With micro starting to school, I have had occasion to restock/double down on our lunch gear. Micro is currently only doing half days at school (comes home for lunch), but we do send him in with a balanced snack each day and will be sending him for full-days within the next few months. I’ve mentioned our favorites in random posts here and there, but have had a few inquiries about the gear we use after I shared the photo above on Instagram, so sharing all in one place with annotations…
+I love the gumdrop monogrammed lunchboxes, and I ordered mine from Laken Ashley — they do a great job on monograms and offer tons of sophisticated, customized styles. (I was tempted by this one in the sweet blue gingham from BellaBean, but at the end of the day went red seersucker to coordinate with Hill’s predominantly red school gear.). These lunchboxes are fairly common place but for good reason. They have a wipeable liner, can be tossed in the wash (air-dry after), and hold up nicely over time. I like the little handle on the top, too, as I can hang it on the same hook as each child’s backpack in the evening. I also appreciate that they weigh close to nothing on their own and are the perfect size for fitting my favorite lunch “bento box” (more on them below). Finally, because they are fabric, they can sort of be squished to fit into smaller backpack sizes.
+I use these inexpensive “bento boxes” most days of the week. These are microwave and dishwasher safe, snap tight to create a seal, and nest nicely in the cupboard (unlike the bulkier boxes that can take over an entire cabinet! I find the sizes of the compartments absolutely perfect. I have played around with some of the other “bento boxes” and then just find myself trying to find things that fit the shapes of the wells instead of having something that accommodates most of my children’s meals to begin with. (However, if your littles have more of a snack board for lunch, I know a lot of people like these.) Anyway, for my bento box, the main well usually holds a sandwich, pasta, rice dish, etc., and the two smaller ones hold fruit, veg, or something crunchy (veggie straws, cheddar bunnies, etc.). I am finding now with two that having the differently colored lids will also be handy as I can quickly grab the correct one out of the fridge.
+Yumboxes — I love (!) these for my children’s snacks. I put fruit in one well and something crunchy (granola balls, veggie sticks, cheese and crackers, crackers with sunbutter, etc) in the other. They are such a cute, punchy little package! I sometimes slip a little surprise treat in the tiny well — yogurt covered raisins, a gummy bear, etc.
+Sunbutter — deserves its own entry on this list. My children could eat peanut butter and jelly every day of the week and twice on Tuesday, so thank God for sunbutter, which is made from sunflower seeds vs. nuts and therefore school-approved. Frankly, the taste is…distinctive, but my children don’t seem to notice when it’s slathered with Bonne Maman jam on top. I have also heard good things about Granola Butter, another nut-free but PB-like spread.
+I use these labels on all of their gear. These are not “dishwasher-safe” (!), so they will fade over time if you put them in the machine every day, but for things like the Yumbox, supplies, etc., they are fantastic and actually stay put. I also put these in the soles of my children’s Native shoes. They stay put!
+Yeti water bottles. I resisted these for a long time because of the price but they really are the GOAT. They do not leak and unlike the Camelbaks we used previously, the straw spout is less likely to be degraded/damaged by small teeth. (My children destroyed the rubbery spout on so many of our Camelbaks! You can buy replacements, but still.) They also insulate nicely so water is kept cold throughout the school day, and the handle makes them so easy to grab on the go as a parent. My only gripe is that they are HEAVY for little hands. But, this hasn’t seemed to cause any issues for them. The colors are cheerful, too!
+Stasher bags. Ubiquitous, too, but these are great for many reasons for school. I like that they are semi-clear so children can make out what’s inside, and the sandwich size one is actually perfect for corraling snacks together, i.e., it’s not uncommon for me to send in an apple and a cheese stick and a little box of raisins, and everything can live harmoniously together in one place in this case. They are a pain to clean, though. You can run them through the dishwasher but then you need to dry them for what feels like ages on a Boon drying rack. For this reason, I tend to use these primarily to hold multiple individually wrapped components of a snack (as mentioned before) and it’s more of a transport thing than anything else.
+Sistema sandwich containers. These are also GREAT for us. My children eat a lot of sandwiches — PBJ, cinnamon raisin with cream cheese, ham and cheese, etc. These are the perfect size for a full sandwich, and ideal for when I am going an easier route and just making the sandwich, tossing in an apple/banana, and adding a pre-packaged snack bag of pretzels, granola balls, etc (versus cut fruit/an open bag of veggie straws, which then I need to parse out into the wells of the bento box). I also find this to be a great size for leftover cauliflower pizza slices, cheese/salami/crackers, etc.
+Beaba mini tupperware. I bought these for baby food a million years ago and they are in absolute constant use in our home, both for us (like, perfect size for storing a few oz of leftover squeezed lime juice or some mise en place) and for our children. These are fantastic and the perfect size for snack-time, too: put some grapes in one and some cheese-filled-crackers in the other! I love that they snap together so you can create a little tower of snacks and tuck into a backpack and everything stays put.
+Cutlery/dishes from Mushie or RePlay. We were asked to send our children in with plate/cup/fork/spoon as I believe they set the table every day (Montessori style) for lunch. These are good, unfussy, sturdy, impossible-to-scratch styles and we have sets of both. I’m not crazy about the cutlery for either since they aren’t really good at spearing things. Frankly, the school has sent my children home with random pieces of tiny metal cutlery like this that they’ve I suppose borrowed at lunch time and they are much better. Montessori is very much about scaffolding independence and not babying anything down, so they use glassware and pour from ceramic pitchers and use real metal cutlery at school, and I don’t know why I’ve been so slow to follow form. My children can barely stab a noodle with the plastic ones we have, and I think Hill is now old enough not to stab himself by accident. Don’t tell but Mr. Magpie and I have often found ourselves using those filched metal spoons and forks while they’re at our home over a weekend or whatever — perfect size for spooning jam, mignonette, mustard, etc! Writing this post led me to order this set for our own home and to send in with the children.
+Reusable ice packs. Have used these far less frequently than anticipated, but my children have an early lunch time and are used to eating everything at room temp anyway. Still, good to have on hand for summer months in particular.
+Thermos insulated jar. I also use this much less than I anticipated, partly because of my daughter’s food preferences. This does keep food nicely warmed but the size is fairly big for a small child’s meal, just FYI. I find myself using the bento boxes mentioned above instead and just having mini have her lunch (pasta, rice, meatballs, etc) at room temp. I don’t know about you, but my children prefer things that way versus too hot/even warm?
A few other discoveries I’ve been eyeing…
THESE ZIP-TOP SNACK POUCHES — FUN SHAPES AND SMALLER DIMENSIONS THAN THE STASHERS I MENTIONED ABOVE, BUT I DO WONDER ABOUT EASE OF CLEANING/DRYING
UNICORN-SHAPED ICE PACKS! — MINI WOULD GET A KICK OUT OF THESE
LUNCHBOX NOTES — FOR OLDER CHILDREN! CAN’T WAIT TO SEND THESE IN WITH MINI WHEN SHE IS READING
BEABA INSULATED JARS — PREFER THESE COLORS TO THERMOS
When it comes to actual meal-planning, I am candidly not the best resource! My children are both fairly picky (oh, the irony (!) for two parents who eat everything!) and I have been going with what works/what I know they will eat for lunch/snack because I’d prefer they are full and satisfied while busy at school, and can then work to introduce them to more foods at dinnertime when they are under my supervision and can be coached and cajoled (ha). I do it this way because I enrolled mini in a very expensive and impressive meal service at her school in Manhattan and she ate none of it. So she was starving; we were burning money; and the food waste was atrocious. I had been so hopeful that I could outsource some of the burden of offering a diverse and interesting menu to her via this program but she simply would not eat it and it wasn’t our teachers’ responsibility to handhold through every meal time either. So, for me, school lunch has been one of those sites of relinquishing control as a parent, and perhaps some of my thoughts in this post on linking food to openness to joy can help me resituate the decision as “supporting her food preferences” versus “giving up” on exposing her to more diverse foods. As a corollary, one of my closest friends has a son who was extremely picky to the point of rarely eating anything and she went the full nine yards in trying to come up with solutions that might work, including speaking to multiple nutritionists, reading tons of books on the subject, and consulting with food therapists. At the end of the day, her insights were two-fold: 1) “make it as low stress as possible” and 2) encourage play/multi-sensory experiences, i.e., sometimes she just asks her son to touch and smell the food as a first step. All of that to say — I have made the decision that I go with what works for school lunch, aggressively folding in new interests as they arise in our home (i.e., Hill LOVES cottage cheese at the moment), and then try to be a bit more adventurous at meal-time at home, where we can model enjoying and testing new foods, too.
I’m sure many of you mamas have great resources for toddler lunch ideas that you might be willing to share?
Any other suggestions on gear, too?
P.S. I shared more of micro’s school gear here.
P.P.S. In case you need to hear it: you are enough.
P.P.P.S. Lessons in baking.