As the daughter of an elementary school cafeteria worker of 30+ years, I take my children’s lunch situation seriously. You would think that would manifest in the meals I provide them, but no, it does not. My sons eat sunbutter and jelly on wheat bread every single day. However, my mom’s profession does manifest itself in how I care for their actual lunch boxes, food containers, and water bottles. Because whether it’s organic, store-bought, or homemade doesn’t matter much if it’s being carried in dirty and germy conditions.
So how do I keep my kids’ lunch gear clean, organized, and in good condition?
1) Choose the right gear.
Both my kids are currently in daycare, which means they have to bring multiple snacks with them each day in addition to their lunch. In order to facilitate that, they both have insulated fabric lunch bags with a zipper closure. They are the easiest to clean, and they keep food the right temperature, fit all of their food, and are inexpensive enough to replace when needed.
To keep each meal or snack separated, I use reusable sandwich bags. I label each sandwich bag with an index card, Sharpie, and clear contact paper. I cut the index card in half, then write my son’s name and which snack is in that bag (morning snack or afternoon snack). I cover it with clear contact paper, allowing for a half-inch of extra on each side. This combination holds up better than any waterproof label I’ve purchased.
Last, picking the right water bottle has been a challenge I have yet to conquer, though I am getting close. My goal is to find a long-lasting, dishwasher-safe water bottle that has easily obtainable replacement parts. For now, the best I can do are dishwasher-safe bottles that I need to replace every 6-8 months. (My kids are huge water drinkers, which I am happy about, but they sling those bottles around like I used to throw the shot put.)
2) Create a quick daily cleaning schedule.
This may sound daunting, but it’s really not. This takes about five minutes, and it’s five minutes well spent.
I toss every individual food container (i.e., Rubbermaid and Tupperware) and water bottle part into the dishwasher. I wipe down the reusable sandwich bags with a towel and water then towel them dry before putting them away.
The lunch bags themselves get cleaned on the inside. I spray the inside with what I call “the lunch box mix” — a combination of three parts hydrogen peroxide and one part warm water that I keep in a spray bottle. (You could also use a spray bottle of dish soap and water.) I let it sit for two minutes and then wipe it off. The lunch boxes get hung on hooks in my pantry to air dry overnight.
3) Do a weekly deep clean.
On Friday nights or Saturday mornings, I take 10 minutes and clean the lunch bags and reusable sandwich bags in-depth.
I spray the inside and outside of the lunch bag with a fabric sanitizing spray (I use Tide, but there are several options out there). By spraying early in the weekend, it gives them the longest time possible to air dry.
It’s then time to deep clean the reusable sandwich bags. Using dish soap and warm water, I scrub them inside and out, rinse them, and then hang them upside down on an old baby bottle drying rack to air dry for the weekend.
Because I have done a daily clean, the weekend clean is much easier.
Are lunch boxes eventually going to wear out? Yes. Do I occasionally have to replace food containers? Of course. But this cleaning schedule extends the life of our lunch gear and keeps it as clean and germ-free as possible!