Lunch makeover: Send your kids to school with a waste-free meal

Allecia Vermillion

When kids head back to school, parents are often drafted to pack an enjoyable (and hopefully healthy) lunch. Conveniences like plastic utensils, single-use storage bags and paper napkins can save you some time, but they add up to a considerable burden on landfills and our natural resources. A few simple steps, and a fun new lunch box, can minimize trash and keep your kids fueled throughout the school day. You’ll save money as well by reusing items and buying food in bulk.

1. Accessorize sustainably

Swap out disposable plastic utensils for reusable versions. If your spoons and forks don’t always make their way home after lunch, pack disposable versions that are compostable and biodegradable.

Invest in a few reusable storage bags and make or buy some reusable cloth napkins in fun prints your son or daughter will enjoy. Just make sure your kids understand the importance of bringing these items home at the end of the day.

An ice pack can keep food cold if necessary, and a well-designed reusable beverage bottle can tote water, juice or milk.

2. Don’t forget the food itself

Pack a lunch of local, organic food and set your child on a lifetime path to enjoying healthy meals with a low carbon footprint. Start small with a simple snack like local apples or organic crackers with locally made cheese.

Of course, even the most perfectly ripe apple is no match for the allure of chips or sweets. Add some fun to your child’s lunch with some organic treats. Most grocery stores offer organic versions of favorite sweet or savory snacks like cheese-flavored crackers or graham crackers, like the ones from the Annie’s Homegrown line.

3. Pick an Earth-friendly lunchbox

There’s something appealingly retro about an actual lunch box rather than a disposable brown bag, and these days kids and parents can choose from a bevy of lunch receptacles in all sorts of sizes and styles.

Traditional tin lunchboxes bearing superheroes or popular movie characters are still around, but consider upgrading your child to a stackable bento box that keeps food hot or cold. Or how about a lunch box with removable compartments that hold sandwiches, chips or fruit so you don’t need to use a plastic bag? Check out the highly compartmentalized Laptop Lunch boxes or the stainless steel Lunch Bots.

Also, many lunch boxes on the market are made from better-for-you materials like lead-free plastic.