The 1st thing you’ll need to have can be a container in which to pack the lunch. It doesn’t should expense a lot of funds. For adults a tiny cooler makes a good lunch box. Fred makes use of a medium sized cooler. He’s normally gone for 24 to 48 hours, so he requirements a lot of food to maintain him going. For young children and teenagers, you may typically find inexpensive lunch boxes and insulated lunch bags at yard sales and thrift stores.
Small children often prefer a plastic lunch box with cartoon characters on the side. I suggest you buy these as cheaply as possible. They only last for a year or two before the children drop them or the latch breaks. At $6 to $10 a piece, buying brand new boxes has never been a good investment for me. I have purchased them new when I desperately needed the thermoses that came with them. After the plastic lunch box broke, I purchased replacements from my local Goodwill. I continue to use the same thermos year after year.
If the art work on an older lunch box is shabby, you can easily replace it. Use rubber cement to glue down a new picture (cut to size) and then cover the picture with clear contact paper. I’ve done this, and it lasted almost 2 years, until the lunch box cracked and became unusable. Amy D. describes the process in detail in the first book of The Tightwad Gazette.
For older children insulated lunch bags work best. They don’t have the juvenile connotations of plastic boxes with matching thermoses, so older kids usually don’t object to carrying them. I like them because they don’t break when they get drop-kicked across the living room by a budding football player. Since they have soft sides, it is easier to fit more food and odd-shaped containers in them too. They usually have zipper closing and shoulder straps for carrying them. I buy the largest ones I can find because I find them easier to fill. Many modern insulated bags have several extra zipper pockets and sections on the outside to carry little extras like napkins, spoons and salt or pepper packets. My boys like these but they aren’t really necessary. Purchased brand-new, insulated lunch bags cost between $5 and $15. If you wait until back-to-school-sales you may find them cheaper. Over the summer they can often be found at yard sales. Insulated lunch bags usually do not come with their own thermos, so you will have to use some you already have or buy them separately.
Which brings us to the next item you need for lunch packing: a thermos. If you have a thermos left over from older lunch boxes then use it. Whenever you can use something you already have it saves you money. If you don’t already have a thermos, then try your local thrift stores and yard sales. They can often be found for 50? to $1. Objectionable artwork can sometimes be removed with fingernail polish remover. If that doesn’t work, then cover the picture you don’t like with another picture you do like. Trim a piece of clear contact paper to fit neatly over the new picture and press it firmly into place. Be careful when you wash the thermos. Don’t soak it in the dish water for hours and hours. This will help preserve the new artwork.
If you absolutely need to buy new thermoses then the greatest selection is in August, right before school starts. I prefer wide-mouthed thermoses, sometimes referred to as insulated food-jars. They come in a standard 10-ounce size, and look exactly like regular lunch box thermoses on the outside. Inside however, their mouths are large enough to put chunky foods inside, like casseroles and beanie-weanies. They are also much easier to clean because of their wide mouths.
I have also seen small cold-only thermoses. They usually hold about 4 to 6-ounces, or about 1/2-cup. The lids go into the freezer overnight, and then chilled food is placed inside the thermos in the morning. By lunch time, the food is still fresh and cold. This works well for homemade pudding, jello, chilled fruit, yogurt, and the like. I used to try to use these for hot things too, but it turned out they only work for cold things. Live and learn.
Plastic Bags & Resealable Containers
In addition to the lunch box and thermos, there are a few extras you will need. These include small resealable containers and plastic flip-top baggies. If you have any small leftover yogurt tubs, the kind with resealable lids, they are excellent for lunch boxes. If you found a sale on 8-ounce containers of store-brand yogurt, it would be worth it to buy a dozen or so. Eat the yogurt. Wash and save the containers for lunch boxes. If this isn’t possible, then you can buy reusable Glad, or Zip-Lock containers in 8 and 4-ounce sizes. They last a long time, and are just the right size for jello, canned fruit, pudding, cobbler and salads. By the way, there is no rule that you must to fill a container all of the way full. You can fill a container half full of jello, yogurt, or pudding and send it to school just like that.
Sandwiches, popcorn, fresh fruit, veggies sticks, and boiled eggs go into flip-top baggies. I let my boys throw the bags away when they are done with them. Store-brand bags cost about 1/2? a piece, and save me having to wash any extra plastic bags. The plastic containers come home for a good sudsing everyday.
You may also be interested in reading about thermos lunch boxes and thermos funtainer bottle.