Saving lunchtime

My twins, like their older brother before them, attend a little elementary school in a very small school district.

“How small is it?”

It’s so small that, up until a year ago, there was no hot lunch served in the “cafeteria” (i.e., the gym with pull-out tables).

Even though our elementary school now has a hot lunch program, we still choose to pack our own every day. Since the school had to retrofit the tiny kitchen to serve food, the lunch menu is limited, with mostly reheated pre-packaged food that I’m not wild about them eating on a regular basis. The students wait in a long queue to purchase their meals, so the last kid in line needs to eat quickly before the 25-minute lunchtime is over. Sure, it’s convenient, but I figure if my oldest son ate homemade lunches day after day throughout elementary school, the twins can too. All’s fair in lunch and war.

I estimate that over the course of my three children’s school tenure, they’ve eaten (and I’ve packed) approximately 2,000 lunches. And that’s not including the ones that my husband takes to work. I finally got smart within the last school year and taught the kids to pack their own meals the night before.

I bought these cubes a couple years back as a way to cut down on all those ziploc baggies we were using and tossing. The kids like them because they prevented the sandwiches from getting smashed at the bottom of the lunch boxes.

bento-box lunch cube closedlunch cube, bento-box

Each night after dinner when the table is cleared, everyone makes his or her own lunch for the next day. The different compartments help the kids remember what they need to pack — a sandwich or wrap, some cut-up veggies or sliced apples, and a small dessert. And yes, we watch what they put in their lunches so they aren’t eating a “sandwich” made of Peeps between graham crackers, caramel-covered apple slices and then a stack of Girl Scout cookies. Because you know that would be their first choice if they could get away with it.

I feel like we’re in a pretty good place with this — there’s little complaining, the kids like to have control over what they pack, and I hope it’s teaching them responsibility and maybe some healthy eating habits. It’s all working except one thing: the state of the lunch boxes.

I’m not going to lie. They aren’t pretty.

These poor bags get tossed, thrown into backpacks, and on at least one occasion, kicked accidentally. They are looking tired and worn out. Worse yet is the condition of the cold packs that we put in the kids’ lunch boxes. We’ve had them forever, but I’m worried that they aren’t keeping the food cold enough throughout the day.

The solution came out of the blue the other day. Look what arrived in the mail:

PackIt cooler

Pack It cooler

I was lucky enough to win a PackIt cooler giveaway that Kelly over at Cobwebs, Cupcakes and Crayons hosted. I even got to pick the color/pattern. I’ll be honest: I have wanted one of these for a long time, back when I read this review of them.

Inside PackIt cooler

They fold up to fit into your freezer and yet are roomy enough to hold the lunch cube and even a drink on the side. And man, do they ever keep the food cold! Even after a day sitting out at school, the inside of the bag is still chilly. I love it.

I still can’t believe I won one. Thanks, Kelly, for making it possible!

FYI, a disclaimer — I wasn’t asked or required to write a review of their product as part of the terms to win this lunchbox; I just wanted to. It’s solved some of issues for us — and with thousands more packed lunches in my family’s future, I need all the help I can get.


Reader Appreciation Award

And I was grateful to be nominated recently for a Reader Appreciation award by Millie over at Millie’s World. You should go see her crochet creations — they are so adorable! I’ll try to get my act together and pass it along, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to say thank you. Thanks again, Millie!


About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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23 Responses to Saving lunchtime

  1. I was so happy that you won Kelly’s giveaway. Those coolers are so great! I’ve been looking at the possibility of getting one for my husband to bring his lunch to work in.

    • Thanks Kenley! I love these — they are bigger than the typical little lunchbox I had bought the kids and since you don’t have to cram in one of those cold packs, there’s even more room. I’ve bought others for the rest of my family because I think they could even take yogurt without it spoiling (a no-go with our old lunch boxes).

  2. buddingchic says:

    I have seen these around and always wondered about their ability to stay cold. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • I’m amazed at how cold they are after she brings it home from school. I agree with Molly Logan Anderson’s review (linked above in the post) — it’s just nice to not worry about food spoiling! And thanks for dropping in!

  3. Micha says:

    We have a couple of those plastic lunch cubes but god only knows where they are. They don’t fit in their current lunchbags so I don’t use them. However, if I got a couple of those cool PackIts, we might be in business. I like how they can fold up and go in the freezer because I don’t like the lunchbags sitting out all night taking up space when they aren’t in use. Thanks for the review!

    • When I bought the current lunchbags we’re using, I took the cubes into the store to make sure they’d fit. I know we got some strange looks from people, but (like you) I learned that they don’t always fit into any old bag. Sigh. Those cubes are awesome, though. No more smashed sandwiches.

      They fold up pretty small (smaller than the current lunch boxes) to fit in the freezer, and I’ve been ready to ditch those cold pack thingies for a while. I’m with you– give me counter space!

  4. mtetar says:

    Congrats, Joan! Be Blessed, Mtetar

  5. No problem Joan, well deserved~!

  6. I’m so glad that you love it! I may have to get myself one now…

  7. amyp22 says:

    My son was in second grade and came home to the idea that we should never use baggies again. We’ve used wax paper bags, an off the shelf container, and have now used Tupperware clam shells for over three years. They also have these really cool fruit shaped containers which are awesome for nonsquished bananas.

    Those cool packs look super cool!

    • Ooh, I like the idea of containers for unsquished bananas. My kids refuse to eat them if they are “dented” or have one teeny tiny speck of brown on them.

      Love that your son wanted to steer clear of the baggies! That’s pretty awesome that you helped him make that happen!

  8. Awesome post, Joan! I am going to have to start packing my daughter’s lunch everyday in the fall, so we’re definitely going to need one of these. Good to know that it really works πŸ™‚

    • It keeps the food colder than the average lunch bag, in my opinion. I like that part the best. And it fits almost any kind of tupperware-ish container I can find plus a water bottle. Like that too.

      When we get around to fall, I’ve love to know what kinds of lunches you make for your daughter. Even though my kids now pack their own, I still have to make sure we have something in the fridge for them ready to pack! Always on the lookout for something new that will make them happy!

      • Yes, I’d love to swap lunch ideas…what are some of your kids’ favorites?

      • My daughter E is all about the sunflower seed butter sandwich, cut into quarters on the diagonal like little finger sandwiches. She likes either carrots or apple slices or celery but absolutely NO green peppers. For dessert, she usually prefers oatmeal choc-chip cookies or whatever Easter/Valentine’s/Christmas/Halloween candy she can find. That would be, hands down, her favorite lunch and she would eat it every single day if she could. She’s not a fan of wraps or deli meat, really.

        My boys, on the other hand, will eat sandwiches but will also venture into the land of the thermos for chicken pot pies, spaghetti, lasagna, etc. My oldest son M prefers to eat a little spinach on the side with green peppers and skips dessert at lunchtime. My younger son C is all about bagels and grapes. They all usually take a water bottle or a Gatorade (if we have them) to drink.

        I just found these great small packs of hummus, and I’d like to give the kids those to try (if they want to). They are my husband’s current favorite along with carrots or celery. With the kids packing their own, I find that I need to have on hand cut-up veg or whatever so that they can assemble and go.

      • Thanks for the suggestions! That is awesome that your kids are packing their own lunches πŸ™‚ Good point about having the veggies cut up ahead of time, I should start doing that too so that we can make healthier choices when opening up the fridge for a snack!

      • It’s a total pain to come back from the grocery store and chop up all the food, BUT it makes a huge difference in snacking and packing options for my kids. And for me too, to be truthful. If I’m hungry, I’m eating the handiest thing there is (chocolate always seems to be handy, you know?).

  9. i so enjoy you storytelling! I have to admit it is your ability to draw the reader in with your wonderful anecdotes that I look most forward to. Lucky you winning Kelly’s contest! ~Thea

    • Thea, you always say the nicest, most supportive comments about my blogging — thank you!

      I couldn’t believe I won one of these PackIts! Still can’t, as a matter of fact. I am notorious for my lack of luck in my family. Hope that’s changing… πŸ™‚ Best to you and thanks a million for reading and commenting! Joan

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