Packing a Zero Waste School Lunch: Go Green This School Year!

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The amount of waste the typical school lunch creates is kinda shocking. Here's how I pack my kids zero waste school lunches and save money at the same time!

My daughter will be in 2nd grade this year.  Wow, time really flies.  When she started kindergarten a couple of years ago it hit me hard how much waste is associated with food at school.  I had to pack her a morning snack plus lunch because she refuses to buy (smart girl) and though I’m not what I’d call a hardcore treehugger I am at least moderately environmentally aware and it was shocking to me how much trash one day of eating at school creates.  I quickly decided to do what I could to pack zero-waste school lunches as much as possible and ended up saving myself a bundle in the long run.

Here are my tips on packing a zero-waste school lunch.

1.  Get an insulated lunch bag.  

Most of you probably already have these for your kids but if you’re still using brown paper bags, stop.  Obviously they create an additional piece of trash every day but not only that they can’t keep your food as cold for as long. And what kid wants to eat a spoiled tuna sandwich for lunch?  Blech.  I’d suggest getting a decent sized one to house all the other things on my list.  I found some nice ones that are neoprene at Target for a reasonable price, less than $10. These wash up really well, too. Bonus!  My daughter’s is more like this style.

2.  Use reusable drink bottles. 

Ditch the juice boxes and plastic water bottles.  My kids drink water with their lunch because I know they’d turn juice into a meal if I let them, but if you like to send your kids with juice buy the larger jug at the store (it’s cheaper that way!) and then fill up their drink bottle.  This set of reusable cups on Amazon gets really good reviews.

3.  Use a thermos.

I love my kids’ thermoses!  It lets me pack them a warm lunch and they both love soup (which I find is a great way to sneak veggies into them).  I can quickly heat some up while I’m making breakfast, get it in their thermoses and it’s still warm by lunch time.  I don’t know about you but we get stuck in a what-do-you-want-for-lunch-today rut once in a while and breaking free from sandwiches to throw something warm like soup or leftover pasta in the mix is a welcome change for all of us.  This soup thermos is the perfect size for a school lunch.

4.  Put food in reusable containers, not plastic baggies.

I used these LunchBlox containers because they have some sizes that are perfect for a school lunch. I can throw just a few grapes or carrots in there and they fit perfectly without making the kids’ lunch bags too heavy. You can find them in your grocery store or Target, Walmart, places like that.  I also use Pyrex containers sometimes, though they are a little heavier because they’re glass.  Just find a few in assorted sizes, probably on the smaller side, and pack your goodies in there!

5.  Reusable snack bags: I’m addicted.

Seriously, I might have a slight problem. I have so many reusable snack bags it’s almost scary.  But I have spent hardly anything on plastic baggies in years.  I use them to freeze foods and that might be about it.  Reusable snack bags are fun (they come in all kinds of colors and patterns) and they are easy to wash, save you money, and are a simple no-waste solution.  No wonder I have a gazillion of them.  I pack the kids’ morning snacks in them, usually some pretzels and a fruit bar, and for lunch I can put sandwiches, fruit, veggies, and even dessert in them.  Here’s a set to check out from ChicoBag. I don’t personally have these but I know and trust their brand.  What you want to look for is something that’s BPA-free, lined, and closes securely.  Most of these will be machine washable but I’d pass along a tip to hand wash when you can. They’ll last longer and though it seems like it might be a pain, it takes all of 30 seconds. I do it every day and it’s no biggie (and I hate doing dishes).

6.  Throw in a cloth napkin.

Yes, I send my kids to school with cloth napkins. And if they’re eating something particularly messy that I know I’ll see all over their faces when they get off the bus I even throw a wet washcloth into a reusable bag so they can clean themselves up after lunch.  We don’t use paper napkins at all. Cloth napkins are cheap, they’re way more colorful and fun, and I throw them right in with my towels so they don’t make any extra laundry for me.  The best place to find a good deal is Target, Walmart, or Kohl’s.

7.  What about the food?

Because I use reusable bags and containers I don’t need to purchase individually packaged snacks. I but a large, cheaper bag of pretzels instead of individually packaged single-serve bags and put a portion in one of my own reusable bags to send with my kids.  It’s less expensive to buy this way.  I slice my own fruit and put it in a bag or little container.  I buy in larger portions when I can and divvy it up myself rather than buying single-serve portions.  Makes sense, right?  Of course it’s not always possible, but it’s possible more than you might think if you look for it and have the supplies you need to package your own portions.

Put in a little time and money upfront to grab some or all of these things to help you pack a zero-waste lunch and you’ll save money (and the Earth!) throughout the school year.  Well, longer than that actually.  My kids are still using the same reusable bags, cups, containers, and lunch bags they were last year!

Have a great, green new school year!






    • says

      You know what? Mine doesn’t like the bags either! But he will pack containers, so we use those a lot. I like the Rubbermaid Lunch Blox kits, and if he’s taking leftovers that need to be heated up, he puts them in a glass Pyrex dish with a lid. Good luck! (What is it with the bags and men?! haha!)


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