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Back to School: Lunch Box Fashion

Lunch boxes, those ubiquitous and yet often forgotten school age constants, can be as important a self-identification accessory as any other sartorial choice or personality trait for Walnut Creek kids.

When I was a kid--OK, when Columbus and I were kids--metal lunch boxes with the Lone Ranger were the craze. There was a thermos for milk, a metal divider to keep the drink and the meal separate, and a place for a sandwich, a fruit and cookies. If you packed the items correctly, the cookies would not be smashed into powder.

The lunch box has come a long way since. Today, you can get lunch boxes that come with an inflatable gourmet chef packed inside and a Chia Cirque de Soleil troop for after lunch. So it should come as no surprise that children are mesmerized with the idea of picking a newer and cooler lunch box each successive school year. We have not escaped the gravity of the perennial issue at our home and have learned to make time to address this purchase … adequately…sanely? or something.*

At our home our twins have been the recipients of seven first-string versions (one a piece for each year the kids have been in school), four second-string versions (one each for each summer camp they have attended), and three third-string sets (one each for the six cumulative instances they have lost or destroyed a box over that time frame). If you followed that it comes to 28!

The boxes have been made of plastic, canvas, metal and materials or compounds only a nuclear scientist/chemist could grasp. Three things have been constant throughout—first, the kids have had a box specific to their personality; second, the two boxes have always been easy to differentiate; and three, each box has been successively bigger if not functionally better. In a few years we will be discussing the style and colors of the boxes’ matching U-Hauls. 

At one early point in this evolution, my daughter’s box would have felt camouflaged and at home in field of daisies and at another it would have made her the Miss Kitty poster child. My son’s lunchboxes have run the gamut from Spiderman and Batman to race cars and jets. Each one has been filled with a bit more nourishment and been used to transport all manner of pebbles (daughter), insects (both), and secret notes form girls (son) back home. It seems the boxes have become the essential school accoutrement, and not necessarily just for their originally intended purpose.

This year’s lunch-box-derby took place last weekend. We sat around discussing what the kids ate and did not eat at camp the previous week and why. Some items were mushy, others not cold enough, and others still had passed from favorites into the “I-have-never-eaten-that-before-in-my- life” category. When we moved to discussing where the boxes were stored during camp and then school we found out that hot things would probably stay hot longer than cold things would cold given the closets where the boxes were kept, and that, yes, we needed to pack a bit more food for next school year. We also seemed to talk about style, color, construction, and how many extra pockets the box had—you read right, pockets.

We then strategized that the hot food thermoses we used and the frozen water bottles employed to keep things cold would have to be separated from the rest of the food since we now packed the different types of food needed to accommodate morning and afternoon snacks to go along with the main lunch meal—a lot of food. Finally, we caved in, realizing that functionality would have to trump any other criteria, but that once functionality was achieved style could come into the equation.

Our resulting choices were not awe inspiring in looks or style but they did do the job. The choices clearly differentiated the two boxes via different colors, were large enough to accommodate all Giant could have stocked in two aisles, were sturdy and easy to carry, and allowed for a small personal space, in an additional outside compartment, which each kid could personalize by choosing what the space contained. Allowing them to choose but not have to share what the compartments contain, and trusting them to not choose something inappropriate, has made both kids look forward to using next school year’s lunchboxes. The end…or something.*   

Do you buy a new lunch box every year for back to school? Or do you only replace the lunch box when it breaks or gets lost?

How many lunch boxes have your kids lost over the school years?

Patch us your comments in the comments section below.

lynda kilday October 10, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Not naming the kids, but in our neighborhood, the "cool" kids did not take their linches. Most of us parents were on tight budgets and health conscious. We wanted our kids to take healthy lunches. Well..they refused to take dorky lunch boxes, so we used paper bags. Finding the entire bag, lunch and all, tossed in the bushes at the end of the street let us "hill"moms know that our kids would rather be hungry all day than thought "uncool". We saved our $$ for after school snacks. Turned out OK, as they are all healthy grown ups now.

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