Back to school usually means back to packed lunches and snacks. Most parents can attest to the dread and fear this instills every fall. These days parents have to contend with a myriad of rules and regulations when it comes to snacks and lunches. No nuts. That’s a given. But there can also be other allergies (like in D’s Kindergarten class last year it was no nuts, seeds or mango). There is also a (fantastic) push or requirement now for litterless lunches. Litterless lunches however, mean containers. Many, many containers. Which ones are great? How do you know? Here is a primer to get you started!
What to look for:
- What is it made of? Best to avoid BPA and phalates as much as possible.
- Can your child open it? Seems obvious but there are many “children’s” containers that my six year old still can’t open himself.
- Will it hold up to the rough and tumble of the back and forth to school and in and out of the lunch bag?
- Is it cost effective and will you be unreasonably angry if your child loses it? Let’s face it, things are going to get lost at school and spending $25 dollars on a snack container probably isn’t practical.
My top picks
Thinkbaby and Steeltainer: These stainless steel containers have the edge on other similar styles for a few reasons. They have the fold down lids that are far easier for kids to open than the straight or screw on lids. They are also leak-proof, which helps if you are sending a runny snack like yogurt or dips and veggies. They are dishwasher safe and they last a really long time. I still have the ones I bought when Darcy was a baby so we are going on six years now. Note to Canadians: Thinkbaby replacement lids are available, but the shipping is so ridiculously expensive, if you lose or break one, you may as well just buy a new container. I learned that one the hard way!
Yumbox and Planetbox:
Both of these leak-proof boxes are easy to open and have enough space for lunch and snacks. The Yumbox is probably good for ages 2-5 while the Planetbox has options for all ages, even adults. The downside to the Planetbox is the price. They are very, very expensive. However, if you are only going to buy one container and use it for everything and never buy anything else, this may be the one for you. Both are easy enough to open and both have some fun factor. The Yumbox comes in an enormous number of colours and has fun replacement trays for the inside while the Planetbox has cool magnets that kids can use to decorate the exterior. I have heard from some parents that they find the Planetbox incredibly heavy when fully loaded up and that may make it more appropriate for older children.
Thermoses (drinks and other liquids)
We love Thermos Funtainers. I like their water/drink options as well as their hot lunch/liquid options. They all keep the hot stuff hot and the cold stuff cold. They are very durable and can go in the dishwasher as well. They have many branded options with your child’s favourite character and there is literally something for everyone. We have been using the same lunch Funtainer since Darcy was in preschool. I give him left over pasta and even baked tofu to change things up a bit. There are only so many sandwiches a kid can eat, right?
Re-useable Sandwich/Snack Bags
I love re-useable sandwich and snack bags. We have dozens of them and use them all the time. Lunchskins by 3greenmoms are our faithful go-to, but I have recently fallen in love with the Colibri re-useable snack bags as well. We love Lunchskins because they are Velcro and easy to open but also machine washable, so perfect for the messier items. The Colibri bags are zippered so there is no worry that your precious snacks or lunch will fall out or spill and they come in fabulous patterns and fabrics. They are also machine washable, but I tend to hand wash them so I don’t fade the amazing fabrics.
Where should you put all these things anyway? Lunch bags are a personal choice. Most of them don’t really keep anything cold (ice-packs are needed if that’s an issue) so it really comes down to function and aesthetics. I also find that they really take a beating. In and out of the backpack multiple times a day and getting shoved around takes it toll. I personally prefer a two compartment bag for my big kid so he knows where the snacks are and where his lunch is. The one I got from Pottery Barn was perfect for that. If you prefer a larger one compartment option, the sky’s the limit really. There are so many out there that you really can’t go wrong. SoYoung has beautiful ones with full liners in case of spills, Roots often sells a great option at Costco every summer that I hear people rave about and Skip Hop has very cute and very affordable options for the younger kids.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, try not to stress about it. The key to containers is that your kid is able to eat and eat quickly. They don’t have much time so ease of use should trump everything else when they are young. One day they will be eating cold chicken nuggets off the minivan floor and you will laugh at how stressed you were back in the day!
Do you have a favourite lunch or snack container? Share your top picks!