For many students going back to school, the subject they most look forward to is lunch. And although lunch isn’t a real subject, there is no denying the important role that it plays in your child’s day. To make sure that you send kiddos off with a meal packed with love and care, we rounded up our favorite lunch gear for a little inspiration.Say no to plasticWhether you’re eco-conscious or just worry about your kids’ food being contaminated with chemicals, reusable sandwich and snack bags (like the ones made by the brand LunchSkins) are a smart alternative to the traditional plastic sandwich bag. Available in kid-friendly prints, each bag is dishwasher safe and BPA free. $10.99, Target.It takes twoDo your children enjoy eating food items like yogurt and Jell-O? Then you’ll want to make sure they have a pair of reusable utensils to get them through the school year. Made by Eatools, this combination eating utensil is designed to give kids the best of both worlds, so that they don’t have to choose between a fork or a spoon. $2.99, World Market.Shape shifterAfter a while, grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches can get pretty mundane. But you can help keep lunch exciting for your hungry pupil with the use of a crust cutter. Found in a variety of fun shapes (including Cars’ Lightning McQueen), crust cutters turn a regular old sandwich into an exciting lunchtime experience. $2.48, Wal-Mart.Getting saucyJust because kids are at school doesn’t mean that they have to do without their favorite condiments come lunchtime. Cute and compact, the dishwasher-safe Sauce Pod twists open for easy filling and features a nozzle designed to release just the right amount of sauce with each squeeze. $3.99, The Container Store.Hydration nationFinding the perfect water bottle for your child (or even yourself) can be hard. Not only does it have to be chemical free, dishwasher safe, sweat proof and spill proof, but preferably it should also look trendy. Enter bkr water bottles. The chemical-free glass bottles come in a rainbow of colors, have a mouth designed to reduce spillage and are covered in silicone sleeves to prevent sweat and breaking. $30, Neiman Marcus.Packed to perfectionFor parents who pack their children a daily lunch, there is often the dilemma of figuring out how to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Leave it to Thermos, the insulated container expert, to find a way to solve this problem with its FUNtainer Food Jars. Using vacuum-insulated technology for maximum temperature retention, the stainless-steel jars (which come in a wide selection of your child’s favorite characters) can keep food cold for seven hours and warm for up to five hours. $17.95, Barnes & Noble.Split personalityPacking a lunch with food containers can be tricky, especially when space is limited. Luckily, Sistema’s Snacks To Go Container makes life a little easier. The BPA-free stackable container features a removable top section for dips or other foods, giving you twice the space you need without worrying about any food cross-contamination. $5.99, Target.All in oneParents wanting to score all their child’s lunch gear needs in one swoop should look no further than Pottery Barn Kids’ Mackenzie All In One Lunch Bag. Available in a variety of fun prints for both girls and boys, the lunch bag is made from eco-friendly materials and includes a stainless-steel food box and utensils that are BPA and lead free. For added personalization, opt for the monogramming service and have your child’s name stitched on. $59.50 (monogram not included), Pottery Barn Kids.
Where to shop
Target: several Tarrant-area locations
World Market: several Tarrant-area locations
Wal-Mart: several Tarrant-area locations
The Container Store: several Tarrant-area locations
2100 Green Oaks Road, Fort Worth
Barnes & Noble: several Tarrant-area locations
Pottery Barn Kids
Aug. 16: Supplies that stand out
Monday: Unique after-school activities
Tuesday: Ways to punch up lunch
Wednesday: Quick family dinner ideas
Thursday: Parents share first-day wisdom
Saturday: Redesigning dorm rooms
Sunday: Class projects making a difference
Tips for smarter lunch-packing
Ready for another 180?
Sure, you’ve braced the kids for the early mornings. You’ve bought them their shoes and shirts and binders and book covers. You’ve even scheduled their haircuts and made sure their backpacks can handle another year of abuse. But have you prepared yourself for another 180 school days of packed lunches?
There’s not a lot you can do to change the fact that lunch duty is a chore. But a little information can keep it from turning into something you dread. So let’s start with the basics:
At dinner the night before, cook a little too much. How much too much? It depends on how many lunches you need to pack the next day. Either way, those leftovers are your easy building blocks for lunch the next day.
Grilling steak or roasting a chicken? Make a little extra and turn it into sandwiches or wraps or a robust salad in the morning. Pasta night? Boil up a little extra. The next day, cold leftovers plus some bottled vinaigrette and whatever veggies or meat you have handy become an easy pasta salad.
Ditch the idea of structuring lunch around a main-with-sides model. Most people — and particularly kids — are just as happy with a bunch of small items to munch on. Assemble some fruit, fresh veggies, cheese, crackers or bread, a little cold meat, maybe a yogurt and you have a pretty satisfying meal.
And to make packing all those bits and pieces easier, get bento-style lunch containers. These containers generally have multiple small compartments, making it easy to pack chips, salsa, veggies, meat, cheese and a treat, and whatever else inspires you.
Know your numbers
Safe lunch packing all comes down to numbers. Cold food needs to stay below 40 degrees. Hot food needs to stay above 140 degrees. Once food falls outside those ranges, it’s safe to eat for another two hours.
How do you use this information? Start by figuring out what time a packed lunch will be eaten. Now count backward to the time of day it will be packed. That’s how long you need to maintain the food at a safe temperature. So when you shop for lunch gear, look for products with thermal ratings. These ratings tell you how long they can keep items hot or cold.
Start by deciding on the types of lunches you’ll pack most often. Lots of little nibbles? Bento boxes are for you. Plenty of soups, chili and hot items? Multiple thermos-style wide-mouth food jars need to be on your shopping list. Go through a lot of dips and hummus and condiments? Be sure the containers are watertight.
Get two of every container. This way there is less pressure to make sure the lunch gear from the day before is washed before morning. Stainless steel will hold up to the dishwasher, but it’s also costlier. If you’re buying multiples, that can add up fast.
— The Associated Press