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Q & A: Packing a Green Lunch

By Diane MacEachern |
Forget the brown paper bags. Here are 5 tips for how to pack an eco-friendly lunch for you and your kids.
UPDATED: 08/18/11 | Originally Published: 09/10/11

My child needs a new lunchbox for school, but I'm worried about health issues that have been raised specifically about plastic lunch bags and boxes. I want something that will be durable but as eco-friendly as possible. What should I look for?

Reusable lunch boxes are definitely the greenest way to go, but the health issues can be a legitimate concern. The Center for Environmental Health in California has tested a variety of plastic and vinyl lunch boxes and found lead in some of them. You can still be healthy and green, though. Here's how to keep your children safe — and throw away less lunch trash, too.

  • Choose a reusable lunch box made from cloth or stainless steel. If you're handy with a sewing machine, try this Do-It-Yourself project that is made with fabric you already have at home.

  • Serve food in reusable containers, like stainless steel jars or jugs and washable PVC free sandwich wrappers, instead of throwaway plastic wrapping and aluminum foil.

  • Give kids whole fruits, like bananas, apples, and oranges, so you don't need to wrap them at all.

  • Buy organic. You can find pesticide-free lunch meats, bread, lettuce, tomatoes, cookies, chips and milk in most grocery stores.

  • Send drinks in reusable 12-oz stainless steel or BPA-free water bottles.

If your kids forget to bring their lunch boxes and water bottles home from school, give them some incentive. Use a stainless steel bottle as a "piggy bank," and deposit a dime or nickel when they walk in with their reusable lunch gear. At the end of the month, they can spend the money on a reward (preferably something with good environmental qualities), make a charitable contribution or just keep saving.

How do you keep packed lunches environmentally-friendly? Share your tips below!

Diane MacEachern is the author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, and a popular blog, Big Green Purse.

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  • Raissa P. 4 years ago
    I have been following this blog for a while and love your work. I thought
    this piece on "Packing a Green Lunch" was particularly helpful for
    eco-minded moms and I was wondering if we could reprint it on We would attribute the post with a backlink to your
    site and promote it through our social media. Please let me know if this
    would work for you.


    Raissa Petri (
  • Elaine F. 5 years ago
    I have a lunch bag.
  • 6 years ago
    I use Rubbermaid containers,bring my flatware and use a kitchen wash cloth. I heat my lunch in a Rubbermaid glass container. I put all my containers in a regular kitchen garabage bag and put it in a Parhmark Recyclable large bag. I eventually use the garbage bag for the garbage.
  • 6 years ago
    I help educate all the students at my child's school about waste-free lunches. In addition to the suggestions offered in the article, we encourage the use of reusable cloth napkins.
  • 6 years ago
    When the food plastic containers are no longer in good conditions, we use them to store non-food items (eg: to collect small beads for craft materials).
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