With four kids and three of them heading off to school each morning, making lunches is an ever present part of my life. While I have four children, I still try to do my small part in keeping down non-recyclable waste and being as eco-friendly as possible. (Feel free to leave comments about how having four kids is not eco-friendly at all. I have heard it all and I am not that easily offended!)
How do you make a quick, healthy, and eco-friendly lunch in 5 minutes flat each morning?
First you need some eco-friendly, reuseable containers to hold the food individually and collectively. Then you pack it! Here is what works for me!
I love mason jars. I drink out of one. I pack my own lunches and snacks in them, and I love the way they look in my cabinets so much better than those old stacks of plastic storage junk that is always missing a lid.
Rather than buying tiny applesauce containers, you can buy a large one (or even more eco-friendly, preserve it yourself) and portion it out in your children’s lunches. Mason jars work for so many foods. Bulk nuts, crackers, meat, cheese, cut fruit, even leftovers can be neatly stored in mason jars.
If you like to pack things like dip, there are companies specifically offering bento type inserts that fit with your average mason jar. (SO CUTE!)
My go-to mason jars are the tiny four ounce ones. I love them and they work perfectly for so many things for little kids.
Another eco-friendly addition that has helped me eliminate plastic wrapping and bags is simple cloth drawstring bags. I have enough of them that I can use them daily and wash in between, but they are great for things like sandwiches, veggies, muffins, nuts, and the like.
These double as replacements for plastic vegetable bags in the grocery store, further reducing your impact. Plus, they just look beautiful.
If you are worried about glass or your children’s school doesn’t allow it, stainless steel is a great option and unbreakable, though considerably more expensive. The nice thing about stainless is that you can also pack warm foods like soups or chili in those awesome thermoses.
You can also find stainless divided or tiered containers for school lunches, totally eliminating the need for plastic bags or even a lunch pail.
Water bottles are a must for reducing your environmental impact. I prefer a glass mason jar with a cuppow lid, but for my children they have a stainless steel bottle. They are an initial investment, but considering all the plastic bottles I went through over the years, it has paid off. They just need one and they last forever.
And yes, the kids are under strict order to NEVER lose these!
Now that you have your gear, how do you pack an eco-friendly lunch in 5 minutes flat? Some preparation helps (cutting veggies, portioning things out, etc) but isn’t even necessary.
The Lunch Box
A reusable container for all the food is the final step. Baskets are nice and they can be composted when they finally wear out. There are many stainless steel options out there now too, and those old school metal lunch boxes that we grew up with are super cool. There are also lots of insulated options. Get what works for you, but the longer it will last or the easier it is to recycle or compost when it has outlived its life, the more eco-friendly it will be.
A sample lunch for my kids might include:
-A piece of fruit like a banana or clementine (no need to wrap that)
-One or two protein sources like yogurt or meat or nuts in a mason jar
-A veggie, like sugar snap peas or carrots, in a cloth bag
-A simple sandwich or crackers for some whole grains, packed in a cloth bag or a glass jar
-A water bottle
I make all three kids their lunches in the morning in five minutes or less and it is almost totally painless. If I have prepped at the beginning of the week, then it is even faster and the kids have a healthy and eco-friendly lunch super quick. Now that they are older, they can go pick their own stuff and I can take a shower!
Having a family doesn’t mean you don’t care about the environment or Mother Earth any more. A little preparation, planning, and commitment can help you be much more conscientious than the average American. For our family of six we usually produce just one bag of garbage a week.
Don’t be discouraged. I fully admit that the lunches aren’t 100% eco-friendly every day. I have good and bad weeks and we buy granola bars and cheese sticks and other things with plastic packaging. This is a process and sometimes life gets in the way. Do what you can and you might be surprised that it gets easier!
If you need some zero waste inspiration, I love this blog.
You can do it!