Now that school is back in session, many children will be toting their lunch with them each and every day. While it may not sound like much to think of one child with a sandwich in a ziploc baggie, an individually-wrapped granola bar, a pudding cup and plastic spoon, a juice box, a paper napkin, and a paper bag to hold it all, it amounts to a lot of waste (your money paid for each of those things that are eventually going to be deposited in the garbage). Now multiply that child’s lunchtime waste by 50 million (about the number of children in the U.S. who attend public school) and you have a whole lot of waste. A movement has begun in recent years to limit waste for the sake of our landfills and our wallets. Americans are notorious for throwing perfectly good things (including food) in the trash. It makes good, common sense to try and limit waste as much as possible, and school lunches are the perfect place to start.
Here are some ways that you can begin to curb the amount of lunchtime waste that your family makes.
Portion control One of the major reasons for lunchtime waste is too much food in the lunchbox. Parents worry that their child will be hungry so they send more food than a child can actually eat. The child eats half of a sandwich and then throws the rest away. A child takes 2 bites of an apple and then throws the rest in the garbage. Challenge your children to bring home all of the garbage from that day’s lunch in their lunch bag. Then go through it after school and determine how you can best choose the right amount of food for your child.
Think reusable I stopped buying Ziploc bags a couple of years ago and have found many other ways to keep my family’s food freshly packed. Of course, there are the new plastic containers that can be used more than once; however, those will someday head to the landfill to remain for hundreds of years. My new favorite reusable container is a wide-mouthed canning jar. Glass can hold a variety of different foods. It is washable and safe. And it can be recycled when its life is finished. Stainless steel is another great reusable material. Consider some stainless steel utensils for days when a lunch contains a soup or a yogurt. Cloth napkins can be purchased or you may have some spare cloth that can be repurposed. Have a stack ready to pack in a child’s lunchbox and make sure that it comes home at the end of the day. Milk can be kept cold in a thermos and water travels well in a stainless steel water bottle. Think how much money (and teeth) can be saved if a child were to no longer needed a daily juice box.
Buy in bulk Instead of buying the convenient box of individually-wrapped snacks, consider buying a big bag or box of your child’s favorite snack and pouring them into reusable containers to be taken to school. Buy a bag of popcorn kernels and pop a big batch on the stovetop in the morning. Buy a gallon of milk to pour daily into a thermos instead of individual bottles (which are almost always too big for young kids to drink alone).
Make your own Sometimes, we forget that certain food items can be made at home. Granola, granola bars, bread, cookies, soups, lunchables. With a little bit of planning, it doesn’t take very long to prepare food for lunches. You know exactly what is in it, you can store it for lunches throughout the week, you can freeze large batches for lunches down the road, and you can even make it a family project on the weekend.
Repurpose When I buy bread, I save the bags they come in for homemade loaves. They are easy to store and don’t take up much room. Just give them a good shake in the sink to get the crumbs out (you don’t want to attract any pests). They make great packaging for a picnic lunch when you have sandwiches for 4 or 5 people. Empty, clean butter tubs (also yogurt and cottage cheese tubs) make great snack containers for school snacks. Just add cereal or sunflower seeds or grapes and add the lid.
Challenge yourself to pack a lunch for yourself or a child in which nothing goes into the trash. What are some ways that you have learned to reduce waste at lunchtime? Leave a comment below with your tips for a waste-free lunch.