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Wacky World of Rubber: Back-to-school lunch box hacks

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There is something magical about the start of a new school year with its brand new crayons, freshly sharpened pencils and crisp sheets of notebook paper.

The start of the school year also means a return to routine: Afterschool practice, evening homework and early morning school lunch prep. Whether parents realize it or not, the rubber industry is helping with the latter, making packing lunches easier and healthier while also adding some pizazz to an otherwise boring meal.

Here are just a five ways how:

A Pinterest perfect lunch

Pinterest adores the idea of bento box lunches—using a single, compartmented container for the entire lunch. Bento boxes not only make for a more aesthetically pleasing lunches, they also cut down on the need for single-use plastic sandwich bags.

Plus, most bento box lunches include adorable cookie-cutter shaped sandwiches. And what kid doesn't want to have a PB&J sandwich shaped like a dinosaur or a ham and cheese on wheat shaped like star?

Or adult for than matter? I could go for a Sorting Hat-shaped sandwich every now an again.

While there are some specialized bento-box-style lunch boxes on the market, one of the easiest ways to turn any reusable container into a bento box is with silicone muffin liners. The liners are flexible, which allows for them to be squeezed together in a tight space, plus they're food safe and easily cleaned, which means parents appreciate them.

An apple a day

They are very often taken for granted, but rubber bands can come in handy in a pinch as they help to secure lids or attach forks and spoons to the containers.

They also help to keep that recently sliced apple fresh for lunch—a nutritional puzzle of sorts. Once the apple is sliced and its pieces are fitted together to look like a whole apple, a rubber band can be twisted around the middle to secure it.

I'm not sure how long it will keep the apple slices from browning, but in a cool lunch box, the slices should be good enough to eat at the cafeteria table. A spritz of lemon juice also helps to keep the slices fresh.

DIY ice packs

Those multicolored polyurethane sponges best known for keeping kitchens and bathrooms clean have a secondary use. They can help to keep lunch boxes cool—and their contents healthy—all morning long.

Making your own ice pack is a lot easier than you think. After wetting a sponge, put it in a resealable bag and pop it in the freezer. That's it.

In the morning, before sending the kids off to school, drop the frozen sponge—bag and all—into the lunch box.

It's really that easy.

Keep it simple

Not all lunches have to be fancy. Sometimes, simple is best.

And the rubber industry, as always, is there to help. When it comes to packing lunch for school or work, silicone containers and lunch bags can help cut down on landfill waste.

Amazon, for instance, offers a variety of silicone container options ranging from reusable silicone sandwich and snack bags to storage containers.

One my favorite designs is a compartmentalized silicone container that includes a plastic lid inset with a plastic fork. The best part of the container is that its collapsible, which makes for easier storage. It's the kind of characteristic you don't full appreciate until you see how organized your cabinets stay when containers take up less room and fit together perfectly.

Good luck today
Every now and then, it's important to remind your kiddos just how much you care. A simple note reminding them you're thinking of them ahead of the big presentation or mid-term test could make a would of difference.

One way to do that is with self-adhesive sticky notes, like 3M's Post-It brand. These tiny, colorful squares of inspiration make it easy to add attach an "I love you!" to juice box, sandwich bag or silicone bento box lid.

Erin Pustay Beaven is the online content editor for Rubber & Plastics News. She is an appreciator of life's littlest treasures, a reader of great books and supporter of the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Indians. Erin is an advocate for libraries, arts education and PBS. Follow her on Twitter at @EBeavenCrain.