Thursday, September 20, 2012

bento lunch box review: Gerber Graduates Mealtime Organizer

For a couple months I've had a lot of questions pop up, mostly on the Another Lunch Facebook Page, asking if I had one and what I thought of the new Gerber Graduates Mealtime Organizer. I really wasn't sure what to think about it. So I ordered one and now I have a whole lot of thoughts to share about it.

warning: this post has a heap of photos. 

The Gerber Mealtime Organizer comes in two colors: pink and blue. The cost is surprisingly low at $6.49.  When you order from Amazon "the colors may vary", meaning the color you are sent is random. It's a surprise

The one I received is blue. 

Gerber box, empty top view

My first impression of the box was that it was bigger than I expected it to be. Considering it's a Gerber product, and marketed to preschoolers, I anticipated it to be smaller. I'll get back to the size in a second.

My second impression was that it reminded me a lot of a pencil box. The latch especially, it just snaps closed, as many pencil boxes do. There is no tricky latch to maneuver. My three-year-old had no problems opening the box independently.

Gerber box, empty side view

The lid is interesting. On the right side there is a built-in cubby compartment. The lid to this compartment is completely removable, it snaps on and off.

Gerber box, snack cubby open

This cubby lid has a picture frame kind of thing going on with it. There is a space there to slide in a note or a photo.

At first I thought this was pretty cute. But then this morning I was about to put a family photo in that frame, but then paused thinking about condensation forming from the icepack.... that would ruin a photograph pretty quickly.

So next I decided to put a little note in that space. And I did end up doing just this, but I discovered that getting that cover off the frame isn't as easy as it looks. It wouldn't be easy for a child to access in a timely manner...and I have doubts that most kids would be able to get that frame cover back in place. 

Gerber box, snack cubby

That cubby isn't all that deep, maybe 3/4".  Here it holds a Trader Joe's cereal bar.

Gerber box, side view

Here's my big issue with this whole cubby compartment... it sits down inside the actual box, so it interferes with the space you have to pack the actual meal. You can see here how approximately half the depth of the box is obstructed by that cubby section being in the lid.

Gerber Box vs. Laptop Lunches

Back to the size... it is just about exactly the same size as a Laptop Lunches box. 
Here the Gerber Mealtime Organizer is sitting atop a Laptop Lunches 2.0 box. The length and width are nearly even.

Gerber Box vs. Laptop Lunches

Here is the Gerber box and Laptop Lunches box from another angle, showing that space-encroaching cubby area.

At first I didn't have a big opinion one way or the other about that cubby section, until I tried to use a standard sized silicone muffin cup in that big section....

Gerber box, muffin cups don't fit

This is just your regular sized silicone muffin cup (not the jumbo ones I use in Bynto boxes), and it is too tall to use in the Gerber Box. See how it is obstructing the lid from closing?

Maybe it's too close to the edge? I'll push it away from the wall of the box...

Gerber box, muffin cups don't fit

Nope, still no luck! The lid pops right up and doesn't come close to closing properly with the silicone muffin cups under that cubby area. 

Moving the silicone cups to the other side of the box...

Gerber box muffin cups, lid open

On the other side of the box, where there is no cubby section above, the silicone cups fit mighty fine! 

Note: the hinged lid. It opens completely and lays flat against the table surface. This is nice. Sometimes my kids are annoyed that Laptop Lunches lids will slowly fall closed, getting in their way while eating. That wouldn't happen with this box. 

Gerber box muffin cups fit

Side view of the standard sized silicone muffin cups sitting pretty on the non-cubby side of the box. 

Gerber box open with lid

A view of the box interior. It's made up of two small sections on the left, and one large section on the right. 

It comes with a fully removable lid that seals one of those smaller sections. See here:

Gerber box sealed lid

The lid has a nice silicone seal around it, making that one compartment leak-free. The lid can fit on either front or back section.

Being leak-free means it fits tightly. It's not too difficult for an adult to get that lid on fully, but a young child might not be able to press firmly enough to get it in place correctly. Might be a problem if kiddo doesn't finish their yogurt/applesauce/stuff and then those contents start spilling around between lunch time and getting back home. 

The fact that the lid is fully removable means that it can get lost. 

It also means you can just not use it at all, and have three open sections:

Gerber box fully open

Ethan's lunch today:

Gerber box pretzel lunch

Packed in the Gerber Mealtime Organizer:
- large soft pretzel
- fruitabu fruit leather
- kiwi
- cheddar cheese
- cracked pepper turkey rolls

I used the lid to cover the section holding the kiwi fruit. The ultra rad stainless spork is tucked behind the fruitabu.

Gerber box packed, side view

Here is a side view of the box, with the lunch packed. The pretzel is thin enough to fit just fine. 

I think thin sandwiches would work okay too - like peanut butter and jelly. My own sandwiches, always packed with a lot of spinach or other leafy greens, are far too puffy to fit in here. 

I packed the Gerber box in our GoGreen Lunch box carrier (more info about it in this post). This lunch box worked out fantastically, because there was space to the side to fit a Thermos FunTainer perfectly. 
Gerber box packed in GoGreen lunchbox

So that is the Gerber Mealtime Organizer.

I am not exactly sure what my feelings are on it. 

On the negative side: 
- it's quite large for a preschooler (the target audience, I imagine)
- that cubby section is riddled with issues: the lid to it can be lost, it's difficult to get pictures/notes inside the frame, and the biggie: it encroaches on the depth of the main lunch packing section
- the little inner lid will be tricky for young kids to put in place, the lid can be lost

On the positive side:
- it appears to be made quite nicely
- attractive colors
- the hinged lid
- very affordable price point 

Has anyone been using a Gerber Mealtime Organizer? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Supplies used to pack this lunch:

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Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm said... [Reply to comment]

I have one - and I agree with the part about the lid compartment sinking down into the big cubby. It's kind of frustrating.

What I've been doing for Eleanor (who is 2) is: in the two compartments at the side, one will be fruit, and the lidded one applesauce or yogurt. In the big compartment, a thin layer of crackers or pretzels and the spoon for the yogurt and a napkin. In the lid compartment, a string cheese, and a small ice pack.

It's been working out nicely - and since Eleanor is only 2 I'm glad that she can't open the lid on that separate compartment by herself! :)

MommaLlama said... [Reply to comment]

I have been using this Gerber box for my preschooler. I agree with all of your pros & cons. Since my kids don't have a school for lunchtime this functions fine since I am with them to help with the lids. We take these to playgroup and on picnics. I am a beginner Bento lunchmaker and it was a great price point, plus I even got my two with a BOGO coupon Gerber had a few months ago, so I got two for about $7.00! A typical sandwich does fit fine in the large section, but I have had trouble fitting thicker sandwiches in it. This lunch box is a great place to start!

Daylynne said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks so much for your review. I might get one of these for my four year old. She doesn't eat sandwiches anyway. I am also a beginner and I found some sistema brand lunch containers at old navy that I love. They have really helped me get my feet wet with the whole bento thing.

Meredith said... [Reply to comment]

I saw this a couple weeks ago, but didn't buy it. I thought it was an ice block in the larger side because it was so thick. Great review.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I've been using it for my two year old and I love it! Sure there are some quirks, but there are in everything! Love the pic compartment, it's adorable!

Kat - said... [Reply to comment]

thank you for the review. I am wondering what other bags it fits in... like the typical sized ones you find in the discount stores.

I've been considering getting one and have held off because of that worry, along with the concern about the cubby. I think instead of a picture, one might tuck a treat or an extra item (crackers, for instance)in it. I think you just have to pack it carefully.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Love that you took the time to review this and show so many pictures. Looks like a fantastic nutritious lunch!!!

Intrigued by the soft pretzel - how did you get it to stay "fresh" - I packed one recently and it got soggy. But it was one of the frozen SuperPretzels that I microwaved and then packed...maybe that was my problem!

Melissa said... [Reply to comment]

I'm glad so many of you have had positive packing experiences with it! Hoping I'll grow fonder of it the longer I use it. ;-)

Anonymous #7 - this pretzel is also one of those frozen ones. I baked it in the oven though (we don't have a microwave). I baked it the afternoon before, then left it in a cabinet overnight. I didn't seal it in anything until I put it in the Gerber box in the morning. The one thing I noticed was some moisture had formed on the surface of the pretzel. I'm not positive, but I suspect it was from the salt drawing moisture out of the pretzel. I just dabbed it was a paper towel, packed it, and hoped for the best. I half expected Ethan to come home and complain about how it was soggy, but he said it was delicious. Whew!! He's only JUST started eating them last week, so I was worried any slight weirdness would throw him off, but so far so good!

Tara said... [Reply to comment]

I thought that shallow compartment on top was for an ice pack, at least that is what I use it for. My kindergartner uses it with no problem, I really like it

Lisa-Marie said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for the review. I saw this in the store a few weeks ago, and debated buying one to use as a Bento Box. I pack Bento for myself, recently I've used my laptop a lot, and thought it looked to be about the same size. Like you I am not sure about that compartment that interferes with the main compartment.

Colleen said... [Reply to comment]

They carry these at my local Walmart and I've kicked around picking one up, but we have Goodbyns and 4 laptop lunchboxes---I need to learn to walk away, LOL

Jennifer said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for your review! I found one of these on clearance today at Target, and picked it up. My son is less than a year old, but I thought we could use it either for my husband's lunch or for my son to take snacks for playdates in as he gets older. I was really confused about the little compartment on the top, the only thing I could think was that it was for an ice pack, but none of ours fit!

Unknown said... [Reply to comment]

my 3rd grade son uses this box daily. Its our first "divided" lunchbox and he really likes it. That said, i have some issues with it.. I use that top compartment for a napkin/thin ice pack but find that it bumps down into that bottom section way too much. We even have a hard time putting in a tube yogurt diagonally in the big section. I haven't been brave enough to send "loose" yogurt or applesauce in the smaller section yet because I'm not sure it would make it all the way to lunch with the torture my son dishes out :P I think I would like it better if the whole thing were a bit taller, thereby accomodating thicker sandwiches and the little cups of yogurt (child-sized cups). The price was right for us. My son brings his lunch to school every day and my 2nd son will be doing the same next year as well, so we're researching for better options. In the meantime, this will do!

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