Send ‘Em Packing – School Lunch Bag Reviews (with Organic Turkey Roll-up Recipe For Kids)

From Lisa Barnes

It’s almost time for kids to head back to school.  Where did the summer go?  Parents switch from camp and vacation planning to carpools, clothing labels and packing lunches.  The idea of a simple brown paper bag to hold your child’s lunch has come a long way.

Kids are very visual and a lunch or snack packed in a fun container is always more exciting (and safer) than a plain paper bag. I suggest allowing your child to choose his lunchbox or snack bag. Children like to make decisions and feel in control. Ask them about wrappings and containers. Several years ago, my college roommate told me about her four-year-old son’s preference for sandwiches in a plastic bag “top side in.” “Top side in,” she explained, is when the rounded top of the bread goes in the bag first and the sandwich is packed vertically. Apparently it led to a few melt-downs before she got it right. Basically he didn’t want to get messy hands, so he wanted to reach in for crust, instead of the cut side where sandwich elements can leak out. Whew! Glad she figured that one out.

Snack Packing and Storing
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that one student taking a disposable lunch to school each day will create 45 to 90 pounds of garbage per year.

In an effort to teach children about the environmental impact of their food and beverage choices, and focus on reducing, recycling, and reusing to avoid waste, many schools are committed to reducing waste on campus. One method is to encourage parents to pack a “waste-free” lunch. This means everything in your child’s lunchbox is reusable or consumable. Schools such as Marin Primary School in Marin, California, are not only recycling and composting, but they have done away with plastic utensils, cups, and plates by washing reusable plates that the children have made themselves. Children’s cloth napkin company, Fabkins, is working with schools to provide children’s size napkins for fundraisers, classroom party baskets, and lunchrooms throughout the country.

The number of children’s product recalls due to lead paint, poor plastics, and PVC have increased dramatically. Luckily there is a big “green” market to fill the void of safe products, when it comes to lunchboxes and food storage. There are many fun and colorful lead-free, old-fashioned metal lunchboxes as well as soft PVC- and lead-free lunch totes that children can choose from. Allowing your child to choose is important so your child is proud of his lunchbox and excited to see and eat what’s inside.  By shopping at stores that carry “green” options such as  Elephant Pharmacy and Whole Foods (and avoiding the toy stores such as Toys R Us and Walmart) you can be sure your child will choose a safe lunchbox – free of harmful materials.

A new way to eliminate the waste of plastic bags, sandwich wrap, and waxed paper is with a lunchbox system. These are composed of a set of safe plastic boxes arranged in a larger box, like that of a traditional Japanese bento box. And for disposable options bamboo is a great renewable resource now used for making utensils and plates. Even corn is being made into plastic for cups, straws, and biodegradable utensils for use at restaurants and sports venues.

Keep perishables cold in insulated lunch bags. There are many PVC- and lead-free choices. Rather than using an ice pack you can freeze items such as yogurt or water, which will thaw and be ready by mealtime.

Pack drinks in reusable non-plastic bottles and drink holders. Thermos containers made from stainless steel and aluminum reduces waste and concern of leaching of toxins such as Bisphenol A, which is linked to birth defects, miscarriage, and prostate cancer.

Wrap sandwiches in foil over plastic wrap and baggies. Unlike waxed paper and plastic wrap, aluminum foil is available in 100 percent recycled form, is recyclable in most areas, withstands heat and cold, and works better than plastic and waxed paper at keeping moisture in. Aluminum is also oil free and is not made from petroleum, the way that wax and plastic are. You can also reduce landfill waste by eliminating plastic bag use, as they can last up to 1,000 years.

Provide metal or ceramic utensils that can be used and washed. Just remind your child to bring them home. Or provide bamboo renewable and biodegradable forks and spoons, rather than plastic.

Lunch Box Options Tested and Reviewed
My kids and I have been testing many different lunch box options and systems.  Like with most children’s products the parent has different concerns and priorities (safe, leak-proof, easy to clean) than the child (looks cool, can open it).  Here are our findings…

Fabkins: cloth napkins for kids.  Our family loves these.  They are a bit pricey, and you could cut your own or buy cocktail size fabric napkins for less.  However the kids really like the little embroidered images and actually take care of them.  We haven’t lost one in over 8 months.

Fleurville: the makers famous for their diaper bags also make PVC free lunch totes and back packs.  This is my son’s favorite because it has a skull (although friendly ones) pattern.  Some of the patterns are wipe easy vinyl (my daughter’s) and some are not (my son’s).  This makes a big difference in clean up (for mom).  After using a lunch box system with containers built in – this is not as easy and there is more waste.  I find myself putting the containers from the other lunchbox systems in this. About the same price as the “system” approach.  A few styles including a backpack that can be used for other things (carrying pj’s and stuffed buddy for overnight).

Laptop Lunches: bento box style lunchbox system.  This is my favorite and was my son’s too, until the Fleurville arrived.  Looks like a briefcase with a handle and messenger style strap.  Plain colors are not as “fun” as others.  Perfect for waste free packing.  Pricey at around $30, but my pick for easiest and neatest.

Klean Kanteen: stainless steel drinking containers.  Great stainless steel option, with a good design for smaller hands to grip easily.  New colors and basic silver.  About $15 each but long lasting and worth it.  In sizes 12 ounce through 40 ounce.

Lunchopolis: garbage free lunchbox system.  Some interesting but very limited fabrics (waterdrops, pink dots), in an easy to carry design (more upright than others – less spilage).  Comes with stacking containers with lids that fit – even after washing in the dishwasher.

Sigg: aluminum drinking containers.  Great aluminum option with various sizes,  designs and tops.  Kids may not be able to settle on one or two.  There are lots to choose from.  Each family member has at least one at my house.

Wrap-N-Mat: reusable sandwich wrap and place mat in one.  This is appealing to both my kids.  The wrap-n-mat is inexpensive at about $6 each and is a great alternative to wrapping sandwiches in disposable wrap.  The mat unwraps and becomes a placemat for your child too.  My daughter loves this when we’re out and about and she can lay her sandwich on the mat on her lap or any surface.

Now what do you pack in it?  Here’s a favorite that keeps my son satisfied and fueled during school time.  My daughter just started school, so I’ll be packing her the same thing.  That’s another tip – different kids but same lunches (or at least ingredients) makes for easier and faster packing for mom and dad.

Jonas’ Organic Turkey Roll-Up Recipe

At the time of this writing my son requests this be packed for school almost every day. The best part is it is simple and can be done in only a few minutes. This is super versatile as you can also use other meats such as prosciutto or roast beef slices. Or for a veggie option simply thinly slice or shred veggies such as red pepper, zucchini, carrots and cucumber. I usually make one whole lavosh roll-up for the day, half for my son’s lunchbox and half for my daughter’s on-the-go snack.

1 roll, 2 servings

1 piece lavosh (about 13 × 9 inches) – white or wheat
2 ounces organic Neufchatel cheese
2 ounces thinly sliced organic cooked turkey

Spread lavosh with a layer of cheese. Layer turkey in single layer on cheese.

Starting from narrow side, roll lavosh until you reach the end. You may want to add a small spread of cream cheese to secure roll. Using a sharp knife, make a quick cut in the center of roll. Cut each half in half again. Then each quarter in half, so you have 8 pieces.

Need more glue! My son likes these rolled tightly and packed in his bento-style container. He likes to be sure I spread enough “glue”, a.k.a cream cheese to keep them together without unraveling.

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See also Lisa’s Freeze Please! (do your kids hate eating veggies?)
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Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler, and Williams-Sonoma: Cooking For Baby, and lives in Sausalito, California.
Images Credit: Laptop Lunches

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