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Monday Mission: Pack Reusable Containers for Restaurant Leftovers

Monday Mission: Pack Reusable Containers for Restaurant Leftovers

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to pack reusable containers to bring to restaurants or cafeterias instead of bringing home Styrofoam take-out containers or other disposables.

Get up from your computer right now and do it.

That’s right. Stand up, grab a few cheap plastic containers that will survive a few weeks in your vehicle, and put them in your car. Or at least by your purse.

It’s okay. I’ll wait.

Really. Leave now. Get it done, or you’ll probably forget.

I’ll still be here when you get back. In fact, you’ll want to read to the end of the post to see what else is coming in January’s “Back To Basics” series.

See you in a minute…


I Tried and Tried

It was my goal to bring my own containers for months. We don’t eat out very often, so it was only about once a month that I was reminded of my goal, usually when I sighed in disgust upon having to stuff a large Styrofoam takeout container into my fridge.

Once I finally remembered to bring them, I always forgot to take them in to the restaurant. (I still do, but I just run out and grab them when I need them.)

Then I finally remembered, used it once, and forgot to “reload”, finding myself sighing in disgust again the next time we were out to eat.

Trust me, this is a perfect New Year’s Monday Mission. You will feel so good about yourself the next time you have restaurant leftovers and avoid the Styrofoam, and it’s such an easy goal to accomplish. In fact, if you haven’t already done it, you can get up and do it now…

Why Bring Your Own?

Here’s why I go the extra mile (and endure the very strange looks from surprised waitresses when I proudly say, “I have my own box!”):

  1. I really hate throwing things away, especially oversized, non-biodegradable things.
  2. Those takeout boxes are almost always at least twice as big as we need.
  3. Styrofoam is actually plastic number 6, which is not recommended for food because of the BPA. Even though I use plastic, it’s number 5, BPA-free.
  4. I love accomplishing something, and I love feeling really “green” and “crunchy” when it’s really easy to do.

How-To Tips

reusable containers for restaurants

After months of failure, I’ve finally found the system that works perfectly for me. I’ll share it just in case it inspires you to get weird looks from your servers, too. I mean, just in case you can figure out what works for you without as many “oopses” as I had.

  • The first time I finally remembered to pack my own, I chose a unique bowl that we only had one copy of in the house. My plan was to make sure that whenever it was cleaned, it went right back into the car. That plan quickly backfired when I wasn’t the person putting away the dishes and it got stashed in the cupboard.
  • Now I immediately replace whatever containers I use when I get home and put them into the fridge. I grab equivalent sizes from the cupboard and set them by my purse so they get into the car the next day.
  • I pack double what I expect I’ll need, so I have some on reserve in case I forget to reload. For us, that’s two square 4-cup boxes and two large cottage cheese containers.
  • The containers live in a bag so they don’t fly all around my van.

Why plastic?

I may have surprised some of you by asking you to pack plastic, when more often than not I’m reminding you to stay away from plastic and switch to glass or stainless steel. Quite simply, I don’t have enough. I am constantly running out of my favorite sizes of glass dishes, and my stainless steels aren’t big enough to be practical for unknown leftover quantities. Ergo, I take baby steps.

Number 5 plastic that I don’t have to throw away is a huge leap of improvement from a number 6 Styrofoam container that fills nearly one-fourth of my trash can. I am happy with that, for now.

What If We Never Go Out to Eat?

I hear you. We wouldn’t but a few times a year if not for my in-laws taking us out sometimes. Whether you’re super frugal, have a large family, or are just 100% committed to real food (which is tricky to find outside a home), you might think you have no mission this week.

For you, I would encourage you to take another step, then, in getting rid of your plasticware and switching over more fully to glass and stainless steel, or choosing something disposable in your home that doesn’t have to be and making a change. Here are some posts for inspiration:

Back to Basics

back to basicsJanuary’s Monday Missions are all going to have a “Back To Basics” theme to get your new year started out right. This one is a simple “go green!” mission that I think everyone can accomplish, no matter how many steps you’ve taken along the eco-friendly continuum. (Of course, don’t worry if you have a few failures. Cleary I paved the way for those!)

Now go get those reusable containers, if you haven’t already. Winking smile

You might also want to think about saving a few glass jars this week if you have spaghetti sauce or store applesauce, anything that comes in a glass jar 3 cups or more. Next week we’re revisiting one of my all-time favorite subjects: homemade yogurt. If you’ve never made it, 2011 is the perfect time to start! If you’re a homemade yogurt junkie like me, we can talk upgrades and transformations to the basic routine.

The rest of January will bring reviews of using dry beans and more beans in general (one of the topics in the first two months of this blog, when it was just a baby site), healthy fats (one of the most popular series from over a year ago), and one more undetermined “Back To Basics” topic. If you have a suggestion, feel free to share!

Happy New Year!

Monday Mission: Pack Reusable Containers for Restaurant Leftovers

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

18 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Pack Reusable Containers for Restaurant Leftovers”

  1. Great idea for leftovers…my worry is that I would walk off and leave the leftovers on the table (as I am prone to do…)thus also leaving behind my container 🙁

    Also, semi-related, I work on a college campus with a “green” cafeteria. As such, they only offer ceramic plates, which means you cannot buy a meal and return to your office with it. We’ve attempted taking our own plates, but they won’t allow it due to health regs 🙁 Just something to think about…

    1. Laura–Cafeterias are some of the worst offenders of waste, esp. plastic, so I commend your college for trying to make a postive change. . . but what a pain! One idea you could champion would be for them to provide take-home containers for a deposit, some kind of system like some natural groccery stores do so they provide the containers and you can return them and get your deposit back. . . clearly it would be advantageous to work out a system so that people who do this regularly would not be charged and refunded on a daily basis. . . if you could get your campus to come up with a good system, they could tout it to the rest of the academic world, and earn LOTS of “green” status points! ; ) Is there a magazine or newspaper that would promise to feature the cafeteria’s new green take out program, which might provide incentive for the school to act?

      The first step for all of us who care is, of course, first getting our own good habits working smoothly at home and in our own lifestyles. But then, think what a difference to the world we could make if we each chose *one* clearly defined, do-able problem and helped find a solution? I am working with my favorite coffee-shop here in Santa Cruz, CA to encourage them in greener practices, esp. less plastic. Even if one business at a time adopts one better practice, the world is better already! : ) I hope you can help your school cafeteria come up with a solution. Good luck!

  2. Heather Ledeboer

    I have young kids (just turned 5 and 7) and for them I have used small glass jars (pint size) with a silicone sleeve over them. I own a website that offers mom invented products and for a few years I carried a product designed to protect glass baby bottles before I realized I could also use them over my pint sized jars for the same purpose! 🙂 You can see them here (the small size). So just an idea of you decide to try glass (depending on how young your kids are).

  3. Heather Ledeboer

    Great reminder, I have been meaning to do this for a LONG time:). I have been reading your blog for a few months but never comment. As a blogger myself I know it is nice to know who is “out there” reading. So I just wanted to introduce myself and say hello! I am really enjoying your content, thank you for the time you put into it. We have many similar goals and interests in the kitchen:).

  4. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

    I totally follow the save-the-glass-jars routine. Mostly because our curbside recycle doesn’t take glass (how strange is that?).
    My only problem is that when I put spaghetti sauce, homemade bbq sauce, or applesauce in a jar, I’m the only one in the house who knows what it is.
    No one wants to grab a glass jar of red sauce, pour it on thier nachos, and realize it’s spaghetti sauce. Can’t really blame ’em.

    Any ideas?

    1. Steph,
      Permanent marker on the glass will come off in the wash, masking tape on the side is an easy labeling method, and if you write small, you can label and cross out many times on the lid! Do know that this is advice from someone whose husband asks every day, “which salad dressing is this? Is this mayo or Caesar?” because I’m too lazy to do any of the above! 😉 Katie

  5. Katie,

    Okay, you have to help me. First, yes, I need to start doing this! I’ll admit, I didn’t do it right now ::hangs head:: But I was holding and nursing my son, does that excuse it? LOL. I need to reload the diaper bag and my reusable bags so I’ll do it all at once. I WILL, I promise.

    Yogurt…please help! I’ve just about perfected my method, really. BUT last time I used Dannon as a starter (I usually use Trader Joe’s European style organic, and it came out with a really weird texture. It was almost gluey, kind of sticking together strangely. Otherwise it was fine, nice and smooth and creamy and not separated. I’ve never had it like that. My son, who loves plain yogurt, did not like the texture and would not eat it. Which is sad! I need to make a bunch more that works out nicely and make my kids a bunch more yogurt popsicles because they love that. I’ll just buy the TJ yogurt and then use that as a starter, unless you have ideas for me?

    And for another mission, bone broth, please? I’ve got chicken down and I can even do fish, but beef escapes me every.single.time. I roast the bones and let it simmer for 72 hours like I’m supposed to but it smells weird and tastes like grass and never gets that rich, dark brown beefy flavor. Any ideas for that?

    1. Kate,
      Yes, your excuse is a valid one. You’re lucky! 😉

      Now, gluey yogurt might be a new one on me. Sounds like the cereal bowls my college roommate used to leave lying around unrinsed for a week – stringy milk! That’s probably not helpful at all as you try to feed your family, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind.

      I wouldn’t use the gluey yogurt as a starter for the next batch, but I wonder what your system is – how long do you incubate, at what temp, how much starter do you add to how much milk? All those things really make a different on texture and end result.

      I should post on beef broth this winter – adding it to “ze list” now. However, I’ve only made it twice following Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s recipe. I won’t ever claim to be a gourmet, so I don’t know that mine got all that dark, either. I wonder if the 72 hours is too long and knocks out some flavor while increasing the nutrients? Could be worth trying less time since there’s SUCH a range on that one. Also, do you have all the kinds of bones NT calls for? I don’t think I ever do. Adding some meaty bones is probably important for flavor too. Just shooting in the dark there, but maybe together we’ll figure it out! You could always add MSG or bouillon cubes for flavor…just kidding, but admittedly, those are hard to compete with sometimes.

      Now…go reload your car with all that good stuff! 😉 Katie

  6. Great post! It’s interesting to see how you had to link this habit to your car. We are blessed to live in a neighborhood with about 60 restaurants within a mile of our house, so when we go out to eat we’re usually walking! That means we have to remember to stick the leftovers containers into a bag and bring it with us, but we have managed to pick up that habit at least 75% of the time. I’ve even sometimes brought containers on an outing that I thought might include going out to eat! Here’s my article on bringing containers.

    We usually use #5 plastic, too, because it’s lighter to carry and unbreakable. But for glass food storage at home, we have lots of jars from nut butter that have nice wide mouths. In fact, we have way more of them than we can use, so if anybody in Pittsburgh needs some, contact me….

  7. Emily @ Random Recycling

    I have a stash of plastic containers I no longer use, this is the perfect suggestion of what to do with them. I’m going to need a trunk organizer soon for my reusable bags, take out containers, and cart covers for the baby!

    1. Ah! Reusable bags! I’ve kicked myself for weeks for forgetting mine! Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Yay! I am excited to get “Back to the Basics”! I am looking forward to next weeks challenge. I have always wanted to make yogurt, but have always chickened out!

  9. Darcy@Somewhatmuddledmusings

    Since I tend to split a meal with one of my boys, we never have leftovers if we get to go out to eat.

    But we are on the lookout to replace most of our plasticware. I’m having a hard time finding stainless steel cups for the kids, though. We’re not fully prepared to give them glass, just yet. Any suggestions?

    1. Darcy,
      Life Without Plastic ( has stainless cups that have been on my DD’s wish list for a year…never got them, but now she’s old enough for glass! When you’re ready for glass, check yard sales for the 25-cent kind. 🙂 Katie

    2. Check a camping store for great stainless steel cups and mugs–we got some at REI a few years back (along with small plates and bowls that we love and use daily–so great for the little ones and they can take them outside to eat and I’m not worried about breakage) and some more at–and they are having a 40% off sale today too!

      one thing–I decided I would rather spend a little more $ for our stainless steel because we got some cheap stuff and it tasted funny, and since it was made in China it got me thinking about the quality of the steel and what other metals might be in there that we don’t know about. . . so if you plan on using them daily, I personally think it is best to get a good brand and just try to get them on sale. : )

      I LOVE this mission–it was already the first thing I wanted to accomplish this year, so thanks for making it a joint goal! (But mine is a little different–it is not for leftovers per se, but for take out, which we do more frequently. So my goal is to have all the containers I need, including little jars for sides or sauces, ready in the car for whenever we decide to take out on short notice. Utensils too! It sounds intimidating, but I refuse to be part of the waste (esp. plastic) problem any more. : )

      1. Blessed,
        Awesome and awesome! Excellent tips and a very cool goal. Hope it works out for you – it’s worth it! 🙂 Katie

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