Easy Lunchbox

How To Pack A Waste Free Lunch


Waste free school lunches are a perfect way to introduce your children to the concept of green living because kids can see for themselves that disposable lunches create a lot of garbage.  Garbage is created in bulk because there is a whole category of food products made specifically for school lunches that feature individually wrapped servings of everything commonly found in the average lunchbox.  You can find anything from juice boxes to single serve puddings, granola bars, chips, yogurt tubes, cheese sticks, Lunchables and even individually packaged servings of fruits and veggies.

Unfortunately, convenience has a steep price as each of these items has it’s own packaging and wrapper which ultimately ends up in the trash, further stressing our overloaded waste facilities and causing more strain on our environment.  In fact, according to wastefreelunches.org, ” it has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school.”

In addition to generating thousands of pounds of waste, disposable lunches also teach our children that it is okay to constantly add to the waste stream without regard for the consequences.  By teaching them about reducing waste in their own lunches, children can become aware of the need to care for the earth responsibly and can develop green habits that will last for their whole lives.

Waste free lunches are not strange, esoteric, health food store lunches, rather they are the exact same foods you have always packed but packed in a different way.  A typical lunch for my two school aged children could be a sandwich, a half orange or small apple or bunch of grapes, a handful of pretzels or crackers or chips, a serving of baby carrots or cherry tomatoes, some cheese cubes, and occasionally a sweet treat like a cookie or homemade jello or pudding.

I pack the lunch in a square or rectangular flat, plastic food container or a plastic pencil case (just be sure it is the food safe #5 plastic) and I use medium or large silicone cupcake liners to separate the various components.  For example, I will put the sandwich on one side of the container and then insert three silicone cupcake liners to fill with 1. fruit, 2. pretzels, chips or crackers and maybe a cookie, 3. baby carrots and cheese cubes.  If I want to send jello or pudding, I make a regular full batch of it and portion it out into 1/2 cup size plastic food containers that seal very tightly.

I have also found a re-usable silicone ice pop tube that can be filled with flavored yogurt and frozen so that by lunch time the child has a yogurt tube style treat that is still cold and fresh.  These tubes could also be loaded with homemade jello or pudding for a great lunch time treat that has the added benefit of not requiring utensils to eat it.  For the beverage, I send my kids with water or juice packed in one of those re-usable juice boxes which can be found in just about every grocery store or big box store.

Another great benefit of the waste free lunch is saving money at the grocery store.  After the initial purchase of your lunch container, which can range from a simple plastic food container system like mine to a dedicated lunch system like some of the ones pictured above, you will find that each lunch costs less to make and you don’t have to spend on all of those zipper bags either.

I don’t claim to pack a perfect zero waste lunch for my kids every day, I still use paper napkins and plastic utensils on occasion, but I know that my overall effort to minimize school lunch waste is adding up to a big reduction in the local landfill. Even better I know that by making my children aware of the importance of taking care of the earth, I am helping them develop the good green habits that they can take with them into adulthood and hopefully apply to other areas of their lives.

If you would like more information about any of the products pictured on this page just click on it’s picture above.

How about you? Do you pack lunches for your kids or yourself?  If you have any tips, tricks or advice to share please feel free to post a comment.

(This post also appears as part of the “Patchwork Living Blogging Bee #4 at www.attainable-sustainable.net)

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  1. Great going working on reducing your daily waste! You might consider more tiffins or other metal containers instead of plastic. With all the concerns about BPA, I’m steering away from plastic coming in contact with food myself.

  2. Great ideas! We use stacking metal tins that lock together but I love the idea of using silicone cupcake liners to separate food items. thanks

  3. Oh I just got momentarily distracted by that jigsaw puzzle cookie cutter- very cool!
    Drives me mental all the waste that can appear in some kids lunch boxes. I love that my kids have so very little waste.
    …love the reusable icepop tubes as well, I’ll have to look out for them.

  4. This article gave me some good ideas to start with…

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