How to Pack a Waste-free Lunch

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Concerns continue regarding the number of overweight and obese children and teens in schools today. Trends in chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension affecting younger and younger populations also continue. Some have apprehension regarding the lack of plant-based choices in schools. Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver has shed light on just how unhealthy school lunch programs can be with several seasons of Food Revolution on ABC. Although some legislative proposals have made traction, school lunch programs still face strict governmental guidelines and deep school wide cost cutting that makes administering healthier meals a challenge. I hope we will begin to see healthier school lunches in schools across the nation but until then, our best hope for healthier children begins at home. The dog days of summer and trying to stay cool during extreme heat hardly seems like the time to think about school lunches. However, school supplies are beginning to line department store shelves. If you want your children or grandchildren to have healthy, waste-free, and cost effective lunches this school year, you will need to start planning now.

I still remember the excitement of getting to select a lunch box when I started first grade. Back then, most children brought their lunch from home while some bought lunch from the cafeteria once or twice a week as well as packing. I loved my Pebbles and Bamm Bamm lunchbox and thermos set and carried it to school with pride. When my children started school, the metal lunch box had gone by the wayside in favor of soft sided lunch bags. Today there are eco-friendly container systems that allow children, youth, and adults to take lunch without creating the increased waste that comes from individual serving bags, sandwich bags, or juice boxes. With many landfills filling up and communities not interested in expanding them or having incinerators pumping contaminants in their back yard, reducing convenience packaging is necessary for all of us. Estimates suggest the average school-age child generates more than 60 pounds of waste each year just from disposable lunches. At the same time, families spend more to pack lunches then they would if they focused on reducing, reusing and recycling through a waste-free approach. Use these steps to create a waste-free lunch for children and adults alike who regularly pack their lunches.
  • Find a reusable lunch bag or lunch box that is the right size for your meal needs. Although paper or plastic bags can be recycled or reused, they still generate waste that needs to be dealt with in one manner or another. Select a reusable bag that represents your personality and although you may shell out more money for it initially, over the course of a year you will save big and so will the environment.
  • Select reusable containers for your food instead of convenience packaging or other single use options. Purchasing items in bulk will save you money but so will reuse of containers. If you purchase a lunch bag or box that contains reusable containers, be sure they are safe from lead, BPA, phthalates or PVC, easy to clean, and preferably dishwasher safe. Find reusable ways to package foods instead of plastic wrap, sandwich bags, wax-paper or aluminum foil even if you reuse them several times before discarding.
  • Don't forget to plan for a reusable bottle for your beverages including water. Drinks are one of the most common single-use items included in lunches from juice boxes and pouches as well as cans and plastic bottles. Many justify the use of cans or plastic bottles because they can be recycled. Although that is true and make them better choices than those that are disposable only, they still ultimately create waste. Find one that is durable, easy to clean and fill, preferably dishwasher safe, doesn't retain or impart flavors, and doesn't contain liners that include BPA, phthalates, lead or toxins. Keep in mind that beverages other than water as well as warm leftovers, soups, and casseroles will require an insulated reusable container to ensure food and drinks are held at the proper temperature.
  • Don't forget about reusable utensils and napkins. Eliminate the cost and waste of paper napkins in favor of cloth napkins that can easily be washed as part of your weekly laundry. Disposable plastic utensils create another waste that can easily be eliminated by using washable stainless-steel utensils.
Packing a lunch allows children and adults to reduce waste for the planet while maximizing nutrition and saving money at the same time.
What do you think about the idea of packing waste-free lunch? What barriers prevent you from committing to do it?