With back to school season in full swing, moms and dads are scrambling for home lunch ideas and tips. In fact, there’s been an explosion of pinning from my Simple Bento Ideas for Kids & Recipes Pinterest board for about a month now. So, I’d like to help ease the stress of making home lunches by kicking off a two-part “Back to School Lunch Tips” series with helpful tips and ideas to make the lunch making process easier.
Today’s post is going to focus on containers and tools that I actually use to pack school lunches. You’ll find that unless you’re planning on making a work of art for lunch, you really don’t need to run off and buy a ton of containers or fancy tools to pack a great school lunch. Besides, unless you have lots of extra kitchen storage space for lunch making items, it’s best to try to keep containers and tools to a minimum.
Now, if your school lunches look like this…
You’re probably going to want to invest in a lot more lunch making tools than listed below. However, if your school lunches look more like this…
Yeah, not even close to being a work of art, but this is more of a typical lunch box that I pack for the kids. This one had some grapes, cherry tomatoes with cheese, a musubi (rice ball), and a drumstick. Simple, easy to put together, and something my kids would eat. If you aren’t planning works of art for lunch, the containers and tools below are all you need to create simple, quick and fun back to school lunches.
- Square Embark lunch tote from Target(not sold online) or EasyLunchboxes Insulated Lunch Box Cooler Bag, Aqua — There were some moms complaining about finding totes that fit the square Easy Lunch boxes or Ziplock square lunch boxes. I found that the Target square Embark brand lunch totes fit the rectangular EasyLunchboxes fine, while keeping it flat and level to help prevent leakage. It’s also stiffer, seems to have more insulation, and holds its shape a bit better than the Easy Lunchbox tote. There is enough room to place a flat ice pack, a whole fruit and juice box in the bag. Plus, there are plenty of outside pockets to add napkins and utensils. Of course, you can also purchase the EasyLunchbox cooler bags too, which are slightly larger. I would recommend the EasyLunchbox if you aren’t using flat ice packs or plan on packing a lot of things into one bag.
- Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers Slim Lunch Ice Packs – Set of 4 — I actually got the large flat ice packs from the large Fit & Fresh lunch boxes. The boxes were terrible and warped in the dishwasher, but I love the ice packs that were in them. I haven’t seen the larger ice packs for individual sale, but I did find the smaller version. I like these better than the wrap around ice packs because they are made of a solid hard plastic and I don’t have to worry about them getting punctured.
- Ball Plastic Freezer Jar — I LOVE these. These are perfect for yogurt & fruits. I’ve even put salsa in them 🙂 The best part, it doesn’t leak!
- Thermos Stainless King 16-Ounce Food Jar, Midnight Blue — I mainly use this for soups, pastas, and hot chocolate during the colder months. I will say, the foldable spoon that comes with the thermos isn’t very sturdy and I always provide a regular spoon for the kids.
- Recycled water enhancer bottles — My hubby uses water enhancers, so I recycle the bottles and use them for salad dressings, syrups, and soy sauce. These bottles are a nice compact size and they don’t leak!
- Small plastic containers — Use these for dried fruits, nuts, and granola. When my kids take yogurt in the Ball Plastic Freezer Jars, I’ll put some granola or nuts in these small containers for toppings. I also use one of these to store all my food picks.
- Norpro 431 4-Piece Silicone Ice Pop Maker Set – Assorted Colors — I don’t use these very often, but these are great during the hot summer months. You can freeze yogurt in these and by lunch it should be semi thawed for a nice cool treat. Oh, and these don’t leak either 🙂 The only drawback is that it can be difficult to clean out, so invest in a bristle brush to clean these.
- EasyLunchboxes 3-compartment Bento Lunch Box Containers “Classic” (Set of 4). BPA-free. Easy-open Lids (Not Leakproof). For Kids and Adults. Work or School Lunches — Honestly, I was really skeptical about paying more money for these when the Ziplock boxes are much cheaper. However, the EasyLunchboxes are much sturdier. Unlike the Ziplock boxes, these don’t bend easily and are made of a thicker plastic. Be warned though, these are not leak proof and will leak if liquids are placed in them.
- CuteZCute Bento Soy Sauce Case Container with Dropper, Animals — I don’t use these much anymore since I recycle the water enhancer bottles, but if you don’t have enhancer bottles to recycle, you can always use soy sauce containers.
- Pantry Elements Silicone Baking Cups – Set of 12 Reusable Cupcake Liners in Six Vibrant Colors in Storage Container – Muffin, Gelatin, Snacks, Frozen Treats, Ice Cream or Chocolate Shell-lined Dessert Molds – Great for Bento Lunch Boxes – BPA Free Food Grade Silicone Non-stick Bakeware – Vibrant Collection — Silicone cups or paper cups are great for keeping items from touching each other in the same compartment. I use these of packing homemade “lunchables”. I’ll put the cheese, meat, and crackers each in their own cup.
- Bento Box Decoration Nori Cutter Punch Happy Face Set (Set of 3) — Use these to add cute faces to eggs, sausages, or rice balls. These can also be used to make animal noses and mouthes. You can punch faces out of nori (seaweed), thin cuts of meat, and cheese. I like to use it with only nori because they can be difficult to clean.
- Bento Decoration – Food Picks (Animal) 15pcs — Use food picks to stack fruits, cheese, cubed meat, and more together. You can also use food picks to help support a themed lunch box….i.e. sea themed box could have dolphin picks or use Halloween picks for a spooktacular Halloween lunch.
- Gourmet Writer Food Decorator Pens, Assorted Colors, Set of 10 — Use these to draw messages on cheese or boiled eggs. Basically, you can write on anything that isn’t too bumpy or rough.
- Small detail knife — This isn’t a necessity, but it allows greater control of the knife because you can get your hand all the way down to the blade area.
- Paring knife or scissors for cutting free form shapes.
- Lunch Punch Sandwich Cutters, Set of 4, Whimsical Shape — I love sandwich cutters for a quick and easy way to make fun sandwiches in a flash. Plus, you don’t have to be artistic at all…the punch makes the fun design for you :-). The one above is more for girls, but there are many other designs.
- Rice Mold/4 Star-Heart-Triangle-Plum — If your kids don’t eat a lot of rice for lunch, you can probably skip these. I like to use these to make cute rice ball shapes. Great for special holidays like Valentine’s Day or Christmas.
- Kotobuki Plastic Egg Mold, Rabbit and Bear — I actually have several egg molds because it’s a quick and easy way to shape boiled eggs into cute and fun shapes. These work best with extra large eggs – smaller eggs don’t always fill the entire mold and you may end up with earless bears.
- Cookie or vegetable cutters — I have tons of cookie cutters. They can not only make cute cookie shapes, but are great for cutting vegetables, cheese, cold cuts, eggs, and more into fun shapes. Even make shapes out of sandwiches or punch shapes into the sandwich bread for a peek-a-boo effect.
Check out Back to School Lunches – Part 2 for a round-up of super simple lunch ideas and some of the more popular pins from my Pinterest bento board. These fun lunches use the tools on this post and are simple to make!
What containers and tools are essential for your school lunch routine?
If you need more inspiration, check out my Simple Bento lunch Pinterest board. It has 825 pins and growing daily, thanks to some very creative moms (and dads).