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!
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.
We 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. Like 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).
My 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. 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.
In 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 nozzle 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.)
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 everyone 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 gluten-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 house 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.
For 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
This 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.
And 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 who 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?
- Inexpensive, kid-size backpacks: Winners and Marshalls
- SoYoung cooler bag: Ava’s Apple Tree
- Ju Ju Be Fuel Cell lunch bag: Enfant Style
- Sistema Klip-it containers: Fenigo
- Itzy Ritzy Snack Happened pouches: Nayla Natural Care
- Contigo Striker AUTOSPOUT (new to Canada this month – retailer list will be updated soon): Amazon
- Brita Kids’ Bottle (new to Canada in September – retailer list will be updated soon): Amazon
- KidBasix Safe Sporter: Polka Dot Pond
- WOWButter: find a store near you
- moomoo bars: find a store near you
- Labels: Mabel’s Labels and Lovable Labels
- SwaggerTag: directly from SwaggerTag
- Kai shoes: Monkey Business
- Reebok RealFlex shoes: Foot Locker
- QuickSnap shoelace helpers: Bearly Used