Monday Mission: Travel Without Plastic

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snack taxi with almond power bars (2)

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to pack travel foods without using plastic this summer, especially disposable plastic.

This mission is inspired by the release of my friend and colleague Beth Terry’s first book, Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Habit and You Can Too. Beth blogs at My Plastic Free Life, and she visited us here at KS a few years back to share her story of cutting plastic from her life, 100%.

I often think of Beth as I move through my day, usually when I encounter something plastic in my life, either one that I wish didn’t exist (enter cheap plastic baby toys received as gifts) or that I’m feeling guilty about throwing away (see toys, above – broken). A common refrain in my head is, “Well, I’m no Beth Terry…” but I’m doing the best I can in my state in life.

I am proud of how little plastic disposable stuff we use, and I know that we’re very different than most people in American culture.

When the cold lunch packers of the world are dumping their entire lunchbox contents into the trash at the end of lunch hour, my son is carefully repacking every item, because nothing in his box is disposable (and he knows I’d have his head if he threw away food).

As we enter the season where many of us put some miles on vehicles escaping our hometowns for somewhere new – i.e., take vacations – I encourage you to first pack your own food as often as you can. That will save your family’s health from the fast food restaurants circling above, waiting to prey on tiny immune systems.

Second, see what you can do to avoid plastic disposables on your journey. That will save the earth from waste that just won’t break down, ever…and hopefully your pocketbook, too. You’ll also be avoiding BPA, which can only be a good thing.

It’s a true Kitchen Stewardship mission, one that will improve your health, environment, and budget, and hopefully not take too very much more time than sandwich baggies.

Packing Car Snacks

If your kids are anything like mine, as soon as they get in the van for a long trip, they’re ready for their snacks. Even when the “long trip” is 15 minutes… Winking smile

We pack a TON of snacks, everywhere we go. If you’re a member of GNOWFGLINS eCourses you may have seen the cute video from the snacks lesson at the end of May of my kids helping me pack on-the-go food, including Butternut Spice Bars, Power Balls, Popeye Bars, Trail Mix (made by the 3yo), and homemade beef jerky, all from the Healthy Snacks to Go eBook. We used a bit of plastic that day, but only in the form of a lidded box that I reuse for multiple batches of reverse engineered larabars, and then of course wash, not throw away.

Our culture is really turning toward the reusing, which is so cool. Here are the gadgets we have in our home for snacking and school lunches that help us avoid baggies:

reusable sandwich bags

  • Reusable sandwich bags – I reviewed a bunch a while back, and we still use them very regularly.
    • Leah’s favorite is her princess bag, the Itzy Ritzy brand from Mom4Life HERE. I’ve decided I need to pick up one for Paul since this is nearly the only one I’d put really goopy goodies in, like a soft pear. It isn’t waterproof, but it’s close! I also need a boy print for John at church, since Itzy Ritzy has a quiet zipper and all the rest of our are – rrrrrrrip! – Velcro. That’s just loud stuff.
    • When I purchased additional bags to add to our stash, I kept it semi-local and ordered from Eco Lunch Gear here in Michigan. We really like the bag styles and use them often. Best part – SUPER easy to clean.
    • Everyone likes the Snack Taxi brand, too (pictured at top).
    • For sandwiches, Kids Konserve food cozy is a great option, as are many other brands that fold out into a placemat. We actually really love our cloth versions, but the seller is out of business now.
    • You can make your own, too – there is a no-sew version in one of the old thank you videos from GNOWFGLINS
    • Amazon has lots of options for reusable snack bags here

lunchbot lunch no 1 (1) (475x356)

  • Personal “Bento-style” lunch box thingys – clearly I don’t really know what to call these, but let’s just say I’ve used one or the other every day of first grade:
    • ECO Lunchbox 3-in-1: I was a bit harsh on this not being able to fit a tall sandwich when I first reviewed it, but now that we rarely have bread, it’s been absolutely perfect for most of Paul’s lunches, and it’s super cool that I can pull out the smallest box and the top box and use them for quick snacks in the car. We do it often!
    • LunchBots Quad (above): This is rather new for us, and other than the fact that it can be a little hard to clean (so can the ECO, but the Lunchbot is slightly worse because there are tiny spaces beneath eachStainless Steel Airtight Watertight Food Storage Container/Lunch Box, 8 cm (3 partition), it’s been awesome. I rather enjoy the challenge of finding 4 appropriately sized foods to fill each of the spots. (Lunchbot also comes in 3, 2 or one big compartment).
  • Small Stainless Steel Containers
  • Pyrex glass bowls – my husband uses the 1-cup size for homemade yogurt every day (it looks like this, but egads, don’t buy it from Amazon – you should be able to get 5-6 for $10!)

Packing a Picnic Meal

potato salad (18) (475x356)

I have to laugh at our family sometimes. Most folks probably grab fast food, or at least just pack cold cut sandwiches, if they have a baseball game at dinnertime and are crunched to get there.


We bring a small cooler, our regular dinner plates, a big glass bowl of potato salad, a bag of cut veggies (that we’ll reuse), some grain-free crepes or egg salad all packed in one box, and forks. All real. Even the cloth napkins.

I encourage you, think out of the box.

Just because there are four eaters and you’ll be away from home doesn’t necessarily mean that each person needs a personal lunch packed. How can you save time and dishes? Bring the serving bowl, use real plates (just tuck them in the cooler or inside a plastic grocery bag if they’re really messy, and plunk them in the dishwasher when you get home).

If you look weird, just know that we look weird right along with you. Winking smile

Eating Out

If you’re Beth Terry, you bring your own dish, utensils, and even a glass straw if you’re going to be eating out a a place that serves on disposables.

For us, we take a bit more moderate track:

  • We use reusable containers for leftovers when we have enough to take home.
  • We avoid Styrofoam whenever possible
  • We bring our own water bottles when the cups are disposable
What can you do to reuse instead of throw out as you travel this summer?

Disclosure: I have received many of the items mentioned here as product samples, but none of the companies are current sponsors. They’re just our real life tools in the kitchen now…I am an affiliate of Amazon and will receive commission from sales made at that site. I also partner with GNOWFGLINS and revenue share. See my full disclosure statement here.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

19 Bites of Conversation So Far

    • says

      I use mostly glass jars that nut butter, salsa, etc. came in. They last through many, many washings! Because the lids close tightly, they keep food a little fresher than plastic containers, and there’s no plastic taste. They’re easier to wash completely clean after storage of greasy or staining foods, and they can go in either rack of the dishwasher.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’m totally a glass jar girl, too – spaghetti sauce jars, quart jars, anything I can find. Lots of Pyrex with lids as well. I still have some plastic boxes or use bags for some dry things like biscuits, and for cut lettuce, just because I only have so much room in the produce drawer, you know?

      You can see a pic of my fridge “Pyrex world” here:

      😉 Katie

  1. says

    Nice timing of this post…just today I bought some reusable sandwich bags for snacks at preschool. We also use a bento box, but ours right now is plastic. I love that my 3 year old only has to take off the lid and his lunch is ready. No fussing with baggies, etc. For leftovers at home, I use glass jars or glass pyrex and prefer that over tupperware.

    • KarenL says

      We home school and my kids are big/old enough they don’t need snacks in the car anymore.

      We store a lot in glass. So I keep hitting up local thrift stores for replacements.

  2. says

    HA! Yes, my kids are like yours. Well, they used to be. It’s getting better now about snacks in the car. My car used to have several inches of disgusting cracker crumbs on the back seat and on the floor. One day I found MOLDY cracker crumbs and I was DONE with crackers in my car. I instituted a new snack policy in my car — only string cheese or apple slices because they don’t leave a mess (or at least not much of a mess). This was actually a good thing because I had really wanted to stop buying crackers (even though they were organic) for my kids. We have been cracker free in the car and in the house b/c I just don’t buy them anymore — YAHOOOOOO! I much prefer that they have string cheese for a snack anyway b/c of the protein for hunger satiation. BTW, Katie, I made your soaked and baked oatmeal for the first time today and it was absolutely delicious. Definitely doing that again :)

  3. says

    We also use glass jars for food storage at home, and I use them to take dinner to work. I get a lot of comments about it at work (“where’s the stagecoach?” “are you playing on catching lightning bugs?”) but they work great. We’ve also started using glass jars as glasses at home; we have 3 boys and it was annoying and pricey to continue to buy new glasses at the store.

  4. KarenL says

    you wrote: “Pyrex glass bowls – my husband uses the 1-cup size… you should be able to get 5-6 for $10!)”

    Please tell me where you’d suggest looking! We are ready to purchase more of these but what we’ve gotten in the past has come in a set. I’d guess they could be had locally but for $5-7 each (incl lid).


    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’ve found a stack of one-cup Pyrex (maybe 4 in a stack for $10, I might have been over zealous in the post after having sticker shock with Amazon’s $10 for one!) at our local Meijer, so maybe a Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, or even Target? I’ve gotten 2-cup size like that in a stack without having to buy other sizes, too.
      Good luck looking!
      :) Katie

  5. Sharon says

    Any suggestions for a good way to pack a slice of pie in a lunch? I put it in an old plastic container today, and it got rather smashed up on the trip to work. Still tasted great, though!

    • KarenL says

      You could use one of those “bots” that Katie promoted; we have one that will fit a sandwich so certainly pie would fit, too.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      The smashing problem will probably happen with any container, unless it fits the pie perfectly so it can’t knock around, right? The ECOlunchbox 3-in-1 probably has the best-sized container for pie – the top part is only about 1-1.5 in. high, so there wouldn’t be as much room for the pie to shake about. But yes, smashed pie still tastes darn good, I’m sure! :) Katie

  6. Kika says

    Our biggest issue is how to haul enough water for our trips. Even a day trip to the nearest city means requiring more than two water bottles/person. I have a old glass juice bottle with lid that I fill for extra filtered water for any longer trips we need way more water. What do others do?

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Ooo, that’s a tough one. I guess when we go camping, we do use a big 5 gallon plastic jug.

      For a day trip, it depends how heavy your container can be! There are nice glass pitchers/bottles, like the half gallons we get our milk in. Or maybe just quart jars for refilling your bottles? We have extra stainless steel bottles that serve as refilllers for day trips.

      Good question!
      :) Katie

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