Off to school with ya: a JK check list

I recently blogged at The Huffington Post about all the things I’ve been working on with The K Man to get him ready for school. It’s his first year, and perhaps I’ve babied him too much, but we’re in the throes of practising everything from shoelaces to lunch-bag configurations to butt-wiping.

I’ve had some questions from readers about which lunch containers I recommend, so in the spirit of getting everyone ready for the upcoming JK send-off, I’ve been testing lunch bags, containers for food and drink and just about everything else under the sun. I thought I’d build on the HuffPost piece and provide you with my top picks across the board for JKers.


While I absolutely love the Skip Hop backpack we’ve had for The K Man for a couple of years now, I recently read a JK-readiness advice blog that suggested it might be too small. Considering your JKer will probably come home with armloads of artwork, it might be wiser to get a slightly bigger backpack. Just be careful it’s not too big because (like our own purses) you’ll use all the space you have, and their little bodies might not be able to hold the weight safely.

I went to the kids’ section of our local Winners store and picked out six different backpacks that I thought were the appropriate size; some were cool Hurley packs while others were The K Man’s favourite colour (purple). All of them were packs I approved of (in terms of look, size and price) so there was no risk he’d pick something he couldn’t have.  He chose a Spiderman backpack that was a steal at $12.99. In fact, all of the backpacks I purchased were in the $12.99 to $16.99 range. Bargain city!

Lunch bags

While straight zippers are by far the easiest for a four year old, we have a couple of great PVC- and phthalate-free lunch bags that we’re practising zipping and unzipping. The key for your lunch bag is to know what kind of containers need to fit in there. I went about this all the wrong way, you see. I had the lunch bags and then went container shopping. Your preferred containers should really dictate your lunch bag.

SoYoung Robot Cooler BagWe got the cutest SoYoung cooler bag as a gift, and I was concerned that it would be too small but its size is deceiving – it fits a sandwich container, fruit/veg container and a drink container with ease. What’s nice is that it’s not so big that it looks ridiculous for a JK-sized person. I love that it has an extra (detachable) long strap so The K Man can wear it messenger-style if he wants. The design is simple and fun. The insulation is great.

If I was sending Miss Q off to school this year, I’d probably pick the Ju Ju Be Fuel Cell. LikeJu Ju Be Fuel Cell (Cobalt Blossom) the So Young lunch bag, it’s easy to load and unload because the zipper is at the top of the bag, instead of the standard around-the-sides. And the pattern choice is killer. We received the Cobalt Blossoms pattern and it’s really pretty. Evening Vines and Drip Drops are also super-girlie and right up Miss Q’s alley. What makes this a stand-out lunch bag is that it’s machine washable! Its handle also detaches at one end, making it easy to clip on to a backpack (or a stroller, or a bike basket…whatever).


Sistema Klip-itMy colleague has three kids under the age of six. So when she told me about the Sistema line of containers, I listened. She was right – they’re great, and although they’re leak-proof, they’re surprisingly easy for The K Man to open. There are some neat options with the Klip-it containers; we bought several. Some just for sandwiches, some for a sandwich on one side and fruit and veggies on the other (with a lid that doesn’t fully detach, which I’m thinking is going to be the only one that makes it to the end of the school year intact). There are even some with utensils – though I have no plans whatsoever this year to send food to school that requires the use of a fork or spoon. One thing at a time.

The Itzy Ritzy Snack Happened zippered sandwich/snack bags are also a breeze to open.Itzy Ritzy Snack Happened (whale watching blue) We’ve been using these to cart Goldfish crackers or grapes around when we’re out and about, and they’re the perfect size for a sandwich, too. The company sent us Little Miss Zig Zag and Whale Watching Blue patterns, and I’m so glad they did. They’re basically a small wet bag, but for food instead of wet clothes or soiled cloth diapers. I la-la-love that these can go into the washing machine. 

Contigo Striker AUTOSPOUTIn the drink container department, we lucked out and got to test three new ones in the last month – all of which make the cut in terms of easy functionality. Probably the most interesting because of its one-touch pop-up straw and leak-proof factor (even with the straw up!) is the Contigo Striker AUTOSPOUT; however, it’s also the biggest, so you need a lunch bag that’s either quite roomy or has an external pocket in which to store a bottle. Just remember that if you do that, you can really only send water since it won’t be insulated.

The new Brita Kids’ Bottle is also going to be in the rotation; what I love about this is that it’s compact – the most lunch bag-size appropriate of the three – and if The K Man wants to refill it at school, it’ll make the water closer to the quality of the filtered water he gets at home from our fridge.

And winning major points for style is the KidBasix Safe Sporter. It’s available in a 12-ounce size that’s just right for a lunch bag. If your JKer is still three and not very strong, this one may need to wait a year. I’m not sure if The K Man would have been able to pull up the KidBasix Safe Sporternozzle himself six months ago – it’s stiff because once closed, it’s not going to leak at all. Stainless steel but with a built-in coaster, the Safe Sporter has a silicone “sleeve” around its midsection. When we fill up our SIGG kids’ bottle, we find it can be too cold for The K Man to hold on to at first – not so with the Safe Sporter. It’s also a dream to drink from. (I know because I’ve personally tried all three.)

Nut-free food

Although we were never given anything official from The K Man’s new school, I’m assuming it’s a nut-free environment. I’ve seen kids with peanut allergies get very, very sick after just a tiny bit of cross-contamination (in fact, some kids just have to sniff the stuff to elicit a reaction). It’s scary. If one of my kids had a nut allergy, I sure would be appreciative of other parents respecting nut-free rules.

So there I was, out for a night on the town with my neighbourhood mom friends, and we were talking about many of our kids going off to JK this year. I asked what the heck WOWButtereveryone was planning to make for lunches considering peanut butter and jam – a staple in our house – was out of the question. All of the teachers in our group said the same thing: “WOWButter!” What on earth is WOWButter, you ask? It’s all the colour, flavour and even smell of peanut butter but made with soy nuts. If you’ve munched on soy nuts before, you might detect the slightest hint of them in this creamy (or crunchy!) spread, but I’m not kidding – your kid will have no idea. Each jar of WOWButter also cleverly comes with a bunch of stickers that you can put on your sandwich container that essentially tells your kid’s teacher or lunchroom volunteer to back off.

And then there’s the moomoo bars. Made in Canada in a nut-free facility, they’re also moomoo barsgluten-free. And they’re delicious. Although they’re made primarily from Canadian cottage cheese, they taste like cheesecake. Rich, New York-style cheesecake. NKPR sent a variety pack to us and everyone in my house – including Big B who hates cottage cheese – is a fan. Every flavour is a winner. Although you keep them in the freezer, they’re also amazing at closer to room temperature and they hold their shape as they thaw. This means that you can just take it out of its little wrapper (there’s no way The K Man could unwrap it himself) and put it into a reusable container for an occasional lunchtime treat. I say treat because while there are fewer than 100 calories per bar, there is 11 grams of sugar in each. One moomoo bar provides 15 per cent of our required calcium intake – the same as half a cup of milk and more than many of your kids’ favourite yogurts.


I know it’s probably pretty unhealthy behaviour to model for my kids, but things are important to me. And I hate losing them. So I label everything that goes out of our houseMabel's Labels without adult accompaniment. I’ve had brilliant success with the waterproof sticky labels from Mabel’s Labels. In a personal experiment more than three years ago, when I thought I would prove that I could make my own labels, I put one of Mabel’s Labels on a food container and a homemade label (using my electric label-maker) on a sippy cup. Both see the inside of the dishwasher at least two or three times a week. Three years later, Mabel’s label is still perfectly purple with The K Man’s full name still boldly legible; it has no frayed edges or any real signs of wear; my DIY label, on the other hand, is merely a white strip that’s peeling at both ends. There’s not even a hint of the black ink that once read my child’s name. Mabel’s no-iron clothing labels are also pretty awesome.

Lovable LabelsFor The K Man’s shoes that have been sent to preschool for the last couple of years, I’ve used Lovable Labels’ Toddler Toes. They make it easy for even two year olds to identify left from right, and they have enough space to include a phone number, which is obviously much better hidden than if you were to put such information on a backpack I.D. tag.

But do ensure that you put some kind of identifier on your child’s backpack, too – just be careful about how much information you include. We’ll be using a SwaggerTag because all of our personal information is hidden away. Plus, there are great colours to choose from so you could easily match or accent your kid’s pack.

Shoes & shoelace helpers

CHARLES by KaiThis is a pretty simple choice – laces or Velcro. This week, we received two pairs of super-cute shoes that I wanted to tell you about in case you’re on the hunt for some great JK-worthy footwear. I forever want The K Man to look like a little dude when we go out (like many moms, I stopped shopping for myself the day he was born, save for the odd treat from lulu), so I was beyond giddy with a pair of leather boots from Kai. Heard of See Kai Run (one of the most orthopedically minded shoe lines for little feet)? Kai is simply a line by the same company for bigger feet. The Charles boots are easy to get on and off because of three strips of Velcro, and have serious swag.

Reebok RealFlexAnd then there are the ultimate running shoe: Reebok RealFlex. Created with the foot’s natural motion in mind, each shoe has 76 independent sensors built into the bottom. The design is what I’d call old-school Reebok, but their light weight screams technology. These are the kind of sneakers you don’t mind pairing with your kid’s coolest jeans. But there ain’t a strip of Velcro in sight – it’s all laces.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the look of laces. But I don’t know too many four year olds whoquicksnap can tie them, so I was thrilled to recently find the QuickSnap shoelace helpers. This is a home-grown invention! I’m not gonna lie, they take a bit of work to actually affix to your kid’s shoes, so if you have three pairs of lace-up shoes on the go, I’d strongly recommend buying three separate pairs of QuickSnaps. You don’t want to be undoing and re-doing these.

This is by no means exhaustive, so if you’ve found something you love, please add it into the comments section so we can share our collective expertise!

So…where can you buy it all?

Check out these related posts:


  1. Loretta Batten says

    Hi :) if you like the quick snaps, you must try Safe Lace….an awesome little product that keeps shoelaces from untying, no matter what you do, running, school, sports….anything! Tie the bow once and lock the laces in place, guaranteed not to untie….I love them for my running and the kids love them for school and basketball. No more interruptions :) a must have for any laced shoes in my opinion!

  2. Prads says

    Hi, awesome post! I just bought a funtainer and a contigo autospout to try out as am going to be traveling internationally with my 3 year old and needed a leakproof sippy with a lid or covering!! Am looking forward to trying it out:)

  3. Anna Robertson says

    Hello! I am a student at Lehigh University working on an entrepreneurship project. My team and I are developing a new type of shoelace tying aid for young children, and we are trying to gather some important information through market research! It would be great if you could respond to our survey:
    Thank you!

  4. Melissa G says

    Our must haves: Adidas Ortho-fit shoes x 2, love the elastic laces, so easy to slip on, light and flexible, balanced day lunch bag – so he doesn’t eat all the good stuff at once & leave his healthy stuff for me to find! Oh & our PB Kids knapsack, Spider-Man, love that they come in different sizes for different age groups!

  5. Cheryl Morreale (@loucheryl) says

    I really think you have covered everything your little one will need to be ready for school. I love how you have included where to buy the items. Thanks for that.

  6. Jaime says

    We like the Thermos FUNtainer for their drinks. They don’t leak and keep the girls milk cold!! Our school just asks that WOWbutter be labled as such so that there is no question of it being PB.

    • says

      Thanks for adding the FUNtainer! That’s part of what I like so much about the WOWButter – the little stickers that come with it so I don’t have to label it myself.

  7. Marianne says

    I’d be careful with Peanut Butter substitutes. They have been banned from my children’s school board (TVDSB). It’s best to check with your teacher/school before bringing anything that could be misinterpreted as a nut product.

      • E says

        Very frustrating, I know. HCDSB has banned them, as well. I’ve spoken to the Board’s superintendent regarding this. Basically, they don’t even want anything that resembles peanut butter in their schools. Their belief is that (a) it’s too difficult for their lunch attendants to monitor who has the correct product, and (b) it sends a possibly confusing message to other students. (I personally find this as the board “giving up” on the whole issue, which I find unfortunate.)

        I was, however, told that I could possibly use a nut-butter substitute that is in a different colour, i.e. looks completely different than peanut butter – but I have yet to find something. I don’t want to use artificial dyes.

        • says

          I know it’s fine at our board because of all my teacher friends who told me about it in the first place. If I was in your position – and felt strongly enough about packing PB&J each week – I would take them to task on it. If it’s a nut-free environment, then that’s the rule. Parents who want to pay soy butter should have to indicate (e.g. by using the sitckers that come with WOWButter) on each sandwich what it is – so they can’t get lazy either. But I would fight the school board – go to the media – it’s ridiculous.


  1. […] MommyGearest recently provided her followers with a checklist for what every JK’er needs to head off to school this year — which includes SwaggerTag. She cautions parents to “…ensure that you put some kind of identifier on your child’s backpack, too – just be careful about how much information you include. We’ll be using a SwaggerTag because all of our personal information is hidden away. Plus, there are great colours to choose from so you could easily match or accent your kid’s pack.” Here’s the link. […]

Every comment counts -- what's yours?