Well, hey, gang. Let’s talk lunch.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been documenting Lana’s lunches almost daily on @thepigandquill (they’re all archived in this highlight), and I always get questions about the specific lunch-packing products and accessories we use. So, today, I thought it’d be fun to give a little overview of everything I use to pack lunch for a 7-year-old.
Interested in more specifics on what we pack daily? Stay tuned for a roundup post featuring some of our default faves.
The 12 Efficient Products I Use To Pack The Best Bento-Box Lunches & Snacks
The foundation pieces of our lunch-packing game are Yumbox bento-style lunchboxes, complemented by a curated selection of simple, affordable accessories that make non-sandwich lunches simple and, if I’m being honest, even kiiiinda fun to pack. And while I love the cutesy, animal-themed bento lunches that fill my Instagram feed, most mornings, I favor efficiency over flourish.
That said, all of the products below allow us to pack lunches that are neat and appealing to look at (let’s face it, kids still eat with their eyes like the rest of us!) while also being simple and straightforward to pack.
The bento box that started our obsession with Yumbox. We’ve been packing this smaller, snack-size lunchbox around with us since Lana was barely old enough to walk — and it still functions like new. We pack it daily for Lana’s morning snack, and it still comes with us often on short car rides, etc. This smaller size is constantly in and out of stock, so it’s worth checking back from time to time.
The second Yumbox (and first full-size box) we added to our collection. Again, we’ve been using this for years now, and Lana has always been able to easily manipulate the latch on her own. It’s also never once leaked, and it’s been tossed around in a backpack a fair amount and has held up through it all. We’re not big on sandwiches, so we use the larger compartment for main entrees (sushi, pasta, etc.) — or for a more snacky lunch, I’ll divvy up the larger compartment with the silicone baking cups, detailed below.
We just added the Yumbox Original this year, mainly because it cuts down on the need to use (and wash) multiple silicone liners when we’re packing snackier lunches — and to give me a backup option on days when I may have been lazy about washing up the previous day’s box. So far I’m loving the compartments, and the handy labels for food groups (fruit, veggies, grains, protein, etc.) are actually pretty good reminders for how to build a well-rounded snack lunch on the fly.
I can’t tell you how many questions I get about these food picks! They’re handmade by a talented mama, Dashelyn, in collaboration with my friend Kelly whose entire Instagram feed, @eattherainbow_kids, is dedicated to diversifying kiddos’ palates using color. It’s super-inspiring. Dashelyn makes themed food picks too that are pretty dang cute (Bluey!!!) and would make great gifts. Note: Because they’re handmade using a polymer clay, they have to be hand-washed and cannot sit (soak) in liquid for an extended period of time. We just give them a quick rinse and lay them to dry with the rest of our lunch accessories.
These animal-themed food picks are another little item I pack as an alternative to a utensil for things like fruit, or sometimes I’ll thread a couple slices of folded pepperoni onto them just to cutesy things up a bit. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store (or, even better, a Daiso!) these are commonly available and a fair bit cheaper than they are online.
I’ve owned loads of silicone baking liners, and these by Amazon Basics are by far my favorite. They hold their shape the best during baking, while also nesting neatly into lunchbox compartments, and they’re just the right height for the Yumbox. Plus, they’re budget-friendly. Can’t go wrong. Note: Like all silicone products, these can soak up fragrance (and then transfer that fragrance into your food), so I prefer to hand-wash them using an unscented dish soap, like Dapple — which we actually use for all our kiddo stuff.
The perfect size for younger kiddos, this Hydro Flask water bottle really does keep water icy cold all day (Lana is, unsurprisingly, picky about her water being “fresh”). And as long as the spout is properly closed between uses, it truly doesn’t leak. Well worth the investment to have a couple in rotation. (We remove the silicone sleeve for school so the bottle can slide more easily into her backpack’s exterior stash pocket.)
In an effort to go plastic-free, we invested in one of the metal Yumbox Presto Stainless-Steel Bento Boxes earlier this year — and it’s been lovely. It’s been more or less out of stock since then (in fact, I’m convinced I nabbed ours during a lucky five-minute window when someone else canceled an order or something…), but this Bentgo version looks really stinking cool, and it even comes with its own little modular silicone compartment that can be moved around. I haven’t personally used the Bentgo, so I can’t vouch for it, but had I known it existed prior to ordering our Presto, I miiiiight have switched teams. The downside of both of these, of course, is that they’re on the pricey side. But if you were looking to commit to just one sustainable bento-style lunchbox made with minimal plastic, I think either would be a worthy investment.
We use this rice mold several times a week for packing rice, which is almost always a guaranteed win (even if it’s not the most nutritious). Sometimes we pack plain ol’ medium-grain rice seasoned with a little furikake (Lana likes the simple nori kumi, but I love all the JFC International furikake blends); sometimes we season the rice as if we were making sushi (highlighted in my stories — skip through a ways). And if your child isn’t as into “all-plain everything” (a quote from Lana), you can even make rice balls stuffed with creamy tuna mayo, umeboshi (pickled plum) or Spam.
Confession, the exact model of the rice cooker we have is this one, but it’s so rarely in stock, I’m linking up the highly rated fancier version too. I can’t overstate how much I adore this rice cooker. Yes, you can buy a perfectly suitable rice cooker for under $30 (in fact, we had a previous iteration of this Oster rice cooker for 10 years), but the “keep warm” and “extended keep warm” functions on the Zojirushi models are invaluable for lunch packing.
Rice balls and sushi are best enjoyed when they cool to room temp, not warm to room temp (if that makes sense), meaning you have to start with warm rice. Since we pack these items in Lana’s lunch several times a week, having a rice cooker that keeps rice from the previous evening warm overnight saves me the step of heating and cooling the rice prior to forming the balls or rolling the sushi. Plus, Lana will always say yes to hot rice for breakfast, so having a warm pot of rice on the counter when we come downstairs in the morning is a double timesaving advantage. Not to mention the quality of the cooked rice is superb, and the various settings ensure a perfect cook for many varieties of rice, plus jook (rice porridge), rice pudding and oatmeal too.
We tuck one of these slim ice packs into the insulated lunchbox compartment of Lana’s backpack (more on that one below), and we’ve been so impressed by how effectively they keep lunchbox items cool (sometimes ice cold!). Super-affordable, and I love the available fun colors.
What a throwback. I rocked a Dakine backpack in high school and college, and the quality and styles are still excellent. There are lots of sizes available in the Dakine Campus series, but they all feature an insulated front pocket, which is where we tuck Lana’s large Yumbox along with one of the slim ice packs. The smaller snack box goes into the main compartment (with her schoolwork folder and accessories), and the water bottle stashes easily in the exterior side pocket. We have the smallest 18-liter size, which, after loads of research, is one of the most compact packs you can find that still fits a standard folder or binder. (Even the cute L.L. Bean or Pottery Barn packs seem huuuuge on Lana.) Fun colors and patterns too!
Love to hear if there are any obvious lunch-packing products we’re missing here (just let me know in the comments or shoot me a DM).
Good luck, friends. And happy back-to-school time!
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