We've all become experts in brown-bagging it these days, but that doesn't mean we actually have to use a brown bag.
Whether you're packing lunch for the office or the playground, lunch bags have never been more user- or style-friendly. Now that there's a glimmer of economic well-being on the horizon, consider a recession-sized indulgence: A fabulous new lunch bag that expresses your personality and makes you that much more likely to bring your lunch to work.
Concerned about your carbon footprint? Wouldn't be caught dead buying your kid a conventional apple? You deserve a lunchbox as earth-friendly as its contents.
The Green Dining Bag ($48, www.giveagreenbag.com) includes bamboo utensils in a hemp holder, a stainless-steel food container and beverage bottle, a cloth napkin and a reusable wrap for sandwiches and snacks. No more scrounging for plastic forks in the bottom of your desk drawer or buying yet another overpriced bottle of water at the vending machine.
Similar kid-friendly versions ($42, www.kidskonserve.com) are the ultimate in eco-chic. The reusable, waste-free lunch kit includes a recycled cotton sack, cloth napkin, food-grade stainless-steel beverage bottle, a food kozy (which substitutes for plastic wrap or tin foil) and two stainless-steel food containers. The bags and beverage bottles come printed with butterflies or caterpillars.
Looking for a bag without the bells and whistles? Try kidskonserve's Recycled Butterfly Canvas Sack ($8) or check out its insulated lunch sacks made from recycled plastic bottles in gorgeous colors such as moss green or a vibrant orange and white print ($20).
The Stoh lunch tote from Milkdot features a streamlined shape, modern colors and interior foam for added insulation. It also has a water-repellent finish and a picture-frame ID tag that tucks into a pocket ($25, www.milkdot.com).
Seek inspiration from overseas to pep up your lunchbox and its contents. Tiffin boxes, stackable covered round metal bowls, are widely used in India to carry lunch. The stainless-steel bowls are perfect for holding a variety of salads, snacks or entrees. Reheat hot entrees on a stove or a hot plate (stainless steel isn't microwave-safe). They're also great for picnics and camping. A variety of styles and sizes is available from www.happytiffin.com, with a small (5-inch) two-tier box starting at $15.
Parents everywhere are catching on to the bento box craze, whether they're filling containers with vegetarian sushi or turkey sandwiches. Bento boxes have internal dividers and sometimes even several stacked layers so that different types of food can be stored separately without needing extra containers, bags or tin foil. Laptop Lunches just released a new line of bento systems ($40, www.laptoplunches.com), which include the hard plastic box that fastens around five food containers and fits inside an insulated carrying case. The set also includes utensils and the Laptop Lunch User's Guide.
For the kid who loses any moving parts, look no further than the Goodbyn lunchbox (www.goodbyn.com, $30). Easy to open and thin enough to slide easily into backpacks, the lunchbox has built-in containers perfect for holding leftovers, sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, dessert and more. It includes an 8.5-ounce bottle for water, milk or juice that fits inside. The Goodbyn comes in a variety of colors and includes three sheets of stickers so kids can customize their own.
Just because we're grown-ups doesn't mean we want our cookies rubbing up against our carrot sticks. There are new contraptions for ensuring that salads stay crisp, sandwiches don't get squashed and fruit remains unbruised.
The Fit & Fresh salad shaker lets you dress your greens or veggies at the last minute, with a dressing holder that's built right into the lid. An ice pack straps into the lid to make sure that lunch stays cool and fresh all day long ($10, www.shopfitandfresh.com).
The Klip-It Lunch Cube folds out into divided compartments that keep your sandwich separate from your sides and ensure that your lunch doesn't wind up smelling like chicken salad ($5, containerstore.com). Fold it back into a cube and it will take up the minimum space in your bag and keep your food protected.
But there's no need to hide your lunch inside your briefcase. Elle's new line of lunch bags are designed to look like tote bags and purses — only they're insulated to keep your lunch cool (starting at $20, www.nicolejane.com).
Animal-inspired bags are all the rage among the elementary-school set and none is cuter or cooler than the Munchler lunch bags from Built NY designed by award-winning children's-book illustrator Stephen Savage. Choose from a green bunny, black-and-white dog, grumpy tiger and pink panda. The bags are insulated and unzip to form place mats. At $10 a pop (www.builtny.com), a lost lunch bag won't break the bank. A bag so cute your kids won't "forget" it at home? Money wisely spent.