Courtesy of LunchBots

Feed your head—and your kids—with these bentos, backpacks, and learning tools for students of all ages

Sunset Staff  – August 19, 2019

Disrupting the Lunch Box Rut

Aubrie Pick

The beginning of the school year means returning to a number of household routines—including packing my kids’ lunches. I’ve got their eco-friendly stainless steel bento boxes ready to go, and a shortlist of meal ideas that can be quickly made and tucked inside. But I know the dreaded lunch box rut will settle in sooner or later, i.e. the boredom of yet another sunflower seed-butter and jelly sandwich or pasta salad, with cut up veggies and fruit on the side (some of which will get eaten and some of which will return home untouched…sigh). To add some spark, I’m turning to this Sunset Rainbow Pinwheels recipe. Banking on the whole “you eat with your eyes” concept, the cheerful multicolored hues will certainly command my kids’ attention, and I can feel good about the healthy ingredients inside, a combo of hummus and crunchy veggies. Bonus: These pinwheels are so tasty, they qualify for the ultimate lunch box hack—making enough to pack for my own (not sad) desk lunch, too. —Jessica Mordo, associate digital director

Mobile History Lessons

When my formal education was finally complete, I was thrilled to be out of school (though looking back, over the top of my towering to-do list, those summer breaks were pretty nice). I’ve always leaned hard into the nature’s classroom cliché—who says you need to be behind a desk or in front of a computer to learn anything? Lately I’ve been supplementing my usual curriculum of hikes, climbs, and paddles with history lessons about the land I’m visiting courtesy of native-land.ca. The app and website function as crowd-sourced mapping tools to delineate indigenous territories, languages, and treaties throughout history, which means that I can enter a zip code for wherever I’m exploring and see exactly who was there before me. Considering the shocking lack of Native American history taught while I was in school, I have a considerable amount of catching up to do, and Native Land is a perfect primer. —Kate Wertheimer, travel editor

It’s Never Too Late to Learn

I’ve been out of school for a hot minute. But there’s a part of me that still marches to the quarterly beat of the academic drum. Though I no longer purchase a Trapper Keeper every August, shorter days and fresher air still make me feel like I ought to be sharpening my pencils and buckling down to learn…something. Luckily for me, I live near a fantastic institution that satisfies that craving for structured learning in really fun ways. The Randall Museum, in San Francisco’s Corona Heights neighborhood, offers quarterly evening classes for adults in subjects as practical as 3-D printing and as fanciful as faux taxidermy. I’ve taken a number of woodworking classes and while I’ve learned that I shouldn’t quit my day job, I enjoy the challenge—especially since there’s no grade to spoil the rush I get when a pile of lumber actually starts to come together into something like a table or a stool. —Nicole Clausing, producer

Grow Portland Teaches Kids to Eat for Life

When I was a kid, I always fantasized about having a huge garden (or farm, preferably with ponies) to grow delicious things to eat, but we just didn’t have the space for it on the concrete patio behind our tiny apartment. So many kids who are growing up in poverty never get to see where their food comes from, but one Portland group aims to change that. Grow Portland is the largest garden-education organization in the Northwest; they help inner-city schools set up gardens to not just feed kids nutritious foods, but also to build curricula that support urban agriculture and environmental stewardship. Garden education organizations around the West can use your help—find one near you and either volunteer your time or throw them a little cash, and see what you can help grow in your own community. —Heather Arndt Anderson, garden contributor

Thinking Outside the Lunch Box

Just when you think your children can’t possibly eat another popsicle and parental patience has officially reached its limits, that magical time of year arrives: back-to-school. The biggest change to our household routine is putting together lunch for my newly-minted first grader, a task that takes place each morning in a whirl of commotion from her and her preschool-aged sister. (Why doesn’t anyone want to wear pants?!?) One item that helps to combat the chaos: nifty 5-compartment, bento box-style lunch boxes from Pottery Barn Kids. There are seemingly endless variations of this item, in tons of colors, shapes, and sizes, each one allowing organization and personalization. It’s even fun to choose what goes into each little compartment, and it’s definitely more Instagram-worthy than the sandwich baggies and paper bags I grew up with. Right now I’m packing cucumber and cream-cheese sandwiches, tons of summer fruits, veggies, and pea crisps (and with fingers crossed that none of it comes back home at the end of the day). —Ellen Fort, food editor

Spencer Bento Box
   

 Fjällräven Kånken Art Collection

I’m not alone in harboring an obsession with Fjällräven’s boxy Kånken line of backpacks, the tote-du-jour of teens and adults alike. The company could just as well have coasted on the legacy of the iconic pack, which blends utility with a sharp silhouette that stands out on your shoulders, no matter how muted the colorway. But turn the simple bag into a canvas and it comes to life. That’s what Fjäll has done with its Artist Series—and now they’ve expanded that to include an art contest where you can get in the game, too. Doodle, paint, sketch—go nuts, drop your entry on the ’gram, and you just might be a winner. What better way to send your kids back to school? —Matt Bean, editor in chief

Kånken Backpacks
   

Patagonia’s Black Hole Luggage Is Now 100% Recycled

When I take my daughter to college in a few weeks, I’m packing her off with a set of Patagonia’s Black Hole luggage, which is a major upgrade from the old milk crates I carted into my dorm freshman year. The nearly indestructible line of luggage was already the perfect portage for a dorm room move: The larger sizes can haul sheets, towels, toiletries, and even electronics in water-resistant denier ripstop polyester; the roomy duffels fold up into the size of a pencil case when not in use. And now they’re made out of recycled plastic: This year’s collection is produced from an astonishing 10 million discarded plastic water bottles. If I’ve learned one thing (the hard way, and not in college), it’s that buying good luggage is money well spent. —Hugh Garvey, executive editor