Monday, August 9, 2010

School lunch review: Keeping it together

Maybe it's a virtue of the economy, but lunch bags and supplies are everywhere this year. Full aisles are devoted to lunch boxes, bags, cooling packs, sigg bottles, etc. It seems not that long ago, I lived in the plastic lunch box with thermos days, so it's a bit of a surprise for a shopping mom.

I realize that I have a little higher criteria than just buying cheap supplies. I want something that holds up well, is easy to clean and hopefully BPA free. And I don't want to invest in boxes and boxes of plastic baggies to store my daughters' particular desire to eat fresh fruits and veggies!

Recently, I had the opportunity to test a few lunch supplies. And when I say test, I mean, packing a picnic lunch, stuffing it in my bags for work, leaving the leftover peanut-butter and jelly smudges and leftovers in the car in 95 degree heat and forgetting to wash it all until the next day. After all, that's very likely my life very soon!

I was able to try out products from two companies: Eco Lunch Gear, a Michigan company specializing in cloth wraps and snack bags, and Kids Konserve, a California company whose products include complete BPA-free lunch kits, thermoses, and stainless steel containers.

I love the fact that both companies were driven by mothers' desires to reduce the amount of waste created by their childrens' school lunches, a fact I'm keenly becoming aware of as I'm planning lunch menus.

Here is what I tested:

Kids Konserve Snak Pak: I have to say, while the name says "Snack," it serves well beyond that purpose. I was able to fit in a sandwich, two drink boxes, the stainless steel cup-sized snack container crammed with goldfish crackers, four granola bars and napkins, with plenty of room leftover. The "food cozy" (which at first glance I really thought was just a placemat) would work as a great solution for damp tables. I found everything easy to clean, which is key for those days that the dishes don't get done at a reasonable hour. And my stainless steel container survived my well-meaning husband's attempts to take control of the kitchen by throwing everything into the dishwasher.

Eco Lunch Gear's Sandwich Wrap: These organic cotton/nylon sandwich wraps claimed to hold in the messiest of sandwiches, promising to keep that peanut butter and jelly from inevitably leaking throughout the lunch. I didn't think fabric bags could contain it all. Surprisingly, they were right.

The bags also are machine washable - great for parents who just don't want to mess with scrubbing them at the end of the day.

Family friendly!
The great things about these items, other than they're better on the environment than boxes of baggies, is that they're easy for a young child to use. Frankly, all the environmental goodness is a waste if my kindergartener can't manage the contents. And the rubber tops and velcro closures made these things easy for her to use.

I'll be the first to admit that my samples took a bit more abuse than they might have by other testers, but it's reflective of a sometimes harried night. And I will say, even on a time strapped night, the products were easy to clean and were dry and ready to go for the morning. Makes making lunches a bit easier!

Disclosure: I did not receive any benefits from these companies other than samples of their products to try.

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