Tuesday, July 22, 2008

waste-free lunches part 1: lunchboxes, containers, utensils

[Note: I know a picture is worth a thousand words, and it might be more effective to show, not tell, but I'd rather readers make their own consumer decisions. Hence the verbal descriptions with no links to products or pictures containing brand labels, although there are a few cases where I don't mind making an exception. In general, I know that anyone reading this is savvy enough to find what works best for them.]

The last time Jacob packed day-camp lunches for Khymi, she was in a half-day camp. She was five, and we had gotten her a small, simple, one-compartment insulated bag. This time, we realized that that wasn't going to cut it for an older kid at a full-day camp where she'd be involved in lots of physical activity. We went for a bigger, more durable ripstop soft-sided lunch box, with separate insulated and non-insulated compartments and space for a cold pack. Other criteria: lead-free, no "licensed characters" (i.e. our kid is not advertising for Viacom unless they pay us...sorry, Dora).

One of the reasons the lunch box needed to be so big is that we knew we wouldn't be using plastic bags. We've amassed a pretty big pile of food savers, from cheaper "disposable" plastic containers to multi-packs in various sizes, to a lunch container with a built-in spoon and fork in the lid. Reusable containers are the way to go, but they are a less efficient use of space, so we had to consider that in buying a big enough lunch box.

Apart from the lunch box, we already had all of those containers, so we didn't need to go around gratuitously buying lots of new stuff. But I have to say that if we had been starting from scratch, I would have seriously considered a Laptop Lunch or some other neat little bento- or tiffin-like contraption. In retrospect, I also think we should have bought a lunch box with a detachable carrying strap.

Sometimes it did make a lot more sense to pack a dry snack like crackers or trail mix in a bag instead of a plastic food saver, so it could go in the smaller, non-insulated compartment. In these cases, we used one of our small cotton produce bags.

One nifty (if somewhat gimmicky) new container I found was this one, which has a lower compartment for fruit, vegetables or granola and an upper one for dip or yogurt, with a small cold pack that snaps in between. The problems were that it was a little bulky to fit in a lunch box, and although I found it easy to handle, the seven-year-old had trouble closing the lid of the top container tightly enough to prevent leaking. I think it might be a better sort of thing for an adult or an older child.

As for utensils, one of the containers comes with plastic utensils, but otherwise we'd just throw in some silverware from home. We also included a cloth napkin instead of paper.

Tomorrow: what all we put in those containers!


Allie said...

Oh, this is great! I can't wait to read more in this series!

Mama Monster said...

We used lap top lunches last year and really liked them EXCEPT- the water bottle leaked from the get go and there really needs to be more lidded containers (I don't care what they say- we need more lids!)