My children are young but I have already packed at least 1,250 lunches (not including my own) over the last four years and every single one of them has been zero waste. Earthshare.org estimates the average American child who brings their lunch to school creates 67 lbs of garbage per year! This garbage includes juice boxes, plastic bags, plastic utensils, napkins, and single use containers like potato chip bags and cans of soup. All of this waste does not get reused and most of it ends up in the landfill. Purchasing prepackages and pre-made food not only contributes to the waste but is often less healthy than a homemade “real food” option with no preservatives.
You can pack a lunch for one kid or the entire family without packing lunches filled with plastic parts and disposable bags. Here are some tips, tricks, and favorite products that have helped me keep at least 670 lbs of garbage out of the landfill in the last four years.
Sippy Cups and Water Bottles
No matter what is going on, your kids will need a drink. We have five Klean Kanteen stainless steel sippy cups that we converted to water bottle tops as the kids got older. They take these cups to school everyday and use them all day. We still have the same one that we purchased when the kids were born and they are still in great condition.
Head over to Klean Kanteen’s website to see all their products you will see all their sippy cups, water bottle options for Mom and Dad (my kids love that I have my own), and their new stainless steel containers.
We only had to replace the light pink sippy cup because my daughter left it at the mall when we went to see Santa Claus last year. Luckily, Santa’s “elves” got her a replacement that Christmas. The new pink one is still her favorite. What I like the most about these cups is that they continue to grow with the kids because it holds more liquid than other cups and are so durable.
Stainless Steel Containers
Once you have packed up the sippy cup full of filtered water you are ready to pull out the stainless steel containers. I have never used plastic containers for food for my kids we have stuck strictly to stainless steel containers. We own about 8 containers and wash them every night.
There is a bento lunch craze right now with kids lunches being placed in decorated plastic containers with plastic parts to entice kids to eat. Stainless steel containers are just as cute and easy to create a fun and imaginative lunches for your kids. My daughter gets four containers in her lunch and it looks like this:
Cereal: she loves cereal and often eats it as her snack on the very short ride home
Snacks: for snack time usually a homemade cookie and organic fruit
Lunch: current favorite is homemade chicken fingers, roasted veggies (usually carrots), and pretzels
Granola: goes into another small container for a morning snack
Sometimes she brings homemade yogurt too (yogurt is so easy to make here is a recipe).
Need to get some containers? Head over to Klean Kanteen. They have insulated and non-insulated containers for all your needs. To get more value from your containers use them on the weekends when you go grocery shopping to put your bulk purchases in and stop using the thin plastic bags they provide you in the bulk section. These containers are perfect to use to put your dried beans and your popcorn kernels in just make sure you weigh the empty container first so you know how much you are actually purchasing.
Reusable non-plastic utensils
At my kids’ school, they have plastic utensils out on the little table for the kids to use but my kids bring their own utensils with them. You can get bamboo kids utensils or purchase small stainless steel utensils. One of the best purchases I made was a set of 12 small teaspoons that looked like they matched the “Mommy and Daddy utensils.” They fit inside their stainless steel containers but also look like they are part of our larger set so they feel very grown up using them. My daughter feels very special bringing her own utensils and does not feel different for bringing them. Some of her friend’s parents have asked where I got my lunch box items because they have heard about them from their kids.
Did you know that average American uses 2,200 paper napkins a year (and we only started using then in the 1950’s)! Cloth napkin is crucial for a zero waste lunch. I admit I do not always do this one because I forget but I am making a commitment to be better at this. It helps reduce the waste that is created by using paper napkins at school and a cloth napkin seems so much more “fancy”. And if you have a little girl, you know being fancy is a must!
So now you have a ton of stuff to pack what do you put it in? I have gone back and forth between two favorite lunch boxes. We have used stainless steel lunch boxes and it is a great way to accommodate the need for princesses or other licensed characters. We also use canvas bags to hold all our lunch items.
The canvas bags allow you to control the size and usually come in sizes that can accommodate more items in the bag. It is also important when packing a waste free lunch to have a washable lunch bag. Canvas bags are easier to wash, just throw them in the washing machine and they come out like new again. You can also repeat this step often without having to worry about wear and tear.
Stainless steel lunch boxes are more fun. Not only do they come in fun designs they also give me an opportunity to write my kids a note. Parents love writing their kids a note in their lunch boxes but lets face it that little piece of paper will get thrown out. I have painted the inside top of my daughter stainless steel lunch box with Lullaby Paints non-toxic chalkboard paint and draw pictures for my daughter.
Homemade Lunch and Snacks
Some other tips on how to go waste free is to make real food; meaning, make some of the food you would otherwise purchase at the store, like cookies or granola. Almost every weekend, my daughter and I make a batch of cookies for her lunch for the week. She loves to help me bake and it helps teach her about food and eating. She also enjoys picking out the cookie recipe we are making.
2 ¼ cups of unbleached flour
1 tsp of baking soda
½ tsp of salt
2 sticks of organic butter
¾ cup of brown sugar
2 tsp of fair trade vanilla extract
2 organic eggs
2 cups of semisweet or dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven at 375 degrees. In a large bowl measure flour, baking soda, and salt. In a mixer beat the butter and sugars together till creamy. Add the vanilla and eggs till fully mixed but do not over mix. Make sure the mixer speed in on low and slowly add small amounts of the dry ingredients from the bowl till it is all mixed. Then stir in chocolate chips.
Using a small melon baller scoop out the dough on a cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes until just a golden brown. Remember to switch your cookie sheets from the bottom to the top halfway through so that they bake evenly.
You can see that it is not hard to pack a waste free lunch and the investment you make in stainless steel container alone will pay you back for years to come. We have used our container at the grocery store, pool, beach, picnics, and just to carry our snacks around when we are out and they never break. By the times my kids go to college I could save over 2,400 lbs of garbage going into a landfill and they can probably take the same containers with them to college!
What is your child’s favorite food to put in their lunch?
This post is sponsored by Green Sisterhood. The opinions are my own.