7 waste-free lunch ideas for your kids that are better for the environment and your wallet

mom and daughter packing school lunch together

Help your kids to reduce their waste at school and on-the-go with these waste free lunch ideas.

I glance at the clock and my heartbeat skyrockets as I realize we have 10 minutes pack my preschooler’s lunch, brush her teeth, and get and her and my toddler bundled up for below-freezing weather. I swear just five minutes ago we had an hour until my older daughter had to meet our neighbor for morning carpool.

(Seriously, where does the time go every.single.morning?)

My mind weighs the options: throw a pouch, a granola bar, and a piece of fruit in her lunch bag and call it a day or pack a healthy, mindfully-packed lunch?

Almost every day it’s a battle of doing what’s easy versus honoring my values.

Two lego figurines dueling
Every day feels like a battle between what’s easy versus what’s right (image by Pascal)

You’re short on time, and it’s so easy to grab prepackaged foods or throw in an all-in-one meal kit.

But all that packaging from juice boxes, straws, and plastic coverings leads to a ton of waste — packaging waste AND food waste. (Which means also means loss of money for you and your family!)

The alternative? A (mostly) litter free lunch that you — or your kids — proudly prepped!

7 steps to a litter-free lunch

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Pack leftovers from dinner

When you’re cleaning up from dinner, put some of it into a container for your child’s lunch the next day. That’s one less thing to have to think about the next morning as you’re scrambling to get out the door.

(Also, I’m going to be real and say that’s sometimes easier said than done. At the end of a long day the last thing I want to do is spend three extra minutes packing lunch even though I know it will make my life so much easier the next morning.)

Related Post: How to Cut Dow on Food Waste to Help the Planet and Your Wallet

Partition snacks ahead of time

Instead of individual snack packs, buy bigger sizes. Or if your grocery store offers it, buy snacks for food from the bulk aisle. Spend a few extra minutes as you put away groceries to pour food into smaller containers. The same thing can be done with produce — wash off and cut up fruit and veggies at the beginning of the week and partition them at the end of the week.

(Also, you can make an entire meal out of “snacks”. My preschooler LOVES this!)

Here are some of my favorite containers for a waste free lunch:

  • Seal Cups steal containers for smaller kids because the lids are easier for them to get off (though I have also found they are more likely to accidentally fall off in they are bouncing around in a backpack).
  • U-Konserve containers for bigger kids since they are more secure, but harder to get the lids off.
  • Silicone food storage bags instead of ziplock bag. I find they clean out better than the cloth velcro kind.

While the containers cost more upfront, over time you’ll save money on both cheap disposable containers that break and on the individusal snack packs. Plus, one of the added benefits of a waste-free lunch is your kids have something to bring leftovers home in!

Related post: The Ultimate Eco-Friendly School Supply List

If you’re like me and don’t want to buy containers to get you through the week, prep produce at the beginning of the week and put it back washed and cut into a container. Stick them in smaller containers the night before or the morning of and wash them when your kids get home, or have enough so that will get you through a dishwasher cycle.

Easy peasy lemon squeazy, as my older one likes to say 😉

Include a water bottle

Avoid the juice boxes and keep your kids hydrated with a reusable water bottle. After going through several water bottles, many of which leaked, we have found that the Termos Funtainer works great. It has a pop-up lip and a straw and is pretty easy to clean with a sippy cup straw.

Pack a cloth napkin

Kids (and let’s be honest, some adults) are messy. Instead of a single-use napkin, cut up your kids’ stained or worn clothing to make cute and colorful cloth napkins. They can also double as a way to wrap up a piece of washed fruit.

Related Post: 7 Essentials for Creating a Zero Waste Kit for On-the-Go

Opt for reusable cutlery

Instead of plastic that gets thrown away, send your child off with a set of bamboo cutlery, random cutlery that you don’t care if it gets lost, or buy some from a thrift store.

Keep hot foods hot with a thermos

During the endless freezing New England winters, my daughter loves bringing a warm lunch from home packed in an insulated thermos. My husband swish it with some hot water in the container before putting the warmed food in it.

Invest in a durable lunch bag

Fortunately, those days of packing lunch in a disposable brown bag seem to mostly be a thing of my late 80s/early 90s childhood. (Back then, I was the uncool kid who used a reusable lunch bag.)

I’m a huge fan of our Packit Freezable Lunch Bag, which I’ve had now for about 3 years and my daughter and I both use. You can stick it in the freezer the night before and the entire outside lining of the bag freezes, keeping your child’s lunch cold for most of the day.

I wipe it with a damp cloth or wash it under the faucet for bigger messes. And in the event you forgot to freeze it the night before (because that never happens in our house!) you can just stick a cold pack in it.

In addition to reducing how much garbage your kids throw away, help them to develop the habit by talking about why you’re doing it and encouraging them to pick out foods to cut up and pack. You might be pleasantly surprised how into it they get!

2 thoughts on “7 waste-free lunch ideas for your kids that are better for the environment and your wallet”

  1. Pingback: 7 essentials for creating a zero waste kit when you're on the go

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