Cool green lunch tools

Pack a healthier school lunch with 11 favorite kid-, planet- and parent-friendly picks.

By Sarah Henry

Beyond brown bags

Back to school means back to the routine of making lunches to go. But there's nothing ho-hum about the latest in groovy, eco-chic gear to carry PB & Js and leftover pasta to school. With these all-in-one kits and handy accessories, you may never need plastic wrap, waxed baggies, tinfoil, or paper bags again — let alone hazardous plastic or obnoxious product-placement lunch boxes.

There's something here for every family's budget. Complete lunch-storage systems may cost more than old-school lunch boxes, but remember: These kits are made to last — and designed with the earth and your kid's health and safety in mind. So feel better about stemming the tide of trash from lunch box to landfill while providing better options for your child with these green and good-looking picks. Happy packing!

Laptop Lunches bento boxes

Putting a snappy modern twist on traditional Japanese lunch boxes, these vibrantly colored bento boxes are outfitted with multisized containers that fit snugly in a compact and totable lunch box ($32.99 - $39.99). The set also includes a dip container (we like filling them with hummus or ranch dressing for veggie-dipping) and all-stainless utensils, plus a recipe book for kid-friendly, easy lunch ideas. The totes come in a variety of colors and have a built-in Velcro pouch for an ice pack ($1.99), a front expandable pocket for additional items, and a zippered side pouch. All this and Laptop Lunches are eco-friendly, too: All products are lead-, phthalate-, BPA-, and PVC-free. Other products, such as extra “Bento Buddies” ($14.99) are sold separately.

Looking for these at local stores? Check here for retailers in your area.

Photo credit: anastaz1a

Kids Konserve Waste-Free Lunch Kit

Stylish lunch carriers made of recycled, nontoxic materials — we're talking no BPA, PVC, phthalates, or lead — courtesy of two moms with a keen eye for design, if not correct spelling. Their Waste-Free Lunch Kit (butterfly, caterpillar, or squiggle design: $45) includes a cotton sack, cotton napkin, two stainless steel containers, a stainless steel bottle, and recycled-plastic sandwich or snack cozy that are easy to clean and can be used again and again. Items can also be purchased separately. Also on offer: Insulated lunch sacks ($22) made of recycled plastic bottles, available in a variety of patterns; a stainless steel "food jar" ($20); and an ice gel pack ($8.50 - $11.50) made of completely biodegradable material to keep it all cool.

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snackTaxi sandwich and snack wraps

Wonderfully whimsical sandwich and snack wraps ($4.95 - $9.50) in 100% cotton with a Velcro fastener and a lead- and phthalate-free, polyurethane-coated nylon lining. All dreamed up by an accidental entrepreneur: A mom of three in New Hampshire with a love of sewing, concern for the environment, and desire to run a business from her home in the woods. Demand for the washable, reusable wraps soared following a nod from Oprah on an Earth Day episode.

Animal prints will appeal to the younger set, though some (like “good dogs”) may win over big kids too. Discounts are available for bulk orders. On the same site: Recycled-soda-bottle lunch sacks ($13.95).

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SugarBooger lunch sacks by Ore

The company known for its fun, fashion-forward diaper bags also turns out insulated, laminated cotton lunch sacks with hook-and-loop closures and Velcro closures. Good Housekeeping magazine dubbed their latest design, the Vintage Alphabet ($16), as the lunch bag to snag this season. The stain-resistant, nontoxic, and lead-free sacks come in 22 other retro-inspired designs such as Tea Party, Outerspace, and Prehistoric Pals, making it a good fit for the younger crowd. And don't forget the matching BPA-free fork and spoon sets ($8.50).

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These nontoxic, stainless steel bento-like lunch boxes are designed by a Northern California couple with two daughters and four chickens. He provided the engineering know-how; she brought a public health perspective to the project. They both care about protecting Mother Earth.

A PlanetBox comes with three or five compartments of varying sizes for holding different food items, perfect for choosy chowhounds who don't like to mix ingredients. The plain cases can be gussied up with lead-free magnets ($3.95), made of recycled fibers, in twelve designs: Think paisley and plaid, rainbows, and modern art (hello Warhol), the last one likely a move to attract big kids. Box, carrier, and one set of magnets start at $39.95 and weigh less than your average Harry Potter. Carrying cases ($19.95) come in red, green, purple, and aqua, and include two exterior compartments: an insulated water bottle holder and a snack holder with its own flap. Additional containers with lids that seal (for messy foods like yogurt or orange segments) are up to $14.95.

Skip Hop lunch boxes

Got a fussy eater? The beautifully designed (and insanely cute) Zoo Lunchies ($14) will have your child clamoring for lunchtime. There are 13 different critters to chose from, including fox, bee, monkey, and dog. Inside these soft lunch boxes, a roomy, insulated interior leaves plenty of space for sandwiches and snacks and keeps drinks cold. Other parent-friendly features: A mesh pocket for utensils and a handle that can clip onto other bags – including the equally adorable Zoo Pack backpacks. An additional eco-bonus: All products are BPA- and phthalate-free.

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Fluf lunch bags

The people behind these simple yet stylish sacks ($19.50) straight out of Canada stress their sustainable pedigree. The organic cotton bags boast phthalate-free vinyl liners and fabrics hand-printed with water-based, biodegradable dyes. And they come with the standard lunch carrier claims: washable, spacious, and kid-friendly. Eleven designs with modern illustrations including robot, apple, and, naturally, the doggy bag. Woof!

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SoYoung Mother lunch boxes and coolers

This Toronto-based company offers (almost) too-cool-for-school, retro-inspired nontoxic lunch carriers. SoYoung Mother's lunch gear was given the thumbs up by People magazine. Two choices: The insulated, lined Lunch Box ($31.95) comes in six minimal graphics, including a pink giraffe, green rocket, or red scooter. The Small Cooler Bag ($29.95) also comes in six designs, some of which are pink butterfly, brown birds, and turquoise scooter. Either can be carried, worn as a backpack, or slung over the shoulder à la hipster messenger mode. PVC- and phthalate-free.

Looking for these at local stores? Check here for retailers in your area.

3greenmoms LunchSkins

Another Oprah pick, these bright, cheerful reusable and dishwasher-safe snack ($7.85), sandwich ($8.95), and sub bags ($10.95) were cooked up by, well, three green moms distressed by the numbers: Every day in the United States, an estimated 20 million lunch bags end up in the trash. These thick cotton cozies are lined with a food-safe (grease- and moisture-proof too) polyurethane. More must-haves include Pop!CornWare ($3.50), a set of 20 dishwasher-safe, reusable, and biodegradable spoons and forks made of corn.

Looking for these at local stores? Check here for retailers in your area.

ReuseIt lunch bags, sacks, and bento boxes

This green e-tailer offers a range of recyclable and low-cost lunch-carrying options, including organic cotton muslin bags ($4.45), suitable for snacks. ReuseIt makes its own line of nontoxic snack ($6.95) and sandwich ($8.95) bags sans the flashy graphics of other manufacturers.

Sarah Henry is a Bay Area-based freelance food writer and the voice behind the blog Lettuce Eat Kale.