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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Packing a Lunch: Some Product Recommendations

I'm not quite sure how the comments in the previous post went from discussing different philosophies towards finances in the frum community into a discussion about take-out vs. brown bagging lunches. But it makes for a perfect time to point out this really nifty product one of my readers pointed me to: the USB Powered Lunchbox Warmer.

For a bit less than $11, I'd rate this product a potential bargain. If I wasn't working from my home, I'd definitely purchase one. There are other brands out there and I like the idea of being able to take some leftover vegetable soup to work and not having to worry about using the work microwave and wasting disposable bags to double wrap. This type of product is right up my alley. Any reviews?

Another product I absolutely LOVE are the Ziploc plastic divided rectangle containers. I use these for school lunches replacing plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and foil. No need to worry about inventories and shopping when you have these on hand. The square part of the container is sized for a sandwich, wrap, pasta, or a salad. The two side containers are great for cut up fruit or veggies, a hard boiled egg, or a treat. I like to have 2 containers on hand for each lunch taking member of the family. These go through the dishwasher and are relatively inexpensive. Make sure to cut the Ziploc coupons and if you have the $0.55 coupon shop in a store that doubles coupons. I can probably get 2 school years of use from each container, if not more. They stack both in the pantry compactly and on top of each in the refrigerator and on the counter nicely. I've had it with other containers and plan to replace a lot of my Rubbermaid I use for leftovers with the wonderful and large plastic Ziploc rectangle containers over time. That is another fantastic product that has just the right shape.


Ariella said...

Here's the math: hot lunch at schools cost about $5 each or $500 on a yearly basis per child. When you have older boys in yeshiva, you even have the options of paying for breakfast (typically $3 a day) and suppers ( $8 available on mishmar nights). That adds up to a significant amount of money and does not cover all the food costs even for that child who will eat at home on days off and will still want to pack snacks.

My little environmentalist asked for a lunch box rather than brown bags. She also asked if she could take a real spoon for her yogurt rather than a disposable one because "it's better for the environment."

The only drawback of having kids take containers is that they sometimes forget to wash them out right away. Plastic does absorb odors and does not clean off as easily as glass. Still, I picked up a bunch of Ziploc container packs before Pesach. They were on sale at Stop & Shop for just $2. With my $1 off coupon, they were only $1, and they are much better quality than the other containers that cost that much.

tesyaa said...

I would never pay for hot lunch, becaust it's expensive and because my kids don't like most of the choices - but packing a lunch does cost money. It depends on the kid & the family. If you're using prepackaged snacks, a brown bag lunch can easily add up. My husband likes to make a bagel & lox using Costco lox, and I think lox is still more expensive than tuna. If you are paying for hot lunch, make sure your kid is eating it. Do hot lunches come with healthy items like carrot sticks and whole raw fruit? If they did, I would find that encouraging.

Finally, if your kid does buy hot lunch, you might save money by making lighter dinners like eggs and pancakes and simple pastas. I was reading Mother In Israel's post about Gan snacks in Israel, and I'm amazed that the kids eat heavy meat meals most days. No one needs a heavy meat or fish lunch AND dinner every day. Maybe that was the norm in the 1950s, but there are so many reasons why that's not a good idea.

ProfK said...

Some stores (Shop Rite and Pathmark for example) have those "disposable" containers under their own brand names and they are significantly cheaper than the Ziploc, even if you use a coupon. The same for some of the larger dollar stores. One near my house sells imported from Israel plastic ware in the same useful configurations as the Ziploc containers but charges only $1.89 for a package of three, way cheaper than the ziploc. And they are of a slightly thicker/heavier plastic that doesn't warp.

Just a word about the dishwasher and those ziploc type containers. The covers of those containers can and do warp when exposed to the heat of the dishwasher many times. So you end up with the container in one piece but without a cover that will seal completely or at all. I've taken to washing the covers by hand. And yes, some of those containers can retain remnants of the smell of whatever was stored in them even after going through the dishwasher, or they become discolored if they are storing colored and highly acidic foods, like those that are tomato based.

I use some of those "disposables" (mostly for items that are leaving the house and might get lost)but let's not rhapsodize about the price as if it were nothing. I have tupperware that is 38 years old and still in excellent condition. I won't swear to how much I paid for those containers that long ago, but if I had had to replace them every two years, that would have been 19 purchases of the same container and I don't care how little a disposable can be purchased for, it still would be costing me way more than that original tupperware piece did.

Then there is this, for those who care. The disposables are not the type of plastic that NYC recycles. When you get rid of them it's in the garbage, not the recycle bin. More fodder for our dumps that won't disintegrate.

tesyaa said...

ProfK, let's not forget about loss. A more expensive container may last MUCH longer, as you point out - but if your kid loses it, it's much more loss than losing a disposable. Maybe everyone else's kids are perfect, but my kids - and I - are not perfect.

ProfK said...

That's why I said that I use the disposable containers for items that are going outside of the house, such as lunch containers, or when I am sending something home with one of my kids or sending something to a neighbor or friend in the community. I don't expect that in all of those situations I will get the containers back. But for in-house storage, where the container doesn't leave the house, it would be cheaper to buy the heavier, more expensive grade of plastic container that will last for many years more than the disposables.

Margaret said...

I have a LaptopLunch system, with the case and thermos ( and I love it. It was about $40 on Amazon, and I used a giftcard to pay for it, so it cost me nothing out of pocket. I am out of the house for 12 horus a day, so I eat 2 meals out, and it holds both (this might not work for heavier eating adults). I put soup in the thermos and throw an extra bag of dried fruit and nuts in the carrying case.

I find I am more likely to eat when the good is attractively presented, and I imagine kids are the same way. Bento boxes are another good option.

rachel q said...

funny you put this post up. I was just coveting this item on amazon
my husband takes a warn lunch everyday so it is really worth it for us. The USB one is very cute.

tesyaa, in Israel most people eat heavy lunch and very light dinner. I don't know that many people who eat heavy for both. Diner at my house is usualy pasta, vegtable soup, bread with tehina and salad and similar things.

Anonymous said...

A good place to go are some 99 cent stores, if you find a good one, they sometimes have like 3 or 4 of them for a dollar. But be careful, not all 99 cent stores are the same, some are major ripoffs.

Anonymous said...

Wish we could go back to 1958, when I brought a Cinderella (or was it Sleeping Beauty) metal lunchbox to school every day (I went to public school in the south) and my mother packed a sandwich in wax paper! Yes, wax paper. A fruit like a banana came in its own biodegradable wrapper, and an apple's wrapper was completely edible! I bought milk at the cafeteria for 5 cents. My cute lunchbox was used the entire year. Those were the days!

Bklynmom said...

Now I am very interested to hear from a nyone who has used the USB lunchbox warmer. My youngest child will be in day care where I work next year, and I don't always finish working by 5:30, when day care ends. He will have to hang out in my office some nights and will need dinner. I work in a hospital, so putting a small fridge and microwave in my office is problematic and more expensive than I would like. He will be bringing lunch from home (day care serves lunch, but it's not kosher), so I would like to feed him something warm for dinner. Suggestions are welcome!

Margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret said...

A good Thermos branded container will keep food warm from morning until dinner, especially if you store it in an insulated box. Be sure to fill the thermos with boiling water and let it sit for several minutes before you will it with food.

JS said...

Nice. My wife and I live out of Ziploc brand containers. They are cheap, economical, and very handy. They last us about 2-3 years I would say. Biggest issue is that the covers tend to break/warp over time and the containers get stained from tomato sauce, as ProfK indicated. However, I think all plastics suffer from these problems. Even without coupons, you're talking about a few bucks, hardly something to get worked up about given the convenience and cost saving from not buying other disposables.

Funnily enough, we buck the near universal trend of red=fleighigs, blue=milchigs because of ziploc! The regular, available year-round containers are clear with blue tops and most of our leftovers are felighigs from shabbos, so we made blue=fleighigs in our house. We found that Ziploc makes green and red containers (which are completely red/green, container and cover, which avoids confusion with the clear container, blue top normal ones) for Christmas, so when it rolls around, we stock up on those.

Orthonomics said...

Ariella-You have the math right. What you don't mention is that some schools make lunch mandatory. So families are paying $500 a year for school lunch and they still have to cover other meals and snacks. It is a rather phenomenal number if you consider. It a family has 2 kids in school, there is a $1000 in food expense and not even half the lunches for the year have been covered.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK-I received some Tupperware at my bridal shower and I find the lids more difficult than the "disposable" alternative. Staining is a bit of an issue, but I'm not particularly bothered. Rubbermaid makes a nice non-stain container that is reasonably priced. The biggest and most useful storage container has a small crack (I realize I can turn it in). All and all, I'm very pleased with the resturant supply containers I use to freeze soup and the Ziploc, glad, and store brand containers. Volume cooking is my game. I sometimes freeze 8-12 Shabbats worth of soup. Inexpensive works for me. And I haven't found the lids particularly problematic either.

Tupperware just doesn't particulary impress me. And if I were to replace my stuff with Tupperware it would cost a ridiculous sum and then when someone would lose one, I'd be out of my head.

JS said...

I only make soup in a 12 quart pot. I then use the take-out quart containers and freeze. Voila - soup for about 2 months or so.

I also stopped doing chicken soup as it is more time-consuming in preparation, requires more ingredients, and takes longer to apportion.

We prefer a meat split-pea soup or a meat mushroom barley. Both are super-easy, have only 4 or so ingredients, and require no work beyond throwing everything into the pot. Plus, they're very hearty and filling so you don't need as big a meal following it.

Miami Al said...

JS, we make our chicken soup in the Slow Cooker... delicious! Thursday night cut up vegetables and brown the chicken, throw everything in a bag. Friday morning, into the slow cooker with water and chicken stock, and end of the day, delicious soup! If you want to dishwasher the slow cooker Friday instead of Saturday night, transfer to a pot to keep warm.

We have a large selection of disposable and non-disposable storage devices. Do they stain, sure, but so what, you toss them if you don't like them. One lunch out a week will cost me more than replacing containers every month, and I replace them far less often than that.

We eat a lot of fresh produce, so we have a bunch of paerve containers, makes it easier to grab lunch. We don't eat a lot of meat during the week (health reasons), so the dairy dishwasher gets most of the workout.

Buying melon and cutting them up for containers once a week covers my during the day snack, fills you up, and is extremely healthy.

Anonymous said...

Some schools don't trust all parents to keep kosher, so they rule out bringing lunch from home. Where the families cover a range of kashrus attitudes and knowledge levels, this may be the only safe alternative.

I like the OU certified light tuna pouches, such as Starkist which are cheap (about $1/pouch at WalMart) and easy to fork right out of the package. If they and other lunch items are not heated, so what?

tesyaa said...

this may be the only safe alternative.

Maybe safe is too strong of a word. I would think of safety in terms of avoiding a severe allergic reaction. When I think of a kid eating Triangle-K applesauce, I don't think of it as a safety threat - call me an apikores. Anyway, kids are not supposed to share foods for many reasons, allergies included. So Baila should not be eating Brianna's ham sandwich anyway. (that's a JOKE, people).

As I commented earlier, my kids would not eat many of the hot lunches served; I have a 12 year old daughter who eats no meat or chicken because she doesn't like it. Great idea to pay $5 a day to buy lunch she won't eat. And I think the school lunches are heavier and less healthy than what my kids are used to. And I'm far from a health food fanatic.

Lion of Zion said...

"What you don't mention is that some schools make lunch mandatory. So families are paying $500 a year for school lunch and they"

mandatory in my son's school. allergies? too bad. fussy eater? tough luck. prefer healthier home cooked food? hah!

Lion of Zion said...

what about the schools that no longer have kitchen and cater in from local restaurants? these kids eat better than i do (and i don't mean healthier). of course they are now longer from the youngest ages that it is "normal" to regularly order in.

megapixel said...

reusable containers dont work for me.
imagine finding a moldy peanut butter sandwich in your sons knapsack?
at least the baggie can be disposed of. if it was in a real container, I would have to wash it and that is a lifestyle choice I dont want to make!!
I like reusing the containers that I get from buying coleslaw and other foods. that way if it is really gross I can just throw it out without guilt cuz I didnt pay for it.

... and this one takes the cake... My son knows a family that gives their kids sandwiches in old empty macaroni boxes to save money on baggies. and makes the kids bring them home so they can reuse them the next day

Anonymous said...

Hi sephardilady,
It'd be interesting to know how much your readers make per year. Would you consider making a post about it and asking for anonymous replies?
Based on the consumption patterns mentioned by your commentators at this and other posts, I assume most people around here makes 80k+ (probably well into 100ks). Am I correct?

Anonymous said...

JS - Can you share your split pea and mushroom barley soup recipes?

Dave said...


You might want to qualify that with a lifetime range as well.

That is to say, we may have the money to buy nice ingredients now, but we didn't always.

Sima said...

I work in a school that no longer offers a school lunch option, so it's up to the parents to do the best they can. I know every type of container utilized -- and do you know why? Because at least ten of these lovely, partitioned, thermos, ziploc etc. containers are forgotten by the children on their way out of the lunchroom to the yard, never to be recovered. Occasionally an enterprising mom will venture to do a search of the lunchroom and recover some of these containers, but I estimate that 30% of these containers end up in the trash daily (we have a very hardworking custodian). I no longer use these. My kids put their sandwiches in foil, their snack in tiny ziploc baggies, and carry the whole thing to school in shoprite bags from my weekly shopping trip. At least we reuse those.

Miami Al said...


Most of our "reusable" containers are disposable ones, they are pretty cheap, we normally bring them home to rewash, if we forget it and it gets gross, moldy, etc., we throw it away. No big deal.

JS said...

What's great about these recipes is if you put a little more or less of anything it's really no big deal, it's completely forgiving.

I would say each soup is maybe 10-15 minutes of prep max and then it cooks at least 1.5 hours during which all you need to do is stir and monitor occasionally.

Each recipe should make at least 7-8 quarts of soup (I freeze in the takeout soup containers). Wait a bit for it to cool before placing in containers.

When defrosting, add about 1/4-1/2 cup of water to each quart as it tends to lose water when reheating. Also, be careful not to burn it by stirring it.

You can add more water if desired to make it less thick (or if there's a surprise guest!). I find 1 quart serves 2 people with a bit left over (I like it a bit thicker, so you can easily get 3 people if you add more water when reheating).

Split Pea Soup:
4 16 oz green split pea packages
6 quarts (24 cups) water
4-5 medium onions
20-25 baby carrots or 4-5 carrots
2-2.5 pounds stew meat or cheap cut of beef (frozen or thawed)
Spices (salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika)

For the meat, I usually just buy whatever is on sale, doesn't matter if it's already cubed or a steak or whatever. I also usually use baby carrots since they're already peeled, eliminating some labor.

Get a 12 quart pot. Put water in pot and set flame to high. You don't need to wait for water to boil. If meat is thawed, cut up into small, edible pieces (around 1/2" cubes or so - for already cubed stew meat that usually means I cut the cube into fourths or so - I like to cut it small so you get a lot of small pieces of meat in a bowl) and add to water. If the meat you have is frozen, you can put it in frozen, let the hot water cook it a bit and then take it out and cut it up. Skim the water every now and then as the meat cooks.

Rinse split peas and put into water. Cut onions into eighths (not important how you slice, it will break down due to long cooking time, just rough cut to help break down easier). Same with carrots. If using baby carrots cut in thirds or half. If using regular carrots into 1/2" chunks. Add spices - I don't really have any measurements for this (in fact I just eyeball the whole recipe or if I have a lot of carrots, for example, I'll add more).

Once it's boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook covered for at least 1.5 hours. This should be enough for the peas, carrots, and onions to break down and blend together. Stir every once in a while as otherwise the peas will collect at the bottom and burn. The soup should develop a darker green color as it keeps cooking and the flavors develop. Some of the veggies may not break down so I sometimes at the end use the ladle to smush carrots and such against the sides of the pot.

Mushroom Barley Recipe:
.75-1.5 16 oz barley packages
6 quarts (24 cups) water
1.5-2 pounds various mushrooms (button, crimini, shitake, etc)
2-3 medium onions
20 baby carrots or 4 carrots
3-4 stalks of celery
2-2.5 pounds stew meat or cheap cut of beef (frozen or thawed)
Spices (salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika)

It's pretty much the same as above. The proportions don't really matter. I happen to like barley a lot and the thickness it gives the soup so I use a lot. Same with mushrooms. I also like a variety of mushrooms so I get different kinds. Using the pre-sliced mushrooms will save a lot of time. Amounts of onion, carrot, and celery are also to taste.

For this soup I like to cook the ingredients first though I haven't tried not doing so, might taste just as good, no idea. So, in the 12 quart pot I add olive oil and brown the small cubes of meat. Add chopped mushrooms and brown (add a bit of salt to help draw out water from mushrooms). Cut carrots into small pieces and add. Dice onion and add. Chop celery and add. When veggies are soft, add water and barley (rinse well) and bring to a boil. Add spices and simmer at least 1.5 hours.

Anonymous said...

Thanks JS, I can't wait to try them, and thanks to SL for letting this detour into a cooking blog.

Mark said...

My wife bought a few of these ( small thermoses for the kids lunches. They take things like rice&beans, mac&cheese, soup, and various other dairy or pareve things in them. They also take things like baby carrots along with a small tub of peanut butter to eat with the carrots. Or pieces of cut up celery and a small tub of cream cheese. My kids very rarely take sandwiches for lunch, they just don't like them very much.

Mrs. George Washington Carver said...

Oh, I dream of a school that would let my children bring in peanut butter. I understand why all the schools are peanut and nut-free--"Let's see, convenience of a few parents verses risk of child going into anaphylactic shock and dying, which one to pick?" But it would be nice and would make my life so much easier if I could send my kids to school with the peanut butter that they love and crave.

Yael in IN said...

If you are looking for a yummy alternative to PB, try SunButter, otherwise known as sunflower seed butter. It looks like (natural) PB, and tastes similar to PB (not like soy nut butter). My DD is allergic to peanuts and we eat this all the time now -- it is more expensive, but I think worth its weight in gold!

rosie said...

Today I went to a bargain joint called The Christmas Tree shop. It has no Christmas Trees but lots of kosher food and all kinds of containers. The only problem is, the bags all say Christmas Tree and people don't want to send kids to Bais Yaacov in bags that say Christmas Tree on them. In fact, the Jews around here refer to it as going to the Tree store.

YoelB said...

That USB warmer? Maybe not such a good idea. It holds food at 122° F; food should be held at at over 140° F to minimize bacterial growth.

Also, sunflower butter: If anyone here eats food with the EarthKosher hashgacha, my colleagues tell me the Sun Cups they certify are really good. But they're expensive; around $2 for a pack of 2.

ASF said...

Don't forget waxed paper! It's biodegradable, replaceable (unlike plastics & foil), and doesn't leach BPA. You can use it to double-wrap in the microwave at work. I keep a roll in my desk drawer. You can use it to wrap sandwiches--guilt free. OK, don't try soup get the idea.

For awhile I was buying Cut Rite waxed paper bags, which were wonderful. I'm not seeing them anymore, alas.

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