Today I was in a local toy store and saw a lunch box for children with a sticker price of …honestly, what’s that all about? Do people really pay for a lunch box? I don’t care if that lunch box lasts me all year; I’m still not going to pay for it!
Truth be told, if we all take a step back in our own homes, we will find a few different options we can use right there to pack lunches every day; we just need to get creative!
FYI-follow these tips for money saving and eco- friendly lunch packing tips:
1-Reuse baskets, tin cookie containers, gift bags or small coolers as lunch boxes.
2-Purchase small ice packs to keep lunches cool and from spoiling OR freeze water in a plastic water bottle, leaving ½” head room, and use to keep lunch cool. The extra bonus is the ice will be melting and will provide your child with fresh and cool water at lunch.
3-Instead of plastic baggies, purchase wax eco-friendly bags, or reusable nylon snack or sandwich bags.
4-Utilize a small, flat plastic container or Wrap-n-Mat for sandwiches or wraps.
5-Small glass jam jars work really great for everything from cut vegetables to yogurt to trail mix.
6-Send along a cloth napkin for use as napkin and/or placemat.
7-Stainless steel or BPA free plastic water bottles replace the need for juice boxes or sugared drinks.
8-Send a little love note from home in your child’s lunchbox. If he/she can’t read, a small picture or smiley face will do the trick.
About the Author
Nichi Hirsch Kuechle supports moms during pregnancy, birth, postpartum and beyond as a health coach, craniosacral therapist and birth & postpartum doula in Minneapolis. She publishes a bi-monthly e-newsletter called Natural Family, which offers tips, ideas and resources for naturally raising your children. She also teaches a variety of live and virtual workshops. You can get Nichi’s New Parent Tool Kit, for free, by going to: http://www.myhealthybeginning.com
It includes a hospital-birth checklist, home-birth checklist, a list of her favorite natural baby care items, creative ideas for helping siblings adjust, and much more. Get yours today, while it’s free!
The very first thing you may desire is often a container in which to pack the lunch. It doesn’t need to cost a good deal of dollars. For adults a smaller cooler makes a great lunch box. Fred uses a medium sized cooler. He is commonly gone for 24 to 48 hours, so he needs a good deal of food to preserve him going. For children and teenagers, you can often locate affordable lunch boxes and insulated lunch bags at yard sales and thrift shops.
Small children often prefer a plastic lunch box with cartoon characters on the side. I suggest you buy these as cheaply as possible. They only last for a year or two before the children drop them or the latch breaks. At to a piece, buying brand new boxes has never been a good investment for me. I have purchased them new when I desperately needed the thermoses that came with them. After the plastic lunch box broke, I purchased replacements from my local Goodwill. I continue to use the same thermos year after year.
If the art work on an older lunch box is shabby, you can easily replace it. Use rubber cement to glue down a new picture (cut to size) and then cover the picture with clear contact paper. I’ve done this, and it lasted almost 2 years, until the lunch box cracked and became unusable. Amy D. describes the process in detail in the first book of The Tightwad Gazette.
For older children insulated lunch bags work best. They don’t have the juvenile connotations of plastic boxes with matching thermoses, so older kids usually don’t object to carrying them. I like them because they don’t break when they get drop-kicked across the living room by a budding football player. Since they have soft sides, it is easier to fit more food and odd-shaped containers in them too. They usually have zipper closing and shoulder straps for carrying them. I buy the largest ones I can find because I find them easier to fill. Many modern insulated bags have several extra zipper pockets and sections on the outside to carry little extras like napkins, spoons and salt or pepper packets. My boys like these but they aren’t really necessary. Purchased brand-new, insulated lunch bags cost between and . If you wait until back-to-school-sales you may find them cheaper. Over the summer they can often be found at yard sales. Insulated lunch bags usually do not come with their own thermos, so you will have to use some you already have or buy them separately.
The Thermos Which brings us to the next item you need for lunch packing: a thermos. If you have a thermos left over from older lunch boxes then use it. Whenever you can use something you already have it saves you money. If you don’t already have a thermos, then try your local thrift stores and yard sales. They can often be found for 50? to . Objectionable artwork can sometimes be removed with fingernail polish remover. If that doesn’t work, then cover the picture you don’t like with another picture you do like. Trim a piece of clear contact paper to fit neatly over the new picture and press it firmly into place. Be careful when you wash the thermos. Don’t soak it in the dish water for hours and hours. This will help preserve the new artwork.
If you absolutely need to buy new thermoses then the greatest selection is in August, right before school starts. I prefer wide-mouthed thermoses, sometimes referred to as insulated food-jars. They come in a standard 10-ounce size, and look exactly like regular lunch box thermoses on the outside. Inside however, their mouths are large enough to put chunky foods inside, like casseroles and beanie-weanies. They are also much easier to clean because of their wide mouths.
I have also seen small cold-only thermoses. They usually hold about 4 to 6-ounces, or about 1/2-cup. The lids go into the freezer overnight, and then chilled food is placed inside the thermos in the morning. By lunch time, the food is still fresh and cold. This works well for homemade pudding, jello, chilled fruit, yogurt, and the like. I used to try to use these for hot things too, but it turned out they only work for cold things. Live and learn.
Plastic Bags & Resealable Containers In addition to the lunch box and thermos, there are a few extras you will need. These include small resealable containers and plastic flip-top baggies. If you have any small leftover yogurt tubs, the kind with resealable lids, they are excellent for lunch boxes. If you found a sale on 8-ounce containers of store-brand yogurt, it would be worth it to buy a dozen or so. Eat the yogurt. Wash and save the containers for lunch boxes. If this isn’t possible, then you can buy reusable Glad, or Zip-Lock containers in 8 and 4-ounce sizes. They last a long time, and are just the right size for jello, canned fruit, pudding, cobbler and salads. By the way, there is no rule that you must to fill a container all of the way full. You can fill a container half full of jello, yogurt, or pudding and send it to school just like that.
Sandwiches, popcorn, fresh fruit, veggies sticks, and boiled eggs go into flip-top baggies. I let my boys throw the bags away when they are done with them. Store-brand bags cost about 1/2? a piece, and save me having to wash any extra plastic bags. The plastic containers come home for a good sudsing everyday.
When it comes to expanding storage life of dry goods, you can’t beat a vacuum sealer IMHO. With 500 cc oxygen absorbers costing per 50 (Nitro Pak), investing in a vacuum sealer to help you extend shelf life makes sense, especially if you want to use canning jars in the process. The model we have cost under 0 when we bought it on sale 2-3 years ago, and now retails for approx. 0. Though I didn’t show it in the video, you can also re-seal plastic bags with your vacuum sealer. As mentioned in the video, please check out this video series on creating a home food storage system (very practical method!), using a vacuum sealer, as well as a solar oven. This is a link to the first video, and you will see the other (8) listed on the side. www.youtube.com Mrs. Dewitt also has a downloadable cookbook with recipes specifically pertaining to using a home food storage and a solar oven: www.theideadoor.com Another link related to this topic you might find helpful is Walton Feeds storage life of dry goods: waltonfeed.com Video Rating: 4 / 5
Practically all vacuum insulated containers ought to stay out of the dishwasher and microwave. For most effective results, preheat or pre-chill with scorching or chilly water for 5 minutes prior to putting sizzling or chilly foods in the container.
The Thermos brand FUNtainer Straw Bottle and Food Jar, sold at thesoftlanding.com, comes in fun kid-friendly designs such as the Spiderman products pictured below. The food jar holds 10 ounces and has a stainless steel exterior and interior with double wall insulation. At 4 inches in diameter and 5.38 inches high, it fits neatly in a lunch box. It also keeps food hot for five hours and cold for seven. The 12-ounce bottle contains a pop-up straw, holds 12 ounces of cold liquid and measures 7.25 inches in height. Price: . Shipping varies. Insulated Container with Spoon
With its retro/futuristic design, the Thermos Food Jar from Plastica.com (see photo below) features a large white spoon that conveniently locks into the jar’s handle. At 10 inches tall, the jar holds 3 ? cups of liquid, which it keeps hot for 12 hours or cold for 20 hours. Available in red or blue. Price: . Shipping varies. Insulated Stainless Lunch Jar
Designed as an insulated version of the Japanese bento box, where a variety of healthy foods are tucked in a compact container, the Mr. Bento Stainless Lunch Jar from Comforthouse.com features four microwavable inner bowls in an insulated outer container. Chopsticks, a chopsticks holder, and a carrying bag complete the package. The main bowl holds 15.2 ounces, side bowls hold 10.1 and 6.8 ounces, and the soup bowl holds 9.5 ounces. Price: .99. Shipping is .95.
Insulated food containers are a hungry student or worker’s best bet when it comes to keeping hot food toasty until lunch time. Perfect for soups, mac-and-cheese, pasta, and even hot dogs, these containers are designed to fit into a lunch bag or lunch box and resist leakage. For kids, thermoses should also possess an easy-open lid.
The other day, I was doing some grocery shopping with my eleven- year -old son. I reached for some pre-packaged strawberries and he stopped me. “Too much plastic. Get those,” he said, pointing to the bulk berries. Trying not to look too shocked, I headed for the bulk berries. After a little investigation I learned that this new vigilance came from his school, which now has an on-going packaging awareness program. It includes guest speakers, contests to see whose lunch box has the least left over garbage, and anti-plastic posters in the science lab.
Old habits may be hard to break but a new generation is growing up with a whole new understanding when it comes to choice in the market place—and environmental awareness is starting to play a significant role. Just look at bottled water sales, which are significantly down for the first time in five years. This is partly due to the economy, but also to an aggressive anti-plastic environmental campaign. Some health foods stores have even stopped selling bottled water. In response, Coke recently launched a new PET plastic bottle made with 30% recycled waste material.
When it comes to sustainable packaging, there are basically two strategies. One, use less material, and two, use recyclable or biodegradable material. From what we’re seeing out there, one shouldn’t assume that eco-friendly means a compromise in aesthetics and functionality. Pangea soaps and Straus Creamery, for example a have distinguished their brands from the pack by pioneering ecologically smart, really cool-looking alternative packaging.
But as I said before, old habits are hard to break. Recently a client was exploring an on-the-go snack idea. The company’s consumer research showed that people wanted less packaging. The marketing department’s answer was to shrink the paper tray that carried six plastic cups. When I showed the concept mockups around the office, the general response was, “Looks like a lot of plastic.” In this case, “less” is not enough. I encouraged the client to find an alternative to the plastic. The response was, “But, people also said they want to see the product, so we have to use plastic.” Actually, they don’t have to use plastic. How about PLA (biodegradable “plastic” usually made from corn or even better, molded paper with a PLA lid or window? That is a 100% biodegradable container. Would it add to the cost? Maybe, but factor in the added value of building a brand awareness strategy around the company’s environmental efforts. Or, forget the PR value. Factor in my eleven year old son. It won’t be long before he’s doing his own shopping.
David Bernard is the founder of Mythmaker Creative services. Mythmaker creates identities and package design for artisan, organic and natural food and beverage products. We have a deep understanding of values based positioning and cause related marketing strategies.