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…
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 – 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
- 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 each 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
- Kids Konserve Nesting Trio Stainless-Steel Containers: These are cute, but 6yos can’t open them easily, and they are not leakproof. Trust me and my yogurt on that one. Best for dry munchies
- Life Without Plastic‘s stainless steel with clips is my son’s favorite for yogurt at lunch – he can open it without spilling, and it’s not as heavy as glass. This is one investment worth making! (pictured at right)
- 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
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.
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
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.