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Eco-novice's Favorite Eco-friendly Lunch Gear



My children aren't yet school-aged, but we pack food nearly every day to eat at the park or on other outings, and my husband often packs a lunch.  We've sampled quite a lot of reusable food gear in the last year.  Here is a rundown of our favorites.  All recommended products have enjoyed heavy use by my family for 6 months or more!

Eco-novice's Favorite Eco-friendly Lunch Gear

Reusable Food Bags and Wraps

Reusable food bags and wraps are the perfect alternative to disposable plastic baggies and plastic wrap.  Like their disposable cousins, they are versatile and take up minimal space in a lunch bag.  Buy a coordinating set in a pattern your child loves and she will be thrilled to pack her lunch in them. Earlier this year I did a round-up of 12 different Etsy stores that sell reusable food bags.  Etsy is a fabulous resource for reusable lunch gear.  Here is my original review detailing the 12 stores, plus a simple buying guide and an elaborate buying guide that includes a spreadsheet comparing the options.  Now, 6 months later, I can tell you which bags I reach for on a daily basis.     




Zippered Waterproof Bags by Celeste Blake Designs
I love love love my Celeste Blake Designs bags with zipper closure and waterproof food-grade nylon lining.  I use these bags every single day and just ordered a few more.  The thick nylon liner keeps food fresher longer, and also makes these great for storing food in the fridge or the freezer.  Available in 3 sizes (snacksandwich, and gallon-size), a variety of fabrics, and machine washable.  




The High Fiber's Sandwich and Snack Bags
Most older kids could probably open a bag with a horizontal Velcro closure, but my 2 and 4-year-olds can't (this has its plusses at times).  My little ones love The High Fiber's snack and sandwich bags because the tabs mean little fingers can open the bags by themselves.  I prefer the tabs too for ease and comfort.  My bags are lined with nylon, but they are also available lined with cotton. I also like the boxed (roomier) bottom. The bags come in very cute applique designs and patterned fabrics and are machine washable.   



100% Cotton Fold-over Sandwich Bag by Kate McFaul Designs
For simplicity and affordability, you can't beat this 100% cotton sandwich bag by Kate McFaul Designs -- patterned after fold-over plastic sandwich bags.  There is no closure to trap food or malfunction.  Because it's so inexpensive, this would be a great option if you were worried about your child losing or accidentally tossing their reusable bags.  Since it's just a single layer of thin cotton, this bag will not keep food fresh forever and is best for short-term storage.  But used inside a reusable lunch bag for a few hours, I think it would work very well, especially for a sandwich.  All cotton means your food isn't in contact with plastic, but also that you will need to machine wash it more often than a nylon-lined bag (which you can just wipe off with a sponge most of the time). I most often use it to hold a sandwich or bread slices, clementines or a few crackers.

Update (August 2013): Sadly, these inexpensive bags are not currently available, but something very similar is sold by Etsy store wee essentials.




I have tried several wraps by both Etsy and regular stores and the one I like best is by Etsy store The Green Fly.  Lined with ripstop nylon, it opens to a large octagonal shape (about 13.5" by 13.5") and has a long Velcro strip that accommodates both large and small sandwiches.  It's also machine washable (some wraps aren't!).  Wraps also work great for holding irregularly shaped items that don't fit well in a standard-size bag or container.




Sandwich bags and snack bags by the company Reuseit.com are made of two layers of heavy waterproof nylon fabric.  They do not win points for cuteness, as they come only in solid colors.  But they are among the thickest of the food bags, so they keep food fresh longer and also protect a little better from smashing than your average reusable food bag.  The fold over flap (with long vertical velcro) means that they are somewhat adjustable in size (note that although horizontal closures should theoretically keep any crumbs better inside, I have never had any problems with food falling out of my bags with fold-over flaps). I love them because they work really well for long-term storage in the fridge and freezer and clean up super easily.  Read my full review here.


Reusable Food Containers 

We have been using our Kids Konserve stainless steel leak-proof containers (with plastic lid) for many months now.  We have the nesting trio (3 sizes). These are great little containers for holding wet, smashable, or messy items.  I have used them for apple slices, grapes, hard boiled eggs, crackers, cheese slices/ cubes, hummus, nuts, rice cakes, and various other goodies.  The drawback of containers is that they are bulky and take up a lot more space in a lunch bag than a reusable bag.  However, your food is also protected from being smashed and is in contact with less plastic.  My friend Megan has been using Kids Konserve containers for her children's lunches for over a year and likes them too.  (You can read her review of her full array of Kids Konserve gear here.)  


Reusable Beverage Container

Klean Kanteen Water Bottles
Every eco-friendly lunch needs a reusable water bottle.  I've used many and my hands-down favorite is Klean Kanteen.  While I am willing to use some reusable plastic gear for storing food on-the-go, I almost never store beverages in plastic, since plastic chemicals leach more easily into liquids.  Klean Kanteen makes thick, high-grade (18/8) stainless steel water bottles that are dishwasher-safe and will possibly last forever. Another bonus: stainless steel keeps cold drinks cold much longer than plastic (insulated bottles maintain temperatures for even longer). For me, one of the real selling features of Klean Kanteen is the variety of interchangeable lid options.  Our Klean Kanteen journey began with sippy cups.  Now that my kids are a bit older, those sippy cups are 12 oz. bottles with a sports cap or loop.  I mostly use a loop cap for my 18 oz. bottle, but sometimes like to use the sports cap (which I steal from one of my kids' bottles). Klean Kanteen water bottles come in an array of colors and are virtually indestructible (they do dent).  I will say that I've had some leaking issues with the wide-mouth bottle lids, so I would stick to the regular-size openings for a packed lunch.





Reusable Utensils

Honestly, I mostly grab a few of our regular metal utensils when we are headed to the park.  If I were packing a child's lunch for school, I would probably send him with stainless steel utensils I'd picked up at a thrift store with his name written on them with a Sharpie.  I've also tried bamboo utensils, and those seem like a great option too (the fork is surprisingly sharp!).

Cloth Napkins

We rarely use paper napkins anymore.  I usually stash a few cloth napkins in my back pack when we are headed on an outing.  I don't love my cloth napkins though, because they are "nice" cloth napkins that I registered for when I was getting married (to match the tablecloths I no longer have).  I found them in the garage one day and started using them.  You can find very cute cloth napkins on Etsy.  You could also search for cloth napkins at thrift stores. My only advice: get 100% cotton ones.  My cotton/poly ones do not absorb liquid well, which I find very annoying. 


Of course, you will also need a reusable lunch bag.  I haven't sampled any lunch bag myself yet, but there sure are some cute options out there.


Additional Back-to-School Resources

What is your favorite eco-friendly lunch gear?  Please share in the comments!


This post is my contribution to the Back-to-School Blog Carnival hosted by Retro Housewife Goes Green

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links. I do not receive any share of purchases made by any of the Etsy stores mentioned in this post. Read my full disclosure statement here.


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12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great ideas! I didn't even know that reusable sandwich bags existed!

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  2. What a great list. I'm very excited to try the zippered bags by Celeste Blake Designs. I'm wondering if your snacks and/or sandwiches stay fresh longer in these bags v. the velcro sealed bags. Thoughts?

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  3. Hi Betsy,

    I saw your other post over at mindfulmamma.com and thought I'd add our favorites to your list.

    We use the snack and sandwich bags from http://simplypractical.etsy.com We prefer the velcro closure instead of zippers because the zippers can get gacked up with food, making them harder to clean. The velcro closures do really well in the wash; I've never had a problem. Both my 3 year old and 8 year old love these bags.

    Plus the fabrics at this etsy store are the best!

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  4. Marnie, I agree, very cute fabrics. Thank you for sharing one of your favorites! While I like Velcro fine, I do prefer the zipper and haven't had any problems with food getting caught. To anyone entering the reusable bag market, I would recommend trying several different ones before fully stocking up, because it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. I really like having a variety of sizes, closures, etc., but I have purchased more of my favorites.

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  5. Groovy aka Lori, The zippered bags are not airtight (just like the Velcro), but they work really well for long-term storage, including the fridge and freezer. I've kept my "healthy cookies" in a bag for months without problems. I think it's the thickness of the lining that really makes a difference. I like the zipper b/c it's easier for me and my kids to open/seal, quiet, and neat. But Velcro gets the job done too. In some ways I prefer the VERTICAL Velcro strips over the horizontal ones. But, anyway...

    Lori has a great roundup of her favorites too, by the way:
    http://groovygreenlivin.com/2011/08/6-eco-friendly-picks-for-back-to-school-lunches/

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  6. Betsy, what beautiful pix you have posted! I wandered over to Etsy, which I haven't done in ages, and was blown away by the gorgeous napkins.

    Thanks for your great contribution, and for linking to our past carnivals!

    Also, great news - finally got you up on the @GreenMoms twitter feed -- thanks for your patience!

    -- Lynn

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  7. Hi Betsy - great list! I jumped online and ordered bags from Celeste Blake immediately after reading your post! (forgot to ask for the discount though - oh well!)

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  8. Oooh, as I send my little guy off to full-day Kindergarten in two weeks, this list is essential...thank you!

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  9. Great list! Three cheers for leak proof containers! :D

    -Samantha
    www.kreativekaring.com

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  10. The best thing about eco friendly lunch stuff is that it is just so darn cute! And it's good for the environment (I guess that is really the best thing.)

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  11. I love the Kids Konserve containers. I use them all the time. We also have a lot of Klean Kanteens in this house haha.

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  12. Thanks for this thorough review! I really like the look of those zippered nylon bags.... So far, we've just been washing and reusing plastic bags for those times we need bags instead of rigid containers.

    My son takes his lunch in a PlanetBox, which we love! He takes a cloth napkin, and if he needs a spoon or fork he takes a metal one.

    For my lunch at work, I like to take leftovers in Pyrex or Corningware containers with plastic lids, juice in a reused glass bottle (from single-serving juice about 10 years ago!), cloth napkin, and metal utensils. I have a zippered neoprene bag to carry it all.

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