The Fresh Sandwich Problem

Reusable sandwich bags

With all of the focus on cloth diapers recently, I’ve been thinking about other reusable options. For a couple of weeks, I’m going to cover some of those easy, reusable products that anyone can introduce to their family.

Reusable Sandwich Bags and Wraps

Every eco parent who makes a sandwich every morning for their child has wondered how to keep that sandwich fresh without a zip-top plastic bag that gets thrown in the garbage at school. For some parents, a reusable bag is enough. I have picked these up many times and wanted to love them, but I just don’t. I don’t want to wrap my child’s food in plastic, even if it is reusable plastic. I realize that we don’t all share the same aversions to particular solutions to the fresh sandwich problem, so I’ve tried to cover every solution I can think of, asking the pros and cons of each.

I came up with characteristics of sandwich wraps and bags in these areas:

  • transport to school (waterproof, plastic next to food, can smash, can leak);
  • useful while eating (doubles as placement);
  • transportation back home (heavy, bulky/not flat);
  • care (single-use, wash & reuse, washing machine or dishwasher); and
  • material (plastic, polyester, cotton, glass, metal).

For potential solutions, I thought of:

  • the no-zip, single-use plastic bag and the zip-top plastic bag, both of which can be rinsed and reused a couple of times, but are still meant to be thrown away;
  • lightweight paper bag, which might last for a couple of days if the sandwiches are dry;
  • waxed paper, though it is coated in petroleum-derived wax, or parchment or baking paper, which is available with or without a petroleum-derived coating;
  • cotton bag with a drawstring or a cotton cloth (a napkin) just wrapped around the sandwich;
  • waterproof sandwich wrap that can double as a placemat;
  • waterproof sandwich bag with hook & loop or zipper;
  • glass container with a lid; and
  • metal container with a lid.
 waterproofplastic touches foodsmashleakplacematheavybulkysingle-usewashmachine washmaterial
no-zip plastic bagyyyyyplastic
zip-top plastic bagyyyyyplastic
paper bagyyypaper
waxed paperyyyyypaper + plastic
parchment paperyyypaper
cotton bagyyyycotton
cotton clothyyyyycotton
wrapyyyyyycotton or poly + plastic
bag w/ hook & loopyyyyycotton or poly + plastic
bag w/ zipyyyyycotton or poly + plastic
glassyyyyyglass + plastic

I don’t want this to be a list of products you should buy. I don’t think you should buy a lot of these. We at carry a lot of reusable food storage products, and we look for high quality in everything we stock. I hope that by comparing the characteristics of each solution, you will be able to figure out which fits best with your expectations.

Wean Glass Sandwich container

I love the resurgence of reusable sandwich wraps and other sandwich containers. There is such a variety of styles and prints made of fabric. It’s also really easy to make your own sandwich wraps.

DIY Caution!

If you make your own sandwich wrap, don’t use iron-on vinyl. That is not food safe. I don’t love the idea of using polyurethane laminate (PUL) next to food, but a lot of PUL has been tested for phthalates banned in the U.S. children’s product safety law, CPSIA, since this is a material used commonly in diaper covers. Still, it contains non-banned plastic softeners, and I can’t wrap my mind around the reason anyone would wrap plastic around food. If you are going to make your own bags or wraps, at least get “sandwiched PUL” (which doesn’t have anything to do with the sandwiches made out of bread until you make your wrap). In this type of PUL, the plastic coating is hidden between two layers of fabric, usually cotton or polyester. That way, you get your waterproof layer without it touching the food.

I hope this helps you think through what works for you in keeping sandwiches safe for a few hours from the time your child leaves home until lunchtime.

Lunch Bots Uno Sandwich container

Adding reusable products to your family’s regular routines is easy. I will share a few more ideas next week.

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2 thoughts on “The Fresh Sandwich Problem”

  1. Having discussed the problem of keeping sandwiches fresh, my son informs me that the reason the sandwiches keep and taste so much better bought from a shop in plastic containers is that they are kept in the fridge, so ideally what we really need is a reuseable bag that zips up which can be stored in the freezer until needed that stays cold for a good number of hours, so some kind of silicone or clever stuff that stays cold for a good percentage of time.

    • I love that the need comes straight from the guy who has to eat the sandwich. Thanks for the fresh-sandwich idea.


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