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Beyond the Brown Bag

There is an abundance of totes, coolers and bags on the market to haul students' mid-day meals to school, but which one should your kid carry: the hard plastic popular-culture-character clad boxes of yesteryear; the old-standard brown paper bag; the latest neoprene bag with an eye-pleasing pattern; the heavy duty insulated mini-cooler, complete with ice pack to keep carrot sticks crisp; the stackable mini-boxes and separate compartment containers; or maybe the adorable owl-shaped sack? We've taken a few of the classic and reinvented models and highlighted the benefits and restrictions of each to help you and your student make the right choice.

Brown Paper Bag
Relatively inexpensive
Classic style
No cleaning needed
Can customize with embarrassing notes/pictures

Easily destroyed
Bland, less-than-fun style
Wasteful, if not recycled
Not insulated
Sandwich squashing inevitable in a backpack

Insulated Cooler Bag
Durable and reuseable
Keeps food chilled
Inside surface easy to wipe clean
Crushable, yet maintains shape

Deep corners are crumb catchers
Limited designs

Reusable Cloth Sack
Classic design
Durable and reusable
Easy to wash
Environmentally friendly

May be expensive
Bland, less-than-fun style
Not easily decoratable
Doesn't protect food from backpack hazards

Hard Plastic Box
Expressive and individualistic
Durable and reusable
No squashed sandwiches
May help maintain cooler temperatures for short periods of time

Prone to breaking
Some designs may be considered inappropriate for the classroom
Loses temperature over time
Bulky and rigid

Neoprene Sacks
Cute designs
Easy to clean
Crushable for post-lunch transport back home
Durable fabric

Temperature dissipating – food remains chilled for maybe 4 hours
Doesn't hold shape to protect food
Strong smell upon initial use

Bento Boxes
Compartments to keep items separate/ Handy for portion control
Cute designs
Special features can include ice pack lids and built-in utensils
Helpful for prepping ahead
Small, easy to back in a backpack, durable

Difficult to fit larger food items
Typically no handle/difficult to carry
Limited decoration

This article was originally published in the July 30, 2017, print edition of Back to School. Contact the editor, Jamie Gonzales, with questions or comments: