Gearing Up For Back To School - Packed Lunch Ideas

We're in the final days of summer vacation at our house.  I love back-to-school preparations for my daughter - for me, the consummate nerd, there was never a more exciting time of year than the beginning of the academic year, and I'll admit it!  I am living vicariously through my kid.  Is that so wrong?

So with school comes lunch.  Many kids have the choice of buying their lunch, which is easy on the mama, but dubious on the nutrition.  Even in our liberal, relatively health-conscious suburb, mozzarella sticks are considered an "entree" at lunchtime.  Or wait, yeah, it gets better - nachos.  There are some marginally better choices like cheese pizza (my kid always buys on pizza day) or a PB&J sandwich (we are not nut-free - isn't that retro?), but over all, it's a nutritional wasteland.

I pack my daughter's lunch many days - mostly because once the novelty of buying lunch wore off for her, she realized that the food at school was "just not very good, mom."  We do a lot of nitrate/ite free cold cuts (Applegate Farms makes a good turkey bologna - colored with beet juice, no less, and a hand-tied uncured maple ham that is adult-tastebud-worthy).  As a side I'll cut up strawberries, baby carrots, or a sliced apple.  Or we'll go super-alternative and she'll have cubed tofu, leftover noodles or sometimes even cold chicken nuggets.  For snacks she most often totes a little container of organic applesauce and some Annie's Wheat Bunnies, but she also likes cheese sticks and crackers.  Or depending on the allergy issues of others kids in her class, I'll send some hummus and baby carrots for dipping.

I do her drinks in Sigg bottles - water for snack and skim milk for lunch.  But I have yet to find a suitable, non-plastic alternative to those little plastic tubs with screw-top lids made by Rubbermaid.  They at least save us from using 1,000 Ziploc baggies in a week.  But they're plastic, and I am always trying to reduce our exposure to plastic - especially for our daughter.

The other brainstorm I had last spring was to buy cheap stainless utensils at Ikea and send those with her when she has cut fruit/tofu/pasta in her lunch.  If you get a few, you'll have enough for a rotation:  you can throw the day's dirties in the dishwasher at night and still have some clean on hand to pack for the next day.  You can get the teaspoon and salad forks from the Dragon collection there in packs of 4 for $5 - nice and small for the lunch box, but just make sure your kid knows not to pitch 'em when s/he's done!

My husband has started bringing his lunch to work too - after reading about the "horrors" of nitrate/ites again, he decided to forgo his "cancer-wich" at work and start making a sandwich at home.  But for the male exec on the go, a brown bag, or worse yet, a "lunchbox" just won't do - it's sad to say, but there is a certain cool factor that has to be upheld at the office, even at lunchtime.  We found these great stainless steel LunchBots for him - he has two of the duo (put 1 sliced apple in one side, and some almonds & raisins in the other) and two of the uno which fit a whole sandwich nicely.  Wash one, use one.

Can you help me out with ideas today?  I'd like to completely purge plastic from my daughter's lunchbox, but I haven't been able to find a substitute for the plastic snack containers - it needs to be something that will tolerate a liquidy snack without spilling - like a stainless container with a rubber gasket around the lid - know of anything?  Even the fabulous Laptop Lunchbox uses plastic, although BPA/lead free. 

Let me know if you have suggestions!