Great lunch kit for school!

Nicholas will be starting first grade in three weeks, so we’ve got some shopping and organizing to do, but one thing we don’t need to do is buy a new lunchbox!  The one he used for full-day kindergarten is still in great shape for this year and likely for several years to come.  [UPDATE: He is getting a new outer carrying case for third grade.  The box itself is still in perfect condition after 3 years of continuous use, including summer day camp!]

We were not compensated in any way for this review.  We chose this product ourselves and paid full price.  All opinions are our own.

When we were preparing for kindergarten, Nicholas announced that he wanted a lunchbox similar to the mini one his grandma had given him to hold some small toys–a plain silvery metal box with the standard hinged lid and latch.  I decided to take this as an opportunity to teach him about online shopping.  I let him choose the key words for the search, then suggested some refinements to help find what we wanted.

Well, we did ultimately find a few sources of plain metal standard lunchboxes, but in the process we also turned up a number of other lunch transportation systems.  Nicholas got very excited about a few of them, including one that was so totally organic that I expected it would biodegrade before our eyes (and therefore not be worth the incredibly high price) and one with a lot of complicated hinges that I was sure would be irreparably clogged with peanut butter and ants by Halloween, if he didn’t pinch his fingers off trying to open and close it.

But we also saw PlanetBox, a stainless-steel tray with scoopy compartments (like the school cafeteria trays of my childhood–his school’s food is served entirely in plastic and foam packaging, which is one reason he’s bringing his lunch!) and a lid with matching compartments, to hold 5 types of foods without letting them touch.  The latch looked easy to operate.  The box is plain silver but can be decorated with magnets.  You choose a set of magnets to be included with your box, and additional magnet sets are sold separately–so if he gets tired of the picture on his lunchbox after a year or two, he can replace just the picture (or go plain) instead of nagging for a whole new lunchbox!  Also available are little containers to hold wet foods (also stainless steel) and a carrying case made of 100% recycled plastic beverage bottles. [UPDATE: PlanetBox is now available in multiple sizes. Nicholas has the Rover model.]

Nicholas was enraptured with PlanetBox, and I thought it was pretty cool, too!  We kept its site open while looking at other lunchboxes in other tabs, but we kept going back to look at PlanetBox again.

The big stumbling block for me was that the box alone costs $34.95, and the whole shebang costs $59.95.  That’s a lot for a kindergartner’s lunchbox!  Yet it did seem wise to get the whole shebang if we were going the PlanetBox route at all, because Nicholas likes hummus and applesauce and other wet foods, and the box looked awkward to carry without a case.

I really liked the idea that Daniel (the lunch-packing parent in our family) would be able to pack a variety of foods for Nicholas without having to futz around with a lot of little containers that would have to be washed individually, might get lost, might be difficult to open, etc.  Nicholas was drooling over some of the food shown in pictures of the PlanetBox.  It seemed he would be more likely to eat and enjoy a wider range of food with this appealing presentation.

After much debate, I went ahead and ordered the complete PlanetBox set.  It is just as nice in person as it looks online!  Every part is extremely well-made.  I can imagine the steel box lasting all the way through high school.  It cleans out pretty easily with a damp cloth, and it can go through the dishwasher (with magnets removed) every few days.  Even the hinge is easy to get fully clean.  Although the magnets are the flexible type, they’ve held up really well.  (However, when he writes his name in the Belongs To space on the magnet with a permanent marker, it rubs off after a month or so of normal handling.  I don’t know what would mark it permanently.  We settled for writing his name in the carrying case.)  The wet-food containers seal well.

The carrying case is ready for another year, but it is showing some wear at the corners.  Although I understand it’s easiest for Nicholas to keep the box inside the case when he opens it at his crowded lunch table, that has the unfortunate side effect of letting crumbs drop down into the crevices of the case, where they are hard to remove–a bottle brush scrapes out the worst, but there’s a sheen of old peanut butter in there now!  Soaking it in hot soapy water and then scrubbing freshens it up, but it takes a long time to dry.  These are just flaws of that type of bag.  I think it’s very well designed, with good quality zippers and nice pockets.  My one complaint is that the water-bottle pocket is a little too narrow for any bottle we could find, so he had to cram his bottle in there, and that caused the stretchy fabric to get a run–but the cases now shown on the site have a water-bottle pocket that looks a bit larger and different, so maybe it’s been redesigned.  At any rate, Nicholas decided to carry his bottle in an outer pocket of his backpack instead, so it worked out.

As for eating a variety of foods . . . although Nicholas chowed down on meals we packed for several trial runs, we found that he didn’t eat as much at school lunchtime.  Sometimes if he didn’t like the afternoon snack served in class, he’d finish his lunch then, but in general he was bringing home a lot of uneaten food.  Well, he was only in kindergarten!  It’s good to know PlanetBox has room for a growing appetite!

Furthermore, Nicholas soon wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day and lost interest in hummus, cheese and crackers, and other main-dish options.  I guess the predictability is comforting to him.  Also, for the previous three-and-a-half years he attended a childcare center that was nut-free because of some children’s allergies, so he could never have a PBJ there–so he’s making up for lost time!  He likes natural peanut butter, organic juice-sweetened fruit spread, and whole-wheat bread, so his PBJ is a pretty healthy choice.  I worried about it only in the occasional spells when he wanted PBJ for breakfast and dinner, too. . . .  [UPDATE: In first grade, Nicholas has been requesting lots of hummus lunches and occasional leftover pasta.]

While the initial cost of the PlanetBox kit was high, we’re saving money over time as we use it:

  • We don’t have to replace any part of it this year.  We expect to get at least two years out of the case and magnets.  The box itself is warrantied for 5 years, and I bet it’ll last longer than that.
  • We’re not tempted to buy pricey individually-packaged foods because it’s so easy to toss portions into the PlanetBox from larger containers.
  • We don’t need sandwich bags, foil, little plastic containers, etc.
  • We don’t need paper napkins or plastic spoons because the PlanetBox’s inner pocket is so handy for stashing a cloth napkin and metal spoon.  Nicholas never lost any of these all year.
  • Having many small compartments makes it easy to pack even tiny amounts of leftovers (as side dishes to the crucial PBJ), so we tend to use every bit of foods we have on hand, instead of buying things specifically for school lunches.

PlanetBox is better for the environment than many other lunch-packing options:

  • Nothing gets thrown away on a daily basis.
  • When the box someday wears out, it is recyclable.
  • The case is made from recycled material.
  • Compared to the school-provided lunch, Nicholas is eating more environmentally friendly food–no meat, fewer pesticides, fewer genetically modified organisms.
  • The total energy used and packaging discarded in the production of his homemade lunch probably is less than a school lunch because the school lunches are made in a central facility (from ingredients which are delivered from elsewhere, in big packages), packed into foam trays, and trucked to Colfax; and meal components that are not in the trays are individually packaged.  The peanut butter we use is bought in bulk in reused jars, and we aim for minimal packaging and minimal driving in our shopping.

PlanetBox works for me!  Visit Your Green Resource for more environmentally friendly ideas!

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