Best in class reusable lunch containers: A Koko insulated lunch bag, wrap-n-mat sandwich wrap and a sleek Thermos, lead and BPA free.

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Now that school’s started, the plastic baggies have taken wing, and plastic bottled beverages are spewing forth like water from a dam.

Are you still sending your kids to school with an arsenal of disposables? Maybe you’ve tried to cut back on all the waste, but with mixed success. We’ve sampled more than a few awkward and non-enduring, non-disposable packing containers. Our move to glassware storage seemed like progress around the house, but really weighed down the takeout lunches. And those wax paper sandwich bags that work so well at the deli? We got big complaints about fossilizing bread ends when they were employed for school meals.

This year, though, we feel like the San Francisco of lunchbag trash diverters. Our assembled retinue of carryout lunch tools is reducing our noon trash toll to almost nothing, save for a few cracker and granola bar wrappers.

And we’re able to report that while the kids might be crushed to be back in school, their sandwiches and entrees are not.

The Sandwich Wrap, the Thermos, the Lunch Bag

First we are jazzed (or rapped?) about the Wrap-n-Mat— this is our favorite iteration of this idea, and a great way to finally purge those plastic bags. We like this particular mat because it’s sized right and big enough for a loaded sandwich, It wipes clean easily and can be spread flat to dry. It’s odor free, durable (tested for three weeks so far) and not bulky. There are no misplaced seams or velcro that catch unwanted crumbs. Bonus: You can get it in that cute picnic checkerboard pattern you see in the photo above, as well as other colors. Having tried other sandwich containers, we have to say this is the best one so far.

Next, the 10 oz. Thermos. Thermos makes its thermal containers with non-leaching stainless steel (18/8 grade, likely the same as your stainless pots and pans) with some BPA-free plastic and silicone in the lid. It keeps food hot for hours. Yes, that’s its job, but we’ve tried other thermal containers and you’d be surprised… This particular vessel passed the fussy girl test during the past school year, keeping our daughter satisfied that her risotto, couscous and soups were sufficiently steamy, accessible and stylishly presented.

While the wrap mat and thermos save us countless plastic bags and also give us the option of sending something other than a sandwich for lunch, we were most thrilled this year to find a terrific lunch bag. Again, this one made the grade with the picky pre-teener, who wanted a purse-like lunch tote (see photo above). It also passed our tests. We wanted a bag that was insulated with safe materials (no lead, no PVC), and also was durable. It needed to have longish straps so it could be carried or hung up easily. This Koko “Jenn lunch bag” met all our criteria. It’s roomy, looks good and is constructed of 100 percent nylon. We give it at least two school years. Our only regret is that it’s not made with recycled PET plastic like our other lunch bags.

To-Go Ware bamboo utensils are lasting.

We’ve found a few other lunch tools that help reduce waste:

To-Go Ware bamboo utensils. These seem pricey at first glance — ($7.95 for the set, thought they’re now on sale for less) but they last and last. They don’t break like disposable plastic ware, we like them better than plastic ware intended for long term use.

Klean Kanteen reusable drink bottles made of 18/8 food quality stainless steel. If you haven’t got a reusable drink bottle in your lunch box yet, consider Klean Kanteen. We’re partial to their colorful 12 oz. bottles because they don’t take up too much room and can be color-coded for different members of the family. We like the bottle caps, too. They’re similar to sport caps and slobber-proof.

We happened to find these and everything else listed here at, which specializes in these things. You can find these items elsewhere, but we’ve just never been motivated to, because Reuseit seems to have everything we need in this area, and they’ve always been prompt and easy to deal with (and they’re not even paying us to say that!).

However, if you want to shop around before you buy, you can find several retail outlets for these green products on The Find. Leading brand Klean Kanteen, for instance, sells its bottles on many websites. The KoKo bag also can be found in other prints and styles (watch out, though, the Jenn’s straps seem to be longer in the newest model).

The Find also can help shoppers locate stores close to home, so they can see, touch and examine before buying. It’s a competitive market out there and you might find a sale.

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