Boon Trunk Snack Box elephant lunch

A new school year is here and one way that we can be more eco-friendly is by packing our kids waste-free lunches. Packed lunches tend to be healthier and allow us to pack organic foods that most school lunches don’t provide. Packing lunches also makes lunchtime less stressful for those picky eaters.

Packing a school lunch doesn’t have to be full of plastic baggies and individually wrapped items tossed into a brown paper bag. Packing a waste-free lunch can be fun and allow your child’s personality (and yours) to shine! There are a few essential items you’ll need to pack a waste-free lunch.
waste-free lunch containers and utensils

1. Lunch Bag or Box

Instead of using the “brown bag,” select a lunch bag or box that can be reused all school year. In our household, we have a small collection of lunch boxes and bags including; character lunch boxes that coordinate with their backpacks, eco-friendly cotton lunch bags, insulated lunch totes, stainless steel lunch tiffins, and bento style lunch boxes. Pick one (or two) that are easy to clean and accommodate your child’s favorite foods. When picking a plastic lunch box, select one that is non-toxic, PVC-free, and safe for your child.

2. Food Containers

It’s time to ditch the baggies and switch to reusable food containers. Some lunch boxes (tiffins and bento style boxes) have compartments for the food that will eliminate the need for individual food containers. You can use sandwich bags, plastic containers, stainless steel containers, or small glass containers in place of baggies. Sandwich bags are available in cotton or FDA approved, non-toxic plastic and come in a variety of sizes. Stainless steel, plastic, and glass containers come in a variety of shapes and sizes too. All of the reusable containers can be hand washed, machine washed, or tossed in the dishwasher at the end of the day.

3. Drink Containers

Individually packed drink boxes and pouches create a lot of waste. Glass, plastic, or stainless steel thermoses and bottles can be filled with their favorite drink and can keep chilled throughout the day. Again, select bottles that are non-toxic, PVC-free, and those that can be washed easily. Be sure to wash the bottles everyday and allow them to air dry to prevent mold. Tip – Investing in a bottle brush can help keep your bottles extra clean on the inside.

4. Napkins

No need for paper towels and paper napkins!  Get some small cotton napkins just for the kids. They come in a rainbow of colors and some even have cute embroidered designs on them. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, reuse some old T-shirts or dishtowels and make your own little cloth napkins. Cut them into squares and stitch the edges to prevent fraying. Stock up so you only have to wash them at the end of the week to save yourself extra work during the busy week.

5. Utensils

I’m not a big fan of those flimsy plastic utensils that are probably filled with toxins. You can use your regular utensils from the house or you can buy a set to use just for school lunches. The regular stainless kitchen utensils can get pretty heavy. You can find smaller, lightweight utensils made of non-toxic plastic or bamboo that would be perfect for packing. For the more adventurous child, consider reusable chopsticks!

Finally, we’ve talked a lot about what to put their food in, but we haven’t talked about the actual food! Don’t buy the individually wrapped snacks and prepared foods. Pack homemade lunches with fresh ingredients for a healthier and waste-free option. Sandwiches, pasta, finger foods, crackers, fresh fruits and vegetables, and even leftovers can be packed for your kids. If you plan ahead, you could prepare the entire week’s worth of meals over the weekend so you’re not stressing in the morning as they’re rushing out the door.

Does your child prefer a packed lunch? How do you make school lunches fun, waste-free, and stress-free in your house?  Share your thoughts with us below in the comments section.

Feature image courtesy of Melissa

By Calley Pate

A self-described eco-junkie, Calley Pate is the owner and editor of The Eco Chic blog covering eco-friendly living, cloth diapers, parenting, photography, and life in general. Her passion growing up was the arts and the ocean. After working as an environmental contractor, Calley took the leap into blogging full time in 2011. Calley is also Marketing & Social Media Manager for Kelly’s Closet cloth diaper retailer.