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How can I pack a waste-free lunch for myself or my kids?


Packing your child’s lunch is essential for an eco-friendly family. The average school lunch generates a staggering 67 pounds of waste. Translated to an average school, that’s 18,760 pounds of waste per year, and that’s for just one school. In addition, many of the pre-packaged foods served at schools contain preservatives and chemicals that are not part of a waste-free lunch, especially where fresh fruits and veggies are involved. There’s also the cost factor:  when the same two lunches are compared, pre-packaged to waste-free, the waste-free lunch comes out ahead by over a dollar a day, or approximately $240 per year!

So starting tomorrow, if you have kids, why not make the move towards waste free lunches. Don’t have kids, no problem, bringing your own to the office has just as many benefits as it does for school kids.

Develop a “snack basket,” a flat rectangular basket about four inches deep. Once a week fill snack bags (like our Snack Pouches) with nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, cookies, pretzels, homemade peanut butter crackers, and plain whole wheat crackers, and lined them up in the basket with a selection of granola bars.

Buy foods in bulk and measure a serving (¼ cup for nuts and such, and two to three medium-size cookies is good) into each bag. Bags of fresh veggies (shop the supermarket salad bar, or cut your own), slices of real cheese, and peanut butter and jelly half-sandwiches go in the fridge, as do pudding (made with organic milk), fresh fruit, fruit gelatin, a dab of ranch dressing (for veggies), hummus, and yogurt (plain organic plus fresh fruit or fruit spread).

Get the kids involved; they’ll learn how easy it is to reduce lunch waste, and what a healthy school lunch really is. Even the smallest child can pick a set “menu” (such as one protein, one starch, one veggie or fruit, and one sweet treat) and drop their items into a reusable lunch bag (like our Waste Free Lunch Kit) . Drop in a stainless steel bottle of water, a cloth napkin, and a spoon if needed (get a few mismatched ones at a thrift store if you are worried about possible loss), and lunch is a go! If even this is too much, assemble and refrigerate the night before.

Make it a habit for each luncher to unpack and rinse her sack at a set time every evening (following their after-school snack or right after dinner may be low-stress choices), and bringing things home will become routine. Containers go right into the dishwasher, snack pouches get a quick rinse in the sink and hung up to dry, crumbs go in the compost, and the empty sack and napkin (unless really soiled) get ready for the next day. On weekends, send napkins hrough the wash for a fresh start next week.

If your kids refuse to get serious about bringing containers home, you may want to consider telling them that you will dock the cost of missing items from their weekly allowance…and follow through on it! They will whine and pout when you do (as another mother once told me this just means you are “doing your job”) but it won’t take many docks before missing containers will be a thing of the past.

Convenience food without the high cost, excess sugar, fat, and salt, or wasteful packaging of processed foods—what could be better?

Waste Free Lunch Ideas

Green Irene America’s Eco-Consultant

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