I never planned to have a segment on ice packs for the "Tools of the Trade" series, but I have been getting so many comments, both here and on Facebook, asking about ice packs that I thought it might be a good idea. :)
I'm often asked, "do you use some kind of ice pack to keep the food cold?"
- Yes! Every single time the bento box leaves our house it leaves in a lunchbox with an icepack.
Another oft asked question: "does their food really stay cold enough with an ice pack?"
- Yes! An insulated lunchbag with a couple good quality ice packs in a temperature controlled environment (i.e. their classrooms!) is going to stay nice and cold for hours. The only time I'm worried about the temperature of their lunch is when they are on their field trips with the required (and dreaded!) "fully disposable lunch". ;-)
There are a lot of ice packs on the market to choose from. Some are cute and some are plain. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Likewise, the quality and function varies quite a bit as well.
First, a couple ice packs I'm not a big fan of:
These ice packs rank high on CUTE, but pretty low on function, I'm afraid.
Mr. Happy Face here has many friends. You may have seen (or own) his buddies in the shapes baseballs, basketballs, soccer balls, turtles, and more! They come with a hard case exterior, which is nice, but they all have a shape issue. This type of ice pack is always squat and fat. Hard to place in a lunchbox in a manner that it can still make contact with the food. Also, this kind of ice pack doesn't keep its cool very long. Although we have a lot of affection for old Mr. Happy Face, he is most frequently used in our house for owies and booboos.
And dear Hello Kitty. How I adore Hello Kitty. I bought this Hello Kitty (Target Dollar Spot) knowing full well that it was useless as an ice pack, but I have little will power when it comes to her. These show up in the Dollar Spot at Target frequently, featuring all sorts of kid-geared characters on them.
Why do I say this icepack is useless? Well, first of all, they don't stay chilled very long. But worse, they are not durable AT.ALL. Daily use of this type of ice pack will lead to a leaking oozing weird slimy gel situation within a month or two, if you are lucky, I guarantee it. You'll end up encasing it in a plastic baggie to try to prolong its life. And then you will replace that plastic baggie, or double-baggie it over and over again before you finally throw the ice pack in the trash. I guarantee it. Just don't go there. There are better options.
This type of icepack is my #1 favorite.
These ice packs are a nice size and shape. They are long and wide enough to provide a lot of chill, but thin enough so that they don't add too much bulk. I also like that they are hard-sided, condensation will form on the surface, but the goo inside is sealed up well and does not leak out.
The blue one in this photo is a Medela icepack that came with a breast pump I bought when my first child was an infant. That ice pack (and I have three others just like it) are going on nine years old! They have been dropped out of the freezer onto the cement garage floor, kicked across our tile kitchen floor, used very heavily these past nine years, and they are still in perfect shape! VERY good quality, I highly, highly recommend them. They also keep cold longer than any other ice pack I've tried. They come home after a full day of school still partially frozen.
The pink one in this photo came as part of a 4 pack from Target's Dollar Spot (in the $2.50 section (what's up with that?)) last year during Back-to-School time. I only got one pack of them because I was skeptical of the quality, but it turns out they are really great! They do not stay as cold as the Medela ones (still better than the Mr. Happy Face variety, though), but the exterior case is durable and the size is perfect (as is the price). I was hoping they would pop back up in the Dollar Spot again this year, but no such luck. If you do happen to spy them there, grab up a pack - they are worth it!
Look at the difference here in the width of the ice packs:
The Mr. Happy Face variety are nearly double the width of the other hard-case ice packs. That extra girth can really be an issue when it comes to packing a lunchbox.
Lastly, flexible ice blanket:
This is an ice "blanket" that is made of a series of connected gel packs. You can cut the cells out allowing you to make custom-sized ice pack segments.
I bought this originally so that I could use single cells of it inside a bento box, but didn't really find that suited my packing style at all. However, this ice blanket is really handy for use in the Goodbyn compartments. I don't really use these ice packs for any other use, though I do find them to be more durable than other soft-sided ice packs. They thaw out quickly and can't be counted on keeping things well chilled for very long. On the days my kids take their Goodbyns to school these ice packs come home at room temperature, not the least bit cold to the touch, but Ethan reports his food is still cold at lunch time. And being that he is my temperature-fussy kid, I take his word for it.
And that, my friends, is my 2 cents on ice packs! :)
For more "Tools of the Trade" lunch supply topics check out:
"tools of the trade, part 1: picks"
"tools of the trade, part 2: boxes"
"tools of the trade, part 3: lunchboxes & lunchbags"