For many, school is starting back up and – along with getting school supplies and navigating new schedules – that means it’s time to start packing school lunches again.
Planning school lunches can be surprisingly stressful. What do you have in the house? What will your kid actually eat? And what does it even mean to pack a zero-waste school lunch?
We’ve all seen the cleverly themed kid’s lunches and elaborate bento boxes on Instagram. They’re certainly fun and creative but here at SuperBee we can’t help but also see all the single-use packaging that goes into just one lunch. (We’re looking at you, individually wrapped granola bars, string cheese and juice boxes!) Add it all up over the course of a week…a month…and an entire school year…and that equals a lot of unnecessary waste.
Of course, packing school lunches needs to be quick and convenient but sadly we’re often sold “convenience” in the form of single-use plastic. If the thought of packing a zero-waste school lunch makes you anxious – don’t worry! Often a few simple mindset shifts and a couple more minutes spent preparing can significantly take your normal lunch game to eco-friendly status and keep harmful plastics away from your child’s food.
Here are our 10 top tips for how to pack a zero-waste school lunch! (And if you don’t like the term zero-waste, think about it as a more sustainable, low-impact lunch ?)
1. Plan Ahead
First things first, a little weekend planning can go a long way during weekday mornings when you’re scrambling to make a lunch and get out the door. Not only does planning the week’s lunch in advance help save you time in the morning, it also saves you from grabbing individually wrapped items to shove in the lunch bag when you’re in a rush. If you know your child is going to have sliced carrots and juice in their lunch, you can prepare them the night before and store them in a plastic-free bag and reusable bottle rather than needing a single-serving pouch of baby carrots and a juice box.
2. Ditch the Plastic Sandwich Bags
It’s time to break the habit of immediately reaching for a sandwich bag! Instead, sandwiches, wraps and bagels can be protected in beeswax wraps, placed in reusable containers or – our favorite – stored in waxed cloth bags. Crackers, trail mix, sliced fruit, veggie sticks and other snacks can also easily be kept in a beeswax wrap, container or waxed bag rather than a single-use plastic sandwich bag.
3. Opt for Reusable Bottles
We bet you and your kids already carry a reusable water bottle around to refill with H2O, but what about juice, milk and other beverages? If your kids regularly take other drinks to school, choose to buy large containers and pour their daily serving into a reusable bottle or thermos for school instead of relying on one-time juice or milk box. Older kids can take drinks and smoothies in reused glass jars while for younger kids it’s a good idea to have a couple of reusable metal bottles on hand.
4. Say No to Plastic Straws
If your child likes to drink through a straw, send them to school with an all-natural reusable option, like these bamboo straws, instead.
5. Use Cloth Napkins
We’re not talking fine dining here. A thin cloth napkin, they can even be leftover pieces of fabric, won’t take up extra space in a lunch box or a landfill.
6. Choose Real Cutlery
Just like you’d use reusable containers and bottles instead of single-use plastic ones, throw in “real” cutlery instead. Lightweight stainless steel or bamboo forks and spoons can be reused again and again…and simply feel nicer to eat off of instead of plastic anyway. Just make sure to remind your kids to keep them in their lunch bag to bring back home!
7. Stock Up on Naturally “Packaged” Foods
Bananas, oranges, apples, hard boiled eggs…so many handy snacks already come with their packaging built in!
8. Store it All in a Reusable Lunch Box or Bag
There are plenty of reusable lunch boxes out there with insulation, pockets, zippers…you name it! We like to stick to using bags we already have around or our Waxed Food Baggees. The medium and large sizes can easily fit an entire lunch with a reusable bottle and all!
9. Compost the Leftovers
Bonus points if you compost food scraps at home! Remind your child to keep their leftover food and scraps, such as apple cores, egg shells or bread crusts, in their lunch box to bring back home and toss in the compost.
10. Think About Long-Term Food Switches
Once you have your zero-waste school lunch packing down (hooray!), you can take things a step further and look at how and where you buy your food. Need bread? Try to get it straight from a bakery and bring your own cotton mesh bags or waxed bag to wrap it up instead of buying pre-packaged loaves. Love trail mix? Head to the grocery store’s bulk section to stock up on granola, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate chips. Again, bring your reusable bags or containers to fill up. Back at home, mix all the goodies together then store individual servings in small containers or reusable bags.
What You Need to Pack a Zero-Waste School Lunch
While the best way to live a sustainable lifestyle is using what you already have, sometimes special products make it easier to stick to. For instance, metal containers or tiffin boxes are excellent for packing lunches while still being lightweight. And of course, if you have young kids, you’ll want to get them their own reusable bottle made of metal or BPA-free plastic rather than opting for a glass jar or bottle you have lying around.
What other tips and tricks do you have for packing zero-waste school lunches? Let us know in the comments below!