Ahhh, back to school… back to juice boxes, plastic yogurt containers, and chip bags overflowing in the hallway trash bins. But who says we have to go back to that? Why don’t we try sending our kids to school with a zero waste lunch? It’s not nearly as daunting as it sounds, and best of all, it’ll save you some serious dough. It doubles as a great opportunity to teach your kids about the circular economy, and get them to eat healthier.
If you’re like most parents, finding time to prepare lunches and snacks from scratch can seem unfathomable. Between picking up and dropping off your kids at school, a full-time job, and making dinner, there’s little downtime. We know it’s easy to grab that family-sized box of chocolate chip granola bars on sale at the supermarket. That’s 50 snacks that you don’t have to worry about! It seems like a good deal, but you might not see the real cost.
Hint: read the ingredients, and count the number of wrappers that will end up in the landfill.
Stern warning aside, we want you to know that zero waste lunch prep is totally doable. With a few smart storage solutions and a bit of weekend planning, you won’t be missing that cling film any longer.
A note about “zero waste”
“Zero waste” is a term coined by idealists. If you live anywhere on the North American grid, chances are that zero waste in the literal sense is impossible. Everything from English cucumbers to toilet paper is packaged in plastic. Plastic doesn’t just harm our waterways and ecosystems–it leaches chemicals and harms us and our little ones. The less plastic we allow into our lives, the better.
Instead of striving for perfection, strive for progress. Look to zero waste as your North Star, and enjoy the journey. Lots of people are doing zero waste messily. Just join the movement, and do your best!
Zero waste mindset
To successfully commit to providing a zero waste lunch, you need to adopt a zero waste mindset. Start by reducing your waste. Let’s say your kids love yogurt and you’re used to individual yogurt cups. Commit to buying the larger yogurt container and portioning it out. Or, if cookies can’t go amiss at lunchtime, make a big batch of cookies over the weekend. Get your kids in on the action, and use it as a bonding experience.
Not every snack you provide to your kids has to be homemade. Start by choosing one thing, whether it’s homemade hummus, cookies, or bread for sandwiches. Starting with a small commitment will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and giving up.
How do I find the time to make healthy lunches?
If you don’t have the time to cook healthy, gourmet meals for your kids, make extras at dinnertime. Leftovers can make great lunches. If you don’t have the time but you do have the money, consider hiring a personal chef in your locale. It’s the same concept as outsourcing house cleaning and babysitting, and it can save you a lot of time.
Can you give me some zero waste lunch ideas?
Give your kid whatever you know they like, and add in some healthy snacks on the side. Don’t feel bad about giving your kid cream cheese bagels if that’s what they love. Just make sure to include some nutritious snacks on the side, like hard boiled eggs, carrot sticks, and hummus. Batch prepping carrot sticks and fruit slices in advance can save you a lot of time in the morning.
Take advantage of fruits that already have their own natural food packaging. Bananas and clementine make great no-brainer snacks because you can toss them into knapsacks.
Be real–don’t just include ultra healthy stuff. Your kid might experience FOMO when they see that their friends have cookies and chips. Include a treat so your kid won’t feel left out. Bake some cookies, or portion out some chips from a family pack.
How do I pack a zero waste lunch?
First of all, stop using plastic wrap, and any kind of disposable wrap, like wax paper, tin foil, and plastic zipper bags. You can usebeeswax wraps in place of cling film and use any small containers you already have on hand. But for ease of use, we recommend an all-in-one solution that stores everything together in one box.
Your container should be lightweight and shatterproof. For this reason, avoid glass containers for on-the-go use. While plastic food storage containers are lightweight and shatterproof, plastic can potentially leach chemicals into food.
Stainless steel containers with silicone leak-proof lids meet all these requirements. Their sturdy, lightweight, smart design makes them a great addition to your zero waste lunch routine.
Which is the best eco friendly lunch box for me?
All-in-one storage containers are great for keeping everything together in one piece. Lots of little containers makes it more likely that your kid will lose one of them. The ease-of-use of an all-in-one container will make it easier for your kid to commit to zero waste, too.
A good starting point is the U-Konserve Divide to-go container. This stainless steel box has 4 compartments for different foods as well as a leakproof lid. The removable divider is BPA and phthalate free. For a completely plastic-free option, consider the Blue Water Bento 3-in-1 Splash Box. With 3 boxes that fit into one, this leakproof box allows you to keep different foods completely separate. Plus, the entire thing is dishwasher and oven-safe. This solution is perfect for packing saucy meals and snacks under one roof.
The OmieGo Bio is another all-in-one solution, with two snack containers that lock onto an entrée container. The containers are made of bio plastic, a type of plastic that uses plant-based materials in place of fossil fuels. They’re BPA and phthalate-free, making them safe for kids and adults alike.
If you’re on a smaller budget, the Colibri Reusable Snack Bags might be the best eco friendly option for you. These are perfect for transporting sandwiches (the non-soggy kind), chips, cookies, trail mix, or anything relatively dry.
Move away from juice boxes, and pack juices in reusable drinking vessels. The Miir 360 traveller 12 oz mug has a leak proof design, so you don’t have to worry about sticky messes. If you’re concerned about the amount of sugar in juices, flavoured water is a great solution. Just toss some berries, mint leaves or lemon slices into your kid’s water bottle for a refreshing fix.
Start a zero waste conversation
As a parent, try having a conversation with the other parents about zero waste. Tell them what you’re doing differently, and encourage them to follow suit. You can even go to the school principal to discuss starting a litterless lunch program.
If it feels right, post photos of your litterless lunches on social media. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles and your goals with others. Being vulnerable and non-judgemental can really help to take the intimidation factor out of zero waste.
The Takeaway, without the packaging
You’ll be amazed at how fun the zero waste lifestyle can be. Changing up a habit can be difficult and frustrating at first, but before long, the new habit will become intuitive. You won’t want to go back to plastic wrappers and juice boxes! The key to success, though, is to start small. It can even start by bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store. Once you master your new habit, you can think about changing some other wasteful habits in your life.
Zero waste is an exercise of gratitude. It’s about using what’s already in front of us, and leaving our planet liveable for our kids and grandkids. When we’re busy and stressed, it’s easy to forget about the real cost of our trash. But when it comes to Mother Nature, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
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