Sandwich bags. Snack bags. Zippered bags. Slide-n-lock bags. Blue-and-yellow-makes-green bags. Is this a Science lesson or an exercise in decision making? Toss in the plastic containers still gracing my cupboards, stainless steel or glass (because plastic is neither “green” nor safe, you know), and I’m lost as to what to put my kids’ sandwiches in when we pack a lunch for the zoo.
I kept reading about cloth reusable bags and was deadly curious, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I think I’ve told you before that I’m the type of person who always asks for two flavors of ice cream on one cone, so figuring out what kind of reusable bag would work best for our family was a hazardous question for my sanity.
Testing four completely different versions at once is so very right up my alley. Don’t you agree?
You know I had them all lined up on my couch, taking notes on the differences in construction. (Two with nylon linings, two 100% organic cotton; two sandwich wraps, two sandwich bags; two had exactly the same shape, while the others were wild cards; the stitching was different on every bag, but they all used Velcro to fasten.)
And of course I used half a bag of leftover white bread from my husband’s camping trip to test a fake “sandwich” in each one on the table overnight, along with the poor control subject sitting out in the open air. (Can you think of a better use for white bread?)
My husband was kind enough to help me determine the relative staleness of pretzels stored overnight in the snack bags vs. a fresh pretzel and one that languished on the tabletop, unprotected.
I’ve washed them by hand, in the dishwasher, and with the laundry, and if there were other options for getting them clean, I’d have tried those, too.
We packed lunches in them, too, and my kids gave their opinions.
The results were as varied as the bags.
Note: Lots of giveaways going on for the Back-to-School Bonanza! You can win a $250 lunch packing package HERE, homeschool nutrition eCourse HERE, preschool curriculum HERE, or deodorizers and a cookbook HERE.
The Four Brands
I have been testing out both sandwich and snack reusable solutions from Eco Lunch Gear (found at Hazelnut Kids), Eco Ditty, Frugal Granola and Snack Taxi (pictured in top photo with Almond Power Bars, from my eBook Healthy Snacks to Go).
Here are some photos so you can see for yourself:
You can’t tell sizes very well there, but you get the general idea of the styles.
Paul and Leah are happy to show you how their new Frugal Granola sandwich wraps open and close.
Each bag looks entirely different, which impacts aesthetics, but more importantly, usefulness. Here’s the breakdown:
|Property||Snack Taxi||EcoLunchGear||Frugal Granola||EcoDitty|
|Size (sandwich)||7.5″x6″||13″x15″ (open)||10″x10″ (open)||7.5″x6″|
|How it opens (sandwich)||Velcro, folds over to enclose bag||Wrap opens flat, corners fold over completely||Wrap opens flat, open corners allow air in||Velcro, folds over to enclose bag|
|How it opens (snack)||same as above||opens flat, open corners allow air in||top folds down but leaves corners open||same as above|
|Material||Cotton exterior with polyurethane coated nylon interior. Inside feels like a winter coat’s exterior.||Organic cotton exterior with waterproof nylon liner. Inside feels like a thin spring coat’s exterior.||100% organic cotton, lined with a durable heavy-weight fabric that is designed to be naturally water-repellent.||100% Organic Cotton, printed with low-impact inks and dyes|
|Fabric Design||flashy!||earthy and classy||earthy, lots of cute pink options||classy, many same prints as ELG|
|Stitching||Serger stitch around outside||inside out stitches*||inside out stitches*, double hemmed||Serger stitch|
|Basic||Hazelnut Kids wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine; easy and earthy||In handmade bags from magazine pages. Personal touch!||Personal presentation, safety pinned tag|
|Price (sandwich)||$8.95 (seen as low as $6.99)||$9.00 at Hazelnut Kids||$12.00||$8.99-13.99 (available at some online retailers)|
*I’m no seamstress. “Inside out” means to me that the two layers were stitched together, then turned inside out so that the seam and stitching itself are on the inside.
Bonus Points to:
- Frugal Granola and Eco Ditty, for including washing instructions on the tag. The others assume I can remember from a card inserted into the bag.
- Eco Lunch Gear, for having two snack options. One is smaller with nylon lining, and one is quite large, 100% organic cotton (no nylon liner), with a drawstring top (shown at right). The smaller bag has room on the label to write your child’s name!
- Snack Taxi and Eco Ditty’s snack and sandwich sizes fold over completely, so nothing can fall out and less air gets in (in the case of Snack Taxi). Both of their sizes hold the most compared to others.
- Frugal Granola for cutest presentation (above) and Eco Ditty for looking so classy when new.
- All four, for being Mom-run companies made in the USA.
- Frugal Granola’s snack bag is so small, half the size of a plastic “snack” sized bag. It’s only good for a small snack for a small child. UPDATE: Duh, I have small children. Michelle pointed out that she has larger snack sizes for older kids and adults! My kids loved their little bags, I must say.
- Eco Lunch Gear’s snack size shows a lot of Velcro, which I think is unattractive.
- Eco Ditty’s new Gingko fabric has light-colored flowers on dark red, lined with cream. Although it looks gorgeous upon arrival, in the dishwasher, the colors ran.
The Real Test: How do Reusable Sandwich Bags Work?
It’s all well and good to tell you about how the bags are made, but you could determine that from each product’s website description and photo. I know what you’re really interested in is what happened when the rubber hit the road…I mean, the sandwich hit the bag.
How did the reusable cloth sandwich and snack bags work, in reality?
It’s been a while since I graded third graders schoolwork, but I’ll venture back into the world of the A-E scale to tell you what this teacher thought of the reusable lunchtime options.
|Performance||Snack Taxi||EcoLunchGear||Frugal Granola||EcoDitty|
|Sandwich 12 hours||A+ Perfect||A Soft||E Stale||D- Mostly stale|
|Crunchy snack 12+ hours||A Crisp||A Crisp||D Only slightly better than no bag||D Only slightly better than no bag|
|Crunchy snack a few days||E Stale||E Stale||E Stale||E Stale|
|Moist snack (cucumbers)||A Kept moisture in||A Kept moisture in||B Moist but not damp on outside||D Dampness goes right through|
|Getting crumbs off (sandwich)||B So simple to wipe with damp cloth||A So simple to wipe with damp cloth; opens 100%||A So simple to wipe with damp cloth; opens 100%||C Turn inside out and brush; peanut butter a problem|
|Getting crumbs off (snack)||B So simple to wipe with damp cloth||A So simple to wipe with damp cloth; opens 100%||C Tiny bags hard to turn inside out; crumbs in corners||C Turn inside out and brush; moist crumbs a problem|
|Can a child open it?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Ease of washing||A Love the damp cloth option!||A+ Love the damp cloth option; dries so quickly||B Machine wash, tumble dry. Wrap dries A+, bag takes a while||B I’d suggest machine washing or hand washing|
|Wear and tear after wash||B Almost like new||A Almost like new||B Holds up great, corners need poking to go back to right angles||C Edges immediately wrinkly and “not so new” looking|
Bonus Points to:
- Frugal Granola and EcoLunchGear, for the “mat” system, because it makes such a nice placemat upon which to eat lunch.
- EcoLunchGear’s mat, for being the quickest to dry.
- EcoLunchGear, for providing an extra Velcro tab to simply fold the scratchy side over so it doesn’t stick to your other clothes.
Across the board, if you want to store food longer than 24-48 hours, you need heavier ammunition than nylon-lined reusable bags. If you want to pack lunches the night before, you can’t use a no-plastic version.
Perhaps the easiest complaint anyone can make about reusable bags is the hassle of cleaning them. Yes, anytime you reduce your waste, unless you can stop using something altogether, you’ll end up with more dishes or more laundry. It’s part of being green.
One does need to balance the drive for less trash with the question: at what point are you going to use more water/energy to keep the items clean than you will save in landfill space? With plastic bags, particularly keeping in mind the energy and raw materials used and pollution created to manufacture new plastic, I’m guessing you come out well ahead with reusables.
If you machine wash the reusable bags, make sure they’re not only open, but inside out, and the crumbs have been brushed away. I tried just tapping the crumbs out of an upside down bag, then washing it with the Velcro closed, since Velcro tends to grab other fabrics in the wash and can cause problems. No good. I was able to attach Frugal Granola’s Velcro to each other without folding it up, and EcoLunchGear has a lovely extra Velcro piece so you can hide the scratchy side and protect your other clothing.
Don’t use the dishwasher, either. Both bags, one nylon-lined and one 100% cotton, came out grubbier than they went in, because food particles from other dishes would stick to them and not get washed off. Don’t blame my dishwasher, either; it does a fabulous job, and I have sung its praises before.
If you don’t have a load of laundry that needs to be done, I would recommend just washing the bags with your dinner dishes in the sink and hanging them to dry. After all, how many of us wash Ziploc bags to reuse them, anyway? These guys are a lot easier to get totally dry, and they’re made for reuse.
Either hang to dry from a clip or prop open by setting them upside down over kitchen utensils in the dish dry rack. They also dry acceptably laying flat on a laundry rack, but I found that turning them inside out, then right side out again after 12 hours or so speeds the process along.
The Bottom Line: Final Opinions
Reusable sandwich and snack bags serve an important purpose, but when deciding which brand to buy, you must decide what’s important to you: going “no plastic” or keeping food edible overnight.
If you need to pack a sandwich the night before for your kids, you either need to have a plastic liner or another way to keep it airtight. I’m wondering if an airtight lunchbox would do the trick, but I didn’t own one to try it out.
No food can be kept more than a few days, even in the most airtight (Snack Taxi), so you won’t want to purchase a reusable snack bag to keep crunchy diaper bag snacks readily available over an undefined period of time. (I’ve got something to tell you about tomorrow for that purpose.)
We had some controversy this summer at KS when Eco Lunch Gear was a monthly sponsor and I mistakenly called them a “no plastic alternative.” A reader wisely called me out that nylon, in fact, is plastic. Now that I’ve discovered the stale drawbacks of completely plastic free bags, however, I would choose a nylon-lined bag for our family’s regular use.
Eco Lunch Gear has the most versatile options, with the no-plastic drawstring bag and the sandwich and snack bags that open up all the way, which makes it easier to clean with a wet cloth and dry completely after machine washing. Even though Snack Taxi keeps things fresher slightly longer, Eco Lunch Gear gets props for using 100% organic cotton. My choice for an overall favorite is Eco Lunch Gear, found at Hazelnut Kids.
What do you think, dear readers? Would you spring for reusable sandwich or snack bags? Have you used them already in your home?
One lucky reader will get to win a huge lunch-packing prize package, including most of what I reviewed here plus four other goodies (see that review HERE, including stainless steel lunch supplies and dried buffalo bars)! Be sure to sign up for a free email subscription or grab my reader feed to keep an eye out for the giveaway this week. You can also follow me on Twitter, get KS for Kindle, or see my Facebook Fan Page for updates.
Now, what are you going to put in your bags? Check out my Healthy Lunch Packing Ideas!
SAVE on Going Back to School shopping: Use the code CWAA5 to save 15% on CleanWell products, including CleanWell’s Natural Hand Sanitizer, until 12/31/2012.
Have you seen the Online Resources I Love?
Disclosure: I received products for review without charge from Hazelnut Kids, Eco Ditty, Frugal Granola and Snack Taxi. Eco Lunch Gear is a former, not current, sponsor of KS. Frugal Granola is a current sponsor and also a blogging friend. No payments are accepted for reviews, but I do charge a small advertising fee to run giveaways. They’re posted separately because they’re completely unrelated. Clearly, the relationships between KS and these companies had no bearing on my final review, since nobody gets all As with this strict teacher! See my full disclosure statement here.