I know of few moms (and dads) who don’t dread the daily back-to-school slog of having to pack a lunch. I know I do! And while there are plenty of convenience products out there that make it easier to pack a lunch, such as snack-sized plastic bags, individually wrapped foods, yogurts and applesauce in plastic tubs and pouches, these items also generate a lot of needless waste.
Instead, incorporate these tips into your lunch-packing routine. You’ll conserve resources and save money, while still giving your kids a healthy, wholesome lunch.
- Invest in reusable containers that make sense. Stock up on a variety of BPA-free plastic, stainless steel, or tempered glass containers that are sized right to hold the types of foods you think you’ll pack. If your kid loves sandwiches, make sure to stock up on flat, square containers that will neatly hold a sandwich. Soup or mac-and-cheese lovers will appreciate a really good-quality thermal container that will keep its contents hot for hours. And don’t forget smaller containers for snacks, side dishes, and even condiments. By thinking through the types of foods you’ll be packing, as well as the portion sizes, you’ll be able to get containers that aren’t too big or too small.
- Choose your lunchbox wisely. Similarly, when shopping for a lunchbox, make sure to get one that is big enough to house several containers as well as an ice pack and a beverage bottle (or opt for a lunchbox that has an outer pouch for the drink). It’s also wise to make sure that the lunchbox is easy to clean so that it won’t get stinky or stained through the year. I’m partial to ones with a removable (or partially removable) lining that’s easy to wipe or rinse clean. A wipe-down with vinegar will deodorize.
- Send foods that don’t require containers, or that make their own containers. Even better than investing in reusable containers, is packing food that is already self-contained. Whole fruits like apples and plums don’t need their own containers. You could scoop out the seeds and membranes from a bell pepper to create a vessel for tuna salad, replacing the top for a “lid”. Halve an orange, scoop out the inside, and use the orange to contain fruit salad.
- Make leftovers or repurpose leftovers. If you’re already cooking dinner at home, consider cooking a little bit extra for your lunch tomorrow. Whatever you do, don’t let last night’s dinner go to waste; instead, use it for the next day’s lunch. Cooked chicken breast can be diced and made into chicken salad to pack with crackers, or chop up cooked vegetables and add it to macaroni and cheese.
- Include cloth napkins and reusable flatware. To continue the theme of a waste-free lunch, pack a cloth napkin (or none at all — be honest, does your kid even use a napkin when not prompted?). Invest in a set of to-go utensils that are just for lunches.
- Make your own waste-free snacks. Kids love the cute, individual containers of tiny raisin boxes or yogurt tubes, just as much as they like the taste of what’s inside. Invest in tiny plastic or stainless steel containers and decorate them with Sharpies or stickers (you can even have your kids do this) to make snacking more fun. Or buy reusable silicone tubes that can be filled with yogurt, smoothies, or applesauce, and chilled or even frozen for ice pops.