Thursday, July 29, 2010

tools of the trade, part 3: lunchboxes & lunchbags

So you have your bento box all dressed up with somewhere to go. How are you going to get it there? Most likely in a lunchbox or some type of lunchbag or cooler.

For the 3rd chapter of my "Tools of the Trade" series we will be talking about lunchboxes and cooler bags. :)

There are soooooo many, oh SO many choices in this area. Unlike a lot of other bento-y items, lunchbags are a component you can find locally and pretty easily. And not just find them, but have a huge variety to pick from.

I get asked often about what type of lunchbox I use for my kids to carry their bento boxes in. This post is your answer. ;-)

Whenever someone asks me to recommend a lunchbox my first recommendation and #1 tip is to choose a lunchbox or lunchbag that will hold the lunch upright, and not tip it on the side when carried by the handle.

This is an example of what I don't recommend for bento box toting.
lunchbag not bento friendly

It pains me to say this, because I really, really, REALLY liked these lunchboxes. They are from Costco. They are very well insulated, have a removable liner for cleaning, come with a ice pack AND a stainless water bottle.

Inside view:
lunchbag not bento friendly inside

They feel really well made, zip nicely, the handle has a cool rubber grip. There is a mesh pocket on the side (presumably to hold the stainless water bottle) and a pocket on the front that would work well to hold a snack. The size is great. I really, really, REALLY liked these lunchboxes (did I say that already?). I bought one for both of my boys. So what's the problem? The problem is the way it is carried. It would tilt the lunch on the side, making it not an ideal choice for bento. I might keep one of these for my anti-bento Owen boy, but I just don't see it being a good choice for my bento-carrying Ethan.

Now for some examples of what I *do* recommend. :)

This is the lunchbox my little girl used last year for preschool.
lunchbag piggie
I bought this on Amazon. It's adorable. It held her Sassy box lunches perfectly. This lunchbox did not have any insulation in it whatsoever, however. It was the layer of pink plastic on the outside and white plastic lining and nothing in between them. This worked okay for her school days because her lunch only sat for a couple of hours and was stored in a cool classroom (and with an icepack). This lunchbox wouldn't have cut it under other circumstances. I never used this lunchbox if we were going to the zoo for the day, for instance, where the food had to sit longer in a warmer environment.

Another lunchbox that had similar functionality to the piggie lunchbox is this one:
lunchbag caprisun
Now I love this lunchbag because it is made from re-purposed materials that would otherwise sit in a landfill for the next millenia. But like the piggie lunchbag, there is no insulation (though this one is better in that department than the piggie one). This lunchbag is pretty narrow. I can squeeze a Sassy Box in there, but the best bento box for this lunchbag are the narrow two-tiered type bento boxes.

One of the reasons why this post has taken me so long to get posted is because I kept finding new lunchbags to add to the post! Like these ones for instance, found recently at Target.
lunchbag animals
There were other animals available too. Each one comes with a tiny matching icepack (really little, not sure how helpful it would be to keep a lunch cool, honestly.)
lunchbag animals side
This particular lunchbag shape really resembles a purse. I tried out a few of our boxes and I found the Sassy boxes and our narrow two-tier type bento boxes fit perfectly in here.
They are made of neoprene. I haven't used neoprene bags before, so I don't know how well they insulate or hold up. I actually ended up returning these... though Ethan insisted he'd like to use the elephant for school, I wasn't so sure. He'll be in third grade and I worry that he'll be teased. sigh.

A new lunchbag I really love is this one by Paperchase.
lunchbag Paperchase girls
It seems to be made very well. Very nicely insulated. This is the only design it seems to come in. Such a pity, because it really seems to be practically perfect in every way. It's a keeper.

lunchbag Ca Innovations
These lunchboxes were also bought at Costco, but they were purchased about 11 years ago! (Wow!!!). My husband and I used them to carry our lunches to work. They have obviously held up really well! So well in fact that this red one is actually the lunchbox Ethan used all last year for 2nd grade! I'd pack his morning snack in the top section and the bottom held his bento lunch nice and flat. There was enough room for an icepack and depending on which drink container I used, it would fit to the side, otherwise I'd put it in the top with his snack. All of our bento boxes fit in this. I didn't get EasyLunchboxes until the school year was almost over, but those fit snugly in there too.
lunchbag Ca Inn inside
I don't see this style of lunchbox often, but I do see them around occasionally. Pottery Barn Kids has a style that is the same as this (though narrower and a little smaller, EasyLunchboxes wouldn't fit in them but other smaller boxes should).

Speaking of EasyLunchboxes, their line of lunchbags is another good option for bento.
lunchbag EasyLunchboxes bags
Ethan will be using this lunchbag this year. He's picked the red one. It's easily large enough for his bento lunch, a nice snack, ice pack(s) and drink.

If you have trouble finding at bento-friendly lunchbox is the back-to-school section of lunchboxes, try checking out the area where year-round lunchboxes are kept. Target has a lot of good options in theirs.
lunchbag at Tarjay
While these types of boxes may not have as much kid-appeal, I feel confident in saying that these ones will hold up much better than 90% of the kiddie-geared ones. We usually end up wearing out those kiddie lunchboxes by mid-year. Ethan went through two different kiddie lunchboxes his 1st grade year, just totally wore them out to where lining was ripping out and seams were coming undone. That's part of the reason he carried my old lunchbox for 2nd grade. ;-)

I think if you are lucky enough to be able to shop for lunchboxes in person, and you are planning to pack bentos, a really smart move would me to take your preferred bento box(es), ice pack and drink containers with you to see how they will fit. It's a little bit of a hassle, but a well-functioning lunch system goes a long way in easing some of the frustrations that can come along with packing lunches.

Top Tips:
1. lunchbox/lunchbag that will carry contents upright.
2. well insulated (if necessary for your needs)
3. will easily fit all contents (without straining zipper or seams)
4. label your bag clearly with child's name in case it goes missing!

For more "Tools of the Trade" lunch supply topics check out:
"tools of the trade, part 1: picks"
"tools of the trade, part 2: boxes"

Mabel's Labels - Labels for the stuff kids lose!
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Kathryn Crafts said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for this post!! :)

Nicole said... [Reply to comment]

My husband and I use the Embark ones from Target. He has the blue one, I have the pink one. They are very durable, insulate well and you can fit a decent amount of stuff in there with some creativity.

Snowflowers Mum said... [Reply to comment]

I love the one from paperchase, do you know where I could buy it.

Ludicrous Mama said... [Reply to comment]

I freeze our GoGurts (yogurt tubes)and juice boxes/pouches so they not only help keep the rest cold, but they thaw just in time for lunch! Helps with the non-insulated bags, especially!

Melissa said... [Reply to comment]

Paperchase is sold at Border's bookstores. :)

Jenn @ BentoForKidlet said... [Reply to comment]

I love that Paperchase one, I saw it in Borders the other cute!! :)

We use several kinds of bags but the one I like the most is an upright character bag that is insulated and has a top and bottom compartment. Super cute and at all the stores during back to school time :D

Laura Allison said... [Reply to comment]

The paperchase bag is adorable! I think I'll have to take another look at the Borders near me.

Cher said... [Reply to comment]

After reading your blog a few months ago, I purchased the EasyLunchBox red lunch bag and I love it. It fits the boxes perfectly and you still have room to put other things on top. I really like the color.

Meal Plan Mom (Brenda) said... [Reply to comment]

Great post--I'm just learning about bento-box lunch making and this is really helpful--especially as we head out next week to start our Back To School supply shopping. I love Target's year-round selection--sometimes I find myself looking for a reason to have to buy a new lunch tote bag (but usually resist--thankfully for my wallet!)

Shining 2 Save said... [Reply to comment]

Hi I am your newest follower from top mommy blogs! I like the first set of lunchboxes.I look forward to reading your blog.

I would love for you to stop by my blog and enter the giveaways!

Hope you have a great weekend

Kari @

Heather said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you! Now which drink containers do you usually use?

laurasbestrecipes said... [Reply to comment]

What a great website! I wondered who knocked my site out of first place on Babble's Best Mommy Bloggers - and now I know why!!! Wonderful and I'll be trying these recipes when my 5 year old starts Kindergarten next month. Take Care, Laura

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks so much! I've been waiting for this post. :) Now off to do some shopping...

Kristen said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you! This is perfect timing as we're all about to do back-to-school shopping. I'm so excited to start making bento lunches this year!

Angeleyes said... [Reply to comment]

oh wow!!!! Those animals lunchboxes are sooooo cute!!!!

I've not seen any of those you posted here. we only have those insulated from Thermos else those that are sold in Daiso can't really hold up for more than an hour.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I never thought about the containers having to be upright...glad I have your blog as my beginner's bento tool. I'm still trying to decide on what I want to buy first!

Deann said... [Reply to comment]

Does the Laptop Lunch fit in the Easy Lunch Box bag? Thanks!!

RookieMom Heather said... [Reply to comment]

I just discovered your site today and am loving it! Thanks for these helpful recommendations. We use the laptop lunchbox and carrying case; but you're right, the thing slides everything to one side. :-(

Melissa said... [Reply to comment]

Deann - I'm sorry I didn't see your comment earlier. I just checked and I wouldn't really recommend the Laptop Lunches in the EasyLunchbox bag. You can *force* it in there, but it doesn't sit at the bottom of the bag, more like the middle where the side can puff out. It needs to be about on inch smaller in width and length to fit easily the way the EasyLunchboxes do. Sorry!

RookieMom Heather - Hello!! Welcome. :) I wish the LL would have come out with a carry bag option to keep the Laptops flat. All those new styles just came, but they are all sideways! :(

Paula said... [Reply to comment]

I purchased plain-colored lunch boxes for my kids last year, and took them to the local embroidery shop to have a little picture added, along with their first names. Personalized, they love the boxes!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

You suggested All Things for Sale as a source for bento supplies but mentioned you'd never used them. I placed an order from them 3 days ago and yesterday received my items. Everything was PERFECT!!! The whole shopping experience was great from A to Z. I'll be shopping with them again!! Thanks for the suggestions!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I have a neoprene dog lunch bag (like the elephant and ladybug) and it works fairly well, and I get lot's of comments!

flipflopmom said... [Reply to comment]

We have 4 laptop lunchboxes, but I have yet to find a lunchbox that will carry them without turning them sideways/upside down. As others have mentioned, everything is fine and dandy when we leave home. But I always open yucky lunchboxes because little one doesn't get lids on tightly enough. Still on the quest for the perfect one for these.. Thanks for the info!

Ellen said... [Reply to comment]

Have you looked in the cooler section in sporting goods at your local store? I found a small cooler for my husband for his lunch that would hold the Easy Lunchboxes at a local Walmart. I also found a small cooler backpack in sporting goods (It's purple!!!!!) for me. The backpack will hold an Easy Lunchbox, a Nalgene quart water bottle, a Lite-My-Fire spork, and bandana with room for a piece of fruit or a snack box. All things will sit up except the water bottle. I love it and it would be the right size for a teen/tween.

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