Let's face it. The last two school years have been a total sh*t show! Parents and kids throughout Ontario are counting down the days until they can get finally get back to in-person learning along with their friends.
Nothing gets our kids more excited for school than new gear and our kids deserve a little excitement right now. While our kids may be looking for fun patterns, when parents are shopping for back to school items, we are looking for functionality, durability and of course, things that are easy to clean.
As a nutritionist and mom of two boys, ages 10 and 12, I've personally packed thousands of lunches and have been through my share of containers and lunch bags.
Here are my top picks for this year.
Montii Insulated Food Jar:
I have two pet peeves when it comes to insulated jars. The first is that they are often too wide for small hands to open. My hands are pretty small so if I have a hard time, imagine what it's like for kindergarten kids! If your child can't open their container, they will need to wait for a teacher or lunch supervisor to help, which means less time for them to eat. The Montii food jar has a handle build into the lid which make it easy to open by simply turning the handle.
The second challenge is related to cleaning. All insulated food jars have a silicone ring inside the lid to seal everything in tight. The problem is that they are often very difficult to remove, and if you don't remove them to be washed, they get mouldy. These Montii Food Jars have a small "handle" attached to the silicone ring that makes it super easy to remove and clean. Genius! You can definitely tell that this was designed by a parent.
These insulated jars keep both cold food cold or warm food warm for hours.
There are other stainless steel lunch containers out there, but Planetbox is by far my favourite. It is the easiest for little ones to open and its seamless design means food doesn't get trapped in any crevices. Plus, it's dishwasher friendly - just be sure to remove your magnets first.
Planetbox is definitely on the pricier side, but keep in mind its longevity and that it comes with 2 small leak-proof containers with silicone lids (a value of $25). The small container is designed for dips like ketchup or hummus or even salad dressing. The larger round container fits inside the bento box (which is great for wet/leaky foods) but it can also be used separately as a snack container.
An important thing to note is that the Planetbox Rover will not fit inside your standard size lunch bag. There are a small handful of brands that are compatible but Planetbox does offer a carry bag designed specifically for the Rover. These bags are insulated with a space to hold an ice pack and utensils inside. The outside features 2 pockets - one with a velcro closure that's perfect for the round container and another that can be used for another snack or to hold your child's water bottle. The bag has a handle that can also be extended and used as a shoulder bag.
SOOP Snack Bags:
While I love stainless steel, let's be honest. Too much of it in a backpack can really weigh our kids down. That's why I love lightening the load with some reusable snack bags. These bags are locally-made in Toronto and come in fun patterns. They have a zipper closure and are lined with a waterproof, food-safe material. They are machine washable and a great zero-waste alternative to plastic baggies.
Another thing I've learned over the years is that snack time often occurs during their 15 minute recess. My kids end up taking their stainless steel snack containers outside with them and they often never return. I love that these fabric bags can by easily stuffed into a pocket when the kids are done eating and it won't interfere with their outdoor play time.
Funkins Insulated Lunch Bags:
With minimal in person learning over the last two years, our kids may not have worn our their lunch bags like they usually do. That being said, if you bought their lunch bag for SK and they are now heading into grade 2, the pattern they loved back then may not be "cool" anymore.
Funkins has some great patterns and all of their bags are insulated. And not the type of insulation that peels off over time. These bags are solid! You can even throw them into the washing machine. If your child is a bit older and/or wants something plain, they also come in solid black or an amazing hot pink colour.
Note - There are matching cloth napkins to go with many of the Funkins lunch bag patterns, which make a great addition to your child's waste-free lunch. My kids usually just wipe their hands on their clothes, but I still keep sending them with napkins, hoping one day they will use them.
Funkins Face Masks:
While we all wish our kids didn't need to still be wearing face masks at this point, it's looking like this will be a requirement, at least at the start of the school year.
Funkins makes mask wearing more fun with their cute patterns (many even match their lunch bags). What I love about their masks is that most of them have built in nose wires which help the masks stay put and are also great for kids who wear glasses. The straps are easy to adjust to ensure a proper fit. The kids' masks come in two varieties - fitted or pleated. The fitted masks are designed for ages 3-7 and are perfect for little faces. The pleated masks are also great for a 3 year old but will fit up to age 12.
Planetbox Magnetic Utensils:
The silicone handles make the utensils easy to grip when eating and helps keeps them in place if your lunch bag has a loop for cutlery like the Planetbox Rover Carry Bag. The way I see it, anything that makes it harder for my kids to lose things, is a bonus!
Namaka 18oz Water Bottle (with sport top add-on):
We have a number of different Namaka bottles in our house and we love them. They are made of insulated stainless steel to keep your kids' water at the perfect temperature, no matter the season. I find the 18oz size to be perfect for most kids without being too bulky or heavy to carry around.
I highly recommend adding the sport top lid (sold separately). It's screw off top makes it easy for your child to open and drink but remains connected to the lid at all times, so you won't need to worry about it getting lost. It also keeps the part they drink from covered and protected from dirt and viruses that may be floating around.
Goodums Cookie Mixes:
Every year, we start off with a carefully curated, Pinterest worthy lunch box, but that tends to last for a week at the most. Nevertheless, each year we find ourselves baking cookies and other homemade treats the night before a new school year begins and this year will be no different. If you are not a bake from scratch kind of mom or simply want something to make your life easier, check out these healthy cookie mixes from Goodums. They come in two flavours, both using certified gluten-free oats and are nut-free. Simply add in the wet ingredients (with an option to make them vegan in the instructions) and bake!
Yes Peas! Snacks:
Remember what I said about the homemade honeymoon period fizzling after the first week of school? Well as nutritious and delicious as homemade treats are, sometimes it's great to have some healthy store-bought items on hand that are school safe. These chickpea bites from Yeas Peas! fit the bill. Think "Rice Crispy Square" but better for you. Free of all common allergens, these snacks are the perfect addition to any lunch.
Deep Immune for Kids:
There’s no better way to strengthen your children’s immune system naturally than with Deep Immune Kids. An adaptogenic liquid formula, Deep Immune Kids supports and fortifies the immune system by restoring the innate balance of your child’s body to where it is at its strongest and most vigorous.
Take daily to provide protection and peace of mind as socialization increases. Drop straight into your child's mouth, add to water or juice or mix into a spoonful of honey. And don't forget your child's daily dose of vitamin D!
Aviva Allen is a Toronto-based kids' nutritionist, mom of two and founder of Healthy Moms.
All products mentioned above can be purchased online or in-store at the Healthy Moms Market using your Healthy Moms Discount Card to save 15% off.