First, you’re used to it. Your plastics cupboard is an institution in the kitchen, and it’s habit to reach for an easy storage container there.
Second, you have lots of plastic. The size you want is always available.
Finally, especially when you’re packing for children, you realize that the glass storage containers you found to help boot the plastics out are heavy. And maybe breakable. And some schools don’t allow them. And did I mention they’re pretty heavy?
Yesterday I dished out on the four brands of reusable sandwich and snack bags I tested out. Today I get to share with you some classic stainless steel options for the rest of your lunch, plus a little real food snack to put in your lunch. (My ideas for Healthy Lunch Packing with homemade options are pretty extensive, too!)
Why do I keep saying your lunch? You’ll get a chance to win all the items I review today and a bunch of reusable sandwich/snack bags, too. Keep an eye out for the giveaway! UPDATE: The giveaway is right HERE!
EcoUsable Stainless Steel Water Bottles
How many brands of stainless steel water bottles are there now? When my mom got us our Klean Kanteens a few Christmases ago, they were just on the cusp of becoming a fad but still somewhat new and hard to find. Now, everywhere you go, you can run into a stainless steel bottle. There must be hundreds of brands.(Sometimes I run into aluminum bottles – do be aware that not all cute metal bottles are safe for your drinks ! Aluminum leaches and has health hazards of its own.)
EcoUsable is the company who sponsored that neato filtered water bottle giveaway when I launched my camping eBook this summer (remember, the bottle I could put lake water in and it would filter it on the spot?). They were kind enough to offer some of their standard bottles for my review and a family set to include in the lunch packing giveaway.
Now I’m not going to venture out and say that EcoUsable is the best brand of stainless steel water bottle out there; that’s impossible to say honestly. However, here’s what I like about them:
- Sturdy construction – we’ve used two all summer and haven’t gotten our first “ding” on the bottom.
- Non-slip pad on the base – this makes it quieter to set down and I think plays into the lack of “dings” as well.
- Slim enough to fit most cup holders, including the carseat.
- Smaller mouth – other than their “Big Dipper” wide mouth bottle, EcoUsable’s standard opening is much smaller than most bottles. Nice if you feel overwhelmed by the amount that comes out of many wide-mouth bottles.
- Solid seal on the sport top – we haven’t had a leak in the diaper bag, because the sport top really closes well and stays closed. That is a really important one for me!
- Cute designs – My mother-in-law always wants my kids to get plastic sippy cups because she thinks “they need something cute!” I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to see these seriously cute – absolute darling – stainless steel water bottles for kids. My daughter’s –>
- Carabiner clip on the lid – actually comes in handy for clipping outside a backpack for a hike!
- Carrying strap available – although the website needs to be updated with this, it’s the carrying strap that I wear over my shoulder that gets the most inquisitive and positive comments, and I love it to death. Keeping my cold bottle out of my bag where it could ruin books is a priority for me!
- Water Wrapz™ – a cute way to give your bottle some personality and keep it separate from others. Not that you need them, because EcoUsable has some really cute designs.
- My two-year-old can’t open the sport top. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing. It’s no different from the other bottles we have, anyway.
- The smaller mouth is just barely wide enough to fit ice cubes. Fat ice is a problem.
- I wish the curved shape was available in all sizes. It’s really attractive on the Ech2O filtered bottles and the Big Dipper.
Overall Grade: A-
Eco Lunch Gear Stainless Steel Lunchbox
An average family packing daily lunches wastes hundreds of dollars and creates over 4,000 units of trash because of lunchtime packaging alone, according to an EcoLunchBox Lunch Waste Study. If that’s not reason (two reasons!) enough to try some reusable lunch solutions, they’re also really cute.
My son was begging to go on a picnic or something just so he could try out the EcoLunchBox as soon as received it in the mail.
The box has three sections, a 1-inch deep sandwich compartment “downstairs,” and the “lid” that covers the sandwich is another compartment for food, this one with a nesting cup for another separate side dish.
I was ready to love the EcoLunchBox, and I loaded Paul’s peanut butter and honey with raspberries on homemade sourdough bread in the bottom, set the “upper story” on top…and realized it wasn’t closing. Apparently one inch is a little short for a sandwich on homemade bread, which isn’t as soft as storebought sandwich bread.
The sandwich did fit great in the top, but the nesting cup is too deep and too wide to fit in the bottom. I managed to jam it closed without too much damage to the sandwich, but I was disheartened.
UPDATE: I’ve now used the EcoLunchBox for a year of first grade, nearly every single day. I LOVE the verstility it offers such that sometimes I’d just use the top box and other times (most of the time) the whole thing. Since we don’t do sandwiches (or many grains at all) anymore, this piece was perfect for packing 3-4 items, just what a first grader needs. I’m now a big fan!! I will probably buy another when Leah starts packing a lunch in another year as well.
I very much wanted to love the box from EcoLunchBoxes, but I don’t. It has too many restrictions and isn’t versatile enough for me to choose it for our family.
However, I do think they’d be great for a child’s lunch, one who packs a small amount each day, always has a sandwich that fits, and/or wants to have an additional bag on the outside for extra side dishes. On EcoLunchBoxes’ website, they sell a whole kit that includes a cloth lunchbag in which one puts the stainless steel two-story version. Since the box has no carrying handle, I think this would be a necessity.
What I liked about the lunchbox:
- Easy for my son to open and close – and it closes very tightly with the clips around the sides.
- The two-story design is fun to use and well constructed
- No plastic whatsoever, even on the seals (there are no seals, so it’s not watertight but is airtight for the sandwich)
- Very cute for a young child
- 100% dishwasher safe!
- Small sandwich compartment if you make homemade bread (it does fit store bread perfectly, just no “Dagwood” sandwiches)
- Not versatile for many lunch options, adult portions
- No carrying handle – you need another lunch bag to put this in
Overall Grade: A- if you’re looking for something for a small child; C for my family because we’re big eaters!
UPDATE: ECOlunchboxes wanted to remind me that the 3-in-1 is designed for small children (sometimes Katie gets a “duh” moment), and also that the nesting box could always be packed outside the main box, and the top container can be a stand alone as well (more “duh” that I didn’t notice). They also sell larger oval lunch boxes for adults that would fit my Dagwood sandwich. Apparently I need a little training on how to pack a Bento-style box like this. I guess that’s why the product wasn’t perfect for me, as sometimes I’m just set in my ways like the old Polish lady I’ll become someday. My son, on the other hand, king of the new and novel, is already daydreaming about bringing this box to first grade next year when he gets to stay for lunch.
Kids Konserve Stainless Steel Food Storage Containers
I’ve been using Pyrex and Anchor glass food storage for a few years now, so I was very interested in comparing what stainless steel with a plastic lid from Kids Konserve could offer. Both materials are non-reactive and safe for food (they’re not going to leach like plastic does/might, depending on the type of plastic). A major drawback of glass is its weight, which is eradicated by using stainless steel.
I tested Kids Konserve 8-ounce cups (shown left) and a 5-ounce cup, which was perfect for little munchy diaper bag snacks.
What I liked:
- 5-year-old son can get lids off
- dishwasher safe
- perfect for snacks that need an extended life in a diaper bag, to be ready when you need them
- durable – I’m sure you could drop them often with very little repercussion
- Difficult to get lid on exactly right – my 5-year-old couldn’t quite manage, but he can’t do the small size of glass container, either
- When I left one on its side with water in it, it leaked on the counter. However, yogurt tipped vertical for two days didn’t have a problem in the refrigerator. The 1-cup Pyrex glass containers also leak under the right circumstances, so I don’t know that this is a big deal, just something to be aware of when packing.
- If zero plastic is important to you, clearly these won’t fit the bill. There are stainless steel containers with stainless lids (they don’t seal without any plastic, but some have a small amount of silicone just in the seal).
Overall Grade: B+
I know how hard it is to find easy, grab-able snacks when you’re packing lunches and on the run. Shucks, I wrote a whole eBook about healthy snacks, but that doesn’t mean I have extra time on my hands to keep our family fully stocked with nutritious, homemade snacks 100% of the time.
I remember the first checkup when I was in the throes of first trimester I-feel-nauseous-and-fatigues-all-day-long ickies with my daughter. I knew the importance of frequent snacking and was a staunch proponent of getting lots of protein in my body, but the reality was that slicing cheese was literally all I could bring myself to do. I whined to the nurse who scolded me for the carby snacks in my purse, “But I can’t bring cheese everywhere…”
I doubt I even thought about meat sticks, aka “beef jerky” to many, but if I had, I would have avoided them because of the nitrates in most cured meats.
It was kind of fun to have some protein-packed, packable, nourishing snacks that I didn’t have to make! Tanka Bars and Bites and Sticks are a dried buffalo and cranberry traditional blend produced by Lakota Native Americans. It felt good to support a clearly Made in the USA product, and overall I really like the flavor as well.
We tested bars, bites, and sticks. Although nearly all the ingredients look the same, there are subtle differences. The sticks, Tanka Wild, for example, contain wild rice, and it’s crunchy. That, along with the smoothness of the sticks, wasn’t my thing. Not disgusting, just not my choice.
My son claims that the bites taste just like a meat stick from our favorite local butcher (a real treat to get one!), and he’s more or less right. We both enjoyed the flavor a great deal.
Sweet and Meat Haters, beware: If you, like my husband, think fruit and meat have no place on the same dinner plate (or pizza), and the idea of dried cranberries in your buffalo meat causes your skin to crawl, you might not like the Tanka products. My husband didn’t expect to, and he didn’t.
Spicy not for Weak of Palate: He did concur that the “HOT!” label meant what it says; this from a man who tasted a raw Serrano pepper once and told me it wasn’t very spicy. The extra heat almost covers up the fruit taste, he says…but not quite.
Really, the very best quality of the Tanka Bites is the incredible nutrition one receives fom a largely grazed animal, hormone-free, extremely lean, and minimally processed. I always felt famously healthy and close to the earth when I tore open a package of Tanka Bites.
What I liked:
- nutrition – buffalo meat!
- made in USA
- traditional method of preserving; no nitrates or MSG
- commitment to quality, health of customers
- Bars better than sticks, Bites better than bars
- Just found out I can get them at our local health food store, Harvest Health!
- crunchy rice in the sticks
- slightly too spicy, especially for kids (only the “spicy” versions)
- high price – just over $1/oz. or nearly $15/lb., although this is compared to easily $10/lb. for standard beef jerky sold at a store.
Overall Grade: B
Why do I Review Stuff?
It is my sincere hope that you learned something helpful from these reviews, either a new product you’d like to try or the assurance that you can use what you already have and do just fine. The companies did give me product to review free of charge, but I’m pretty tough on them anyway. I only publish honest reviews, no matter what! My readers are much more important than my sponsors, plus it’s no fun to say everything is perfect all the time. I have a few more coming this week for other non-lunch-packing demographics (homeschoolers and college students), and then you won’t see many, if any, reviews for a while…until we start talking Nutrimills (and the fermented cod liver oil staring at me from the top of my fridge that I haven’t tried yet)!
Be sure to check out the giveaway for all these products ($250 value!!!), HERE!
SAVE! Use the code CWAA5 to save 15% on CleanWell products, including CleanWell’s Natural Hand Sanitizer, until 12/31/2012.
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
See my full disclosure statement here.