With back-to-school season upon us, young students and teenagers alike are toting their lunches to school. Not only is packing a lunch cost-effective, it can also cut down on waste and ensure your child is eating a nutritious, healthy meal. We love nothing more than opening up a warm thermos of soup we carried in from home, or utilizing reusable utensils in an effort to be environmentally friendly, so we hope every member of your family can benefit from this guide to “greening” your lunch box.
We tested out bento boxes, water bottles, thermoses, reusable bags, and more to bring you some of the best eco-friendly products we could find. There are products easy for little hands to grasp, cute enough to carry through the halls, and cool enough for you or your picky teen to pack a lunch in. These reusable products are durable, BPA-free, and safe for all members of the family.
Totes from Home
Though it comes in a variety of patterns, we like the solid colors of the Flip-Top Lunch Box from L.L.Bean ($24.95) for older kids, tweens, and teens who have outgrown cutesy lunch boxes. The lunch box has great insulation, and can fit quite a bit of food (there’s even storage in the lid), perfect for growing kids, who seem to be bottomless pits, or for students with after-school activities or sports practice, who need a snack to boost their energy.
The lunch boxes in the Animal Packs collection from Bixbee ($17.99) are practical and whimsical. The roomy, insulated lunch boxes come in nine animal designs including an owl, unicorn, monkey, and octopus, which all feature a playful element such as protruding wings, horns, ears, or tentacles. The outer material is water-resistant and holds an ID card (no lost lunches!). We like the buckle on the handle, which makes it easy to attach to a backpack (Bixbee sells matching ones), and the beehive zipper pulls, which are cute and easy for little hands to grasp.
All About That Bento
This stainless-steel PlanetBox lunch box reminds us of school lunchroom trays, with different compartments for each food—and the organization of food is definitely Instagram-worthy! The box comes in three sizes for varying appetites (Shuttle, $39.95; Rover, $55.95; and Launch, $59.95) and each comes with at least one leak-proof dip container. Plus, PlanetBox containers can be customized with magnets—choose from a variety of patterns offered or create your own designs.
Yumbox is a hinged, plastic container that opens via a secure, easy-to-open latch to reveal a bento-style tray. There are four versions in a variety of colors with three to six compartments (Yumbox Original, $28; Yumbox Panino $28; Yumbox Tapas $32; and Yumbox MiniSnack, $20), which makes it ideal for children to adults and those who want a sandwich and some sides or just a little bit of everything. The molded silicone inside the lid seals food into individual containers, so your hummus or applesauce will stay put. Bonus points for the easy-to-clean removable tray in a variety of designs.
A more grown-up plastic bento (read: teens who are “too cool for school” and adults), the Russbe Perfect Seal Bento ($8.99) comes in a variety of colors, including salmon, charcoal grey, white, powder blue, and pistachio. While the box is leak-proof overall, the individual compartments are not, so this is best suited to non-dip/non-dressing foods.
Hot Soup for You
We loved taking soups for lunch as kids (heck, we still love bringing soup for lunch!), but we were always disappointed when lunchtime would roll around and the soup that was piping hot in the morning was tepid at best when it came time to nom. Enter the Stanley Classic Vacuum Food Jar ($35); our soup was the perfect temperature after 6 hours.
While the Stanley thermos is great for older kids and teens (it holds a bigger serving and could be difficult for little hands to open), the L.L.Bean Stainless-Steel Vacuum Container ($24.95) has a handle at the top that is easy for young children to grasp while opening. And the 9-ounce container is just as good at keeping food hot.
We’ve been a fan of faithful Nalgene water bottles for some time, so we’re happy to see the brand produce a kids’ line of 12-ounce water bottles in a variety of colors and designs. These Nalgene bottles are easy for little hands to grip and include wide mouth and spout options (OTF Kids, $10; Mini-Grip ATB, $9; Mini-Grip with LoopTop, $8.25). Nalgene currently has a Marvel line with OTF Kids bottles ($11.99) featuring favorite comic book heroes including Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, and Ironman.
A New Way to Leave Notes
Nothing screams home-packed lunch like a note from Mom or Dad, but using a new piece of paper every day definitely isn’t green. S’well has the solution. Let your little one know you’re thinking of him by writing a message on his water bottle using a chalk paint pen. (Chalk Ink Pen in blue, white, or pink: $6; S’well bottles: $25-$45)
RELATED: How to Green Your Kids Room
We Can’t Contain Ourselves
We love reusable snack and sandwich bags—we’ve been using them for a few years now. While the ones we’ve been using are a little plain for kids, we love the Full Circle Ziptuck Kids bags, which come in dinosaur, emoji, and monster patterns ($5.99-$7.99), and the Russbe Reusable Snack/Sandwich bags, which come in a variety of patterns and colors, including geometric patterns, trees, monsters, and fruit ($7.99). The Full Circle bags are a little easier for younger hands to open, and the Russbe bags come in patterns and colors older kids and tweens will likely prefer.
The Marcus & Marcus Sandwich Wedge ($13.99) is a cute and colorful way to send a sandwich off to school. The silicone container is collapsible and the lid has an erasable nametag along with the brand’s five animal characters, all who have their own story and interests noted on marcusandmarcusna.com. We like that this container is easy for even young ones to open and close. In testing it held our sandwich nice and secure and didn’t open in transport.
We were thrilled when we spotted the Little Green Pouch reusable food pouches, which are perfect for applesauce or smoothies on the go (14-ounce two-pack, $12.99; 7-ounce four-pack, $14.99; 3.4-ounce six-pack, $16.49). Fortunately the company sells a collapsible funnel and a cleaning brush, which makes refilling and cleaning the pouches an easier feat. The two smaller sizes will be easier for young children to handle, though adults and teens might be more satisfied with the amount the extra large pouch can hold.
Russbe’s Reuse-A-Pop bags ($6.99 for 12) took us back to the ice pops of our youth, only instead of having to buy mass quantities and wonder what exactly was inside of them, we have the control to make our own frozen pops with fruit juice, yogurt, or our favorite smoothies. An adult might have to help young children open the reusable bags, and you’ll need a funnel or a steady hand to fill, but we enjoyed that we could reduce waste and control the contents inside this cool treat.
Without fail, whenever we brought a saucy meal for lunch as a kid, we had to arm ourselves with napkins to clean up what leaked. Tupperware has come a long way, but for a completely plastic-free option, check out ECOlunchbox’s Blue Water Bento Splash Box ($22.99; pictured above is the Splash Pod, which is $11.99). As with all things metal, this shouldn’t go in the microwave (it’s great for salads, though!), but its leak-proof, silicone lid did keep our lunch box free from salad dressing.
The Triple Stack Snack Bento by Russbe ($11.99) has three spacious compartments (two 6-ounce and one 9-ounce), perfect for a variety of snacks and sides. The containers stack and lock together with ease and have their own individual lids as well as a handle, so you can pack one, two, or all three containers for the day. We love the adorable illustrations of happy fruits, nuts, and vegetables, which make it so all ages, even adults, won’t mind carrying this around.
The Whole Kit and Caboodle
For kids (and adults) who prefer to drink with straws, skip the disposable plastic straw and opt for this stainless-steel version. The Greens Steel Stainless Steel Straw Set ($9.49-$9.99) comes with two narrower curved straws, two wider straight straws (great for smoothies), and a cleaning brush. Don’t worry about your beverage having a metallic taste; even our metal-averse editor loves these straws. (Just don’t use them to drink a hot beverage: hot drink = hot straw.)
One of our editors has been using a set of To-Go Ware’s reusable bamboo utensils for years and swears by the eco-friendly and convenient product, so when we saw the brand’s Kids Utensil Set ($9.99), we were eager to test it out. Recommended for children ages 18 months and older, the small utensils are easy for small hands to handle. The set comes with a knife, spoon, and fork that are strong but not sharp and held within a colorful case made out recycled plastic bottles with a small carabineer at the top so that utensils never get lost. Older children and adults can use the full-size version, which also comes with chopsticks.
RELATED: Get Family Activities in Your Inbox