Moms truly want to give their children good things. Moms care about nutrition, and they possibly care even more about it the farther out of their reach the children get. My post last week on packing healthy school lunches had quite an incredible response. This tells me moms are hungry for more than just good food: they want information about how to take care of their kids’ health. It’s written into our genes when the Creator makes us “Mommy”, I think, to be wildly passionate about doing the best we can for our kids. Kitchen Stewardship is here to help you do just that, while balancing their nutrition on top of a world that also needs our care and a budget that isn’t getting any looser.
This week I have a bunch of tips for packing a lunch that will keep the earth healthier and some resources for lunchbox goodies you may want to look into.
School cafeterias are breeding grounds for garbage, from brown bags to yogurt cups, orange peels to sandwiches with only one bite missing.
I’ve always had a problem with waste. Way back in sixth grade, a friend and I actually stood by the garbage cans in our elementary cafeteria and directed all the students to sort out their lunchtime waste: milk in a bucket, food in the first can and other garbage in the next. We weighed it all and measured the volume of milk and published our results in the school newspaper. (Yes, thank you, I was nerd. But at least I didn’t have to go outside in the snow for recess for a week! I was weighing garbage…)
Times haven’t changed much, and if anything, we probably create more waste as a society now than when I was a pre-teen. That’s one of the reasons I encouraged you last week to set a policy for your own kids:
If it’s in your lunch, and it doesn’t get eaten, it comes home.
Then you get to decide what is worthy of the trash and what is a leftover instead.
Beyond food waste, a packed lunch demands convenience, single-servings and portable food. This often translates into packaging waste to the nth degree.
Before you go any further, be sure to check back on the Healthy School Lunch Packing List to remind yourself which of these foods are on the “healthy” list and which are on the “compromise/sometimes foods” list.
The Healthy Lunch Box: Sandwich-free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunch is loaded with strategies to streamline your packing process, stock your pantry with emergency backups for your backups, and send healthy, delicious food in the lunch box, no matter how old your eater is. Read more and start packing healthier, processed-free lunches today.
***BACK-TO-SCHOOL SALE!!! Through Labor Day 2015, use the code LUNCH35BDAY for 35% off the eBook and get packing real food for less!
Ways to Reduce your Lunchbox Packaging Waste
- Make your own or buy the “big” size and portion into smaller travel sizes (granola bars, pretzels, yogurt, applesauce, etc.)
- When you use plastic baggies for dry snacks like pretzels or granola bars, ask the child to bring them home and simply refill them with the same or similar item for the next day. Want great homemade snacks? Check out Healthy Snacks to Go, my own eBook with over 30 recipes to get you on your way with real food, fast.
Time Saver: The child doesn’t have to take a trip to the trash can at lunch because everything is probably supposed to come home, anyway! You can avoid getting new bags out every day, too, because they’re already right there.
Added Bonus: This saves pennies, too.
- For “wet” items like carrots or apple slices, you can just put the empty baggie into the fridge until lunch-packing time and use it again at least once, if not twice. (I do this all the time with plastic bags in my fridge!)
- Use glass storage containers for fruit, yogurt, etc. If your school has a policy against glass containers, use number 5 plastic or stainless steel containers like these, which we’ve used and loved for over 3 years now (2014 update). I think they’ll last until high school and it’s much better than throwing away a yogurt or applesauce cup every day.
- If your child is responsible enough, use a real utensil instead of a plastic one. Or just ask for the plastics to be brought home and wash those!
- Avoid single serving drinks; use a water bottle like the Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottles, Goodlife Stainless Steel bottles or a BPA-Free plastic version.
- Warning: Watch out for aluminum water bottles! I wish I were kidding, but somehow someone decided to capitalize on the fact that people are out looking for safe, metal alternatives to plastic and market an inexpensive metal water bottle, even though the health risks of aluminum are equal to those of plastic! Sheesh. I saw an aluminum water bottle in our Target ad for $5 this week. Don’t buy them!
- UPDATE 2014: I’ve reviewed seven different bento lunch boxes with more to come next year – it pays to invest in quality stuff and makes it easier to pack your lunches when you h ave “squares to fill.”
- If you must use single serving dealies, check Terracycle to see if you can utilize your trash and “upcycle” it.
The Sandwich Storage Solution
Sandwiches go in one-time-use sandwich baggies, right? Here are a slew of greener options for that indispensable lunchtime staple:
- The easy one: reuse the sandwich bags as many times as they’ll last. I’m not a big fan of actually washing and drying sandwich bags. They’re so thin, and it probably uses more water to wash them than to create a new one. Just reuse for the same kind of sandwich the next day.
Anecdote: I remember being proud of one family at my school for reusing their sandwich bags before “being green” was even very popular. I had a child with a peanut allergy in class, and PBJ sandwiches were strongly discouraged. One student told me she had to sit at the “peanut table” one day because there was some peanut butter residue from a sibling’s lunch in her sandwich bag (with her lunchmeat sandwich in it). I remain impressed by her close attention and conscientiousness in keeping her classmate safe, and by the family’s obvious choice to avoid waste and be frugal.
- Avoid plastic by purchasing waxed paper sandwich bags. These can be reused a few times as well. You can even use waxed paper to wrap a sandwich up, as long as the child knows not to let it fall out of the wrappings.
- Wrap a sandwich in a cloth napkin or bandana. Both can be used as a napkin or a placemat when the child gets to school.
- Use a plastic box with a lid instead of a bag. (Reuse this without washing if it’s just a PB sandwich, too!)
Added bonus: No more squashed sandwiches!
- Items you can purchase:
- Wrap-n-mat – Made by mom of 4, put waxed paper inside if you don’t want plastic touching your food ($6.95 each)
- Lunch skins – reusable cloth bags that can even be thrown in the dishwasher ($8.95 each)
- Reusable Fabric Sandwich and Snack Bags- Mint Stripe (set of 4)
- Snack Taxi reusable bags
- UPDATE 2014: I’ve now reviewed a bunch of different reusable bags and have definite favorites – the ones above are in the middle of the pack, FYI.
Be aware of one more new marketing hoax: lunchboxes with microban, an antibacterial agent not proven to do anything but play into parents’ germaphobic fears and sell products. See The Smart Mama’s post on the subject for more.
What have I missed? Do you see waste at your children’s school that you wish could be avoided?
Other back-to-school posts:
- Plastic Safety
- Hand Sanitizers in the Home
- How to Read a Bread Bag for Whole Grains
- Plastic Bag Debacle – We Use Too Many!
- Does Your School Use Antibacterial Soap and Sanitizer?
Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Goodlife bottles, Nubius Organics and Amazon, which means I’ll receive a small commission if you buy through these links. However, I’d never recommend products that weren’t high quality and just what you need!