Best Reusable Packed Lunch Gear - How to Pack a Reusable Lunch Box

It's easy to make sure you eat vegetarian or vegan meals at home, but when you're at work, at school or just out-and-about, it can be hard to find decent veggie-minded food. Your best option? Pack your own lunch (or dinner) and take it with you to school or work.

Beyond allowing you to stick to your diet of choice, packed lunches have many other benefits for adults and youth, such as:

  • Healthier food - because you choose what food goes into your lunch, you can make it as healthy as you like.

  • Money savings - in most cases it's far less expensive to pack a lunch than it is to buy meals on-the-go.

  • Less waste - if you use reusable lunch gear, you'll generate less waste than if you buy take-out food, which usually comes wrapped in plastic or paper and placed in boxes or bags. Not to mention all that plastic silverware, plastic toss-away beverage bottles and paper napkins as well.

The downside of packed lunches:

When packing lunches, you can buy paper lunch sacks, plastic baggies and other disposable lunch gear, but that's not the best choice.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation notes that annually, a typical school student who brings a disposable packed lunch to school produces 45 to 90 pounds of garbage a year. That's just one kid. If you've got a family of four and everyone packs a disposable packed lunch to take to their respective schools or jobs, by the end of the year your family will have created an estimated 270 pounds of trash.

It's less wasteful and more cost-efficient to stock up on some reusable lunch gear. You have two basic options...

Option 1: Buy a complete reusable lunch kit. A complete reusable lunch kit comes with containers, a beverage bottle silverware, napkin and more. These kind of kits are rare and they don't often come with everything you need, but if you can find one you like, it's a quick and decent option. Below are a few decent lunch kit options, but as you'll see, they're each missing some key components.

PlanetBox Launch Lunchbox - no water bottle, napkin or silverware

Option 2 (the better option): Design your own reusable lunch kit: Designing your own kit is a much better plan than buying a pre-made kit. How come?

  • You get just the gear you need and nothing you don't.

  • You almost always get a much better reusable beverage container (pre-made kits are notorious for terrible bottles).

  • You get as much or as little food storage as you need.

  • You get to adjust the components as needed, such as when your previously picky eater kid hits a growth spurt and starts wolfing down everything in sight.

To design your own reusable lunch kit you'll need the following:

  • Reusable containers of various sizes and/or reusable baggies.

  • Reusable cold beverage bottle for water or other drinks.

  • Thermos that stays hot (optional) - good if you like to pack a hot drink or a warm meal like soup or pasta.

  • Cloth napkins.

  • Silverware.

  • Ice packs.

  • A lunch bag or box to carry it all in.

---->>> See lots of reusable lunch gear.

Below we'll look at some specific gear, but first here are some key features of the best lunch gear.

  • Safety: Look for lead-free, BPA-free, PVC-free and phthalates-free lunch gear.

  • Washable: You'll use this lunch gear daily, so be sure it's easy to clean and dishwasher-friendly.

  • Easy: Buy containers that open easily, especially if buying for a child.

  • Leak-proof: This is a biggie. The last thing you want is vegan salad dressing or pomegranate juice all over your bag.

  • Durable: It's more cost efficent to buy longer-lasting gear, even if it's more expensive at the start.

  • Recyclable: Make sure you buy lunch gear that can be recycled once you don't need it anymore.

----------Reusable Container Choices----------

HELPFUL TIPS: You’ll need about 4-6 good food containers per packed lunch. More is better because otherwise you'll have to wash your lunch gear every single night. Look for stainless steel or BPA-free plastic containers. Glass containers can work but they're heavy and breakable so be leery of packing glass in a child's lunch.

Containers for lunch come in all kinds of styles. From bento style to salad keepers to sandwich size to dip size and more. If you'd like some really inexpensive containers, consider reusing yogurt cups, baby food jars, small jam jars or other small food containers.

----------Reusable Sandwich Baggies & Wraps----------

HELPFUL TIPS: Reusable cloth baggies and sandwich wraps are more durable and less expensive in the long-run that plastic baggies. Reusable cloth baggies and wraps come in all sorts of sizes and many can even be washed in your regular washing machine, though you should hang dry, not toss your baggies into the dryer.

----------Reusable Beverage Bottles----------

HELPFUL TIPS: Make sure your bottle is leak-free and the right size for the person carrying it. It's important for active kids to get lots of fluids, so even if your child is younger, go with a medium-sized bottle if your tot is really active.

----------Reusable Thermos----------

HELPFUL TIPS: You can find reusable hot and cold thermos containers in many sizes. Some suitable for drinks (like coffee) and others suitable for soups or other hot dishes.

----------Cloth Napkins----------

HELPFUL TIPS: Buy way more cloth napkins than you think you'll need, so you don't have to run the washing machine nightly. Also, don't buy top quality napkins for a kid's lunch box, because kids are great at losing napkins over time. One really inexpensive option is to look at your local thrift store for cloth napkins.

----------Reusable Silverware----------

HELPFUL TIPS: Don't send your home silverware in packed lunches, because it's easily lost. Instead build a collection of dedicated "lunch" silverware. Thrift stores usually have lots of inexpensive silverware available, but there are some other good options too.

----------Ice Packs----------

HELPFUL TIPS: Even if you have an insulated lunch bag, don't skip the ice packs. A recent study found that most packed lunches do not stay cool enough. When food is stored for hours at improper temperatures, you're looking at the possibility of food poisoning. Researchers on the packed lunch study, point out that even when a lunch contained multiple ice packs, the majority of lunch items, more than 90% were tested at unsafe temperatures. What to do? Pack more ice packs than you think you need - at the very least pack two into your lunch bag.

Also, be sure to place your ice packs in a sweat-free cover, because otherwise you get water all over your lunch.

The Kids Konserve Squiggle Sweat-Free Ice Pack (shown above) is the best sort of ice pack to look for, as it won't leak.

----------Lunch Bag or Lunch Box----------

HELPFUL TIPS: When looking at lunch bags and boxes, consider ease of use. Is it comfortable to carry? Will it hold the right amount of food container? Is there extra room for ice packs? Does the bag stay shut even if it's knocked around?

---->>> See tons of reusable lunch gear.and more reusable beverage bottles

Trying to figure out what food to pack in your reusable lunch gear? Check out 100 vegan packed lunch ideas.