Packing Lunches ~1920

The 1920s Lunchbox.

The art of packing lunches has been foremost in my mind recently. Our local recycling company just announced that it would no longer accept plastic bags or plastic wrap of any sort. Now this has been some time coming. California already outlawed cheap plastic grocery bags (Yes, we also banned straws…evil straws.). Stores only offer paper or 100% biodegradable bags – and for a surcharge. But now the recyclers have prohibited the plastic wrapping that comes with packaging, plastic garbage bags, and, most critically for my household management, plastic ziplock bags.

Plastic packaging is everywhere here in the US.

  • Eating a frozen pizza? You have to remove it from a cardboard box – and a plastic shrink-wrap covering. Not recyclable.
  • Opening your sour cream? You’ll need to peel off that plastic seal. Not recyclable.
  • Taking a snack to work? Ziplock bags. Also not recyclable.

The ‘why’, I believe, has to do with the international trade of low-grade plastics and is a bit beyond me and my immediate sphere of influence. Let’s assume for a moment that this ban will have a positive washback effect on consumer habits and lead me to make better packing choices for my family. But…

When you take foods with you everywhere you go, plastic bags are a godsend.

Due to pretty severe food allergies, at least two of us make and carry all of our out-of-home meals and snack foods. This means packaging.

Yes. We admittedly do own and use bento boxes, tupperware, and a various assortment of small containers. Now I don’t know about your house, but our home has small, mischievous gnomes that enjoy randomly stealing various lids to said containers. The end state being hit-or-miss on container inventory when making lunches. And when you’re already in a rush to get out the door?

And…. we’re now back to plastic bags.

Which is a long, drawn-out prelude to today’s post: packing lunches in a time of pre-plastic containers. I’ve been looking for something like a ‘how-to’ for ages, and while picnics cover some of the logistics for packing and carrying food, they aren’t really transferable to the daily working lunch. Anna Coyle, from the department of food economics at Armour and company, offers the following:



Note that they wouldn’t have had access to microwaves, so everything would have been cold. Sandwiches are wrapped in oiled or waxed paper. When did we stop doing this? I love the idea of using small ramekins and preparing the food in those ahead of time to take for the week.


Also love the idea of individual jars of jam, marmalade, and honey. I bought the tiniest jar of caviar for the kids to experience (not a favorite) that is the perfect size for smaller portions. And it doesn’t leak like the plastic variety.

Other ideas for packing more eco-friendly lunches o-wise and worldly readers??

Source: The Arizonan Republican, 1920.

More Fun Discoveries from Antique Cookbooks

12 thoughts on “Packing Lunches ~1920

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  1. I am old enough to remember when all the wax paper that loaves of bread was wrapped in was saved for wrapping sandwiches. The loaves was doubled wrapped in a strong white wax paper. I always liked the Wonder bread wrapper because of the colored circles on it. My mother always insisted that it was neatly folded up when we were done eating and put it back in our lunch pales to be used again. We also had canned fruit in a jar. Mom would drain the fruit first so there was no juice and wrap the jar in a clean dish rag to cushion it from braking. That was held on with a rubber band. There was also little wax paper bags that was bought at the grocery that would be used for sandwiches and cookies. The opening was folded down several times to keep the food inside fresh.

    I know there are crafters that make reusable sandwich pouches that seal with Velcro. You may want to look on Etsy to see if you can find them. They are made with a plastic liner and are washable and line dryable. If you are a sewer you maybe able to find instructions for them on the internet so you can DIY them.

    Thanks for sharing this because it was interesting. .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love reading about your memories with your mom sounds like a practical sort, draining the juice and wrapping the jar in a dish towel. I can picture that so clearly. You really only need to keep the sandwich packed for a few hours, from morning to lunch. Would wax paper be sufficient for that? I think it’s worth an experiment or two.


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