in plastic, ceramic and silicone-wrapped glass. Mepal also makes a variety of insulated lunch vessels, as does Cheeki — perfect for keeping soups and stews and what-have-you warm until lunch.

Onyx makes stainless-steel ice packs filled with water and safe to be packed next to food, so lunch can stay cold but not get soggy.

And staying hydrated has never been so stylish – your water bottle is practically an accessory at this point!

Klean Kanteen has a crazy variety of durable drink containers – did you know all the ways you can sip a drink? Pick from the chug cap, twist cap, cafe cap, sippy cap and more, and each style comes in up to 11 colors.

Porter’s smart-looking water bottle comes in silicone-wrapped glass with a host of pattern choices, such as the singular, speckly Limited edition Terrazzo Collection. Takeya also makes a wide range of options in a rainbow of colors.

As for lunch totes, choose anything from cute to urban chic. For older kids (or adults), consider the cool, waxed-canvas options, especially those made by family makers. Vermont-based Red House makes handmade and sturdy, lined, waxed-canvas totes in muted colors like Ash Grey and Forest Green. Or seek out Peg & Awl, based out of Philadelphia; their satisfying, waxed-canvas Marlow Lunchbags have a little pocket so the lunch packer can leave a note for the lunch eater.

Sets of stainless-steel cutlery in little carry boxes are available from companies such as OXO, Porter and Mepal. Reusable chopsticks in sleek little containers of their own can be found online, or at Asian housewares stores.

Metal and silicone straws abound for those who can’t give up the straw. ( Zoku makes reusable straws that telescope out for easy packing, including a jumbo pocket straw specifically for bubble tea.)

Ditch the plastic wrap for multi-use, washable, beeswax food-safe wrappers, such as the ones made by Prepara or Bee’s Wrap. They come in different sizes, patterns and styles. Bee’s Wrap also makes a vegan, plant-based food wrap.

The warmth of your hands allows the wrap to mold around your food and seal; when the food is eaten, just wash and reuse the wrap (which is also great for storing things in the fridge).

Skip plastic bags in favor of more durable, reusable bags. Stasher makes platinum silicone storage bags that are safe for the dishwasher, microwave, freezer and even the oven. They come in many shapes, sizes, patterns, and colors, easy to toss in a tote bag or lunch box.

Zip Top also makes “endlessly reusable” platinum silicone containers that stand upright in different shapes, like bags, cups and dishes.

Whatever’s for lunch, there is clearly a great way to transport it to school.


Katie Workman writes frequently about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.

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