We’ve always done our best to pack waste-free lunches. Our boys have used stainless steel water bottles all along, but for packing food, we’ve experimented with everything from BPA-free plastic to stainless or glass containers.
I’m fairly certain that – unless for a field trip – we haven’t sent a plastic container or baggie to school in years.
Separate containers serve their purpose and are helpful if your child eats his lunch directly from them at school. And they help reduce waste when you buy or make a large jar of applesauce and send it to school in a reusable container to avoid throwing away an individually packaged plastic cup every day.
My only complaint about all these separate containers is that it can be tough to fit them all into one lunchbox.
Thankfully, my husband’s skill at packing the car for vacation translates very well into getting us out the door with lunch boxes that aren’t bursting at the zipper.
I share the many benefits of Montessori school often, but one of the many aspects we love is how lunch is a social occasion that the children help prepare. Everything is served from real plates and dishes. Not on plastic – or worse Styrofoam – trays at many schools under the guise of saving money on dishwashers. It’s reassuring to know that no matter how we pack the sliced, organic, farmers market carrots, our kids will eat them from a real plate.
There are many reasons for choosing to send your child to school with a lunch from home. For me, they rank in the following order of importance:
- Health – Storing food in stainless steel or glass means less chances of harmful chemicals like BPA leaching into the food. (Plus, you can send homemade food or organic foods and snacks.)
- Less waste – Earthshare says the average American child creates 67 pounds of lunch waste each year.
- Cost – Our friends at Wild Mint calculated that by sending reusable supplies to school, you could save as much as $400 a year, per child.
Reusable water bottles
Water is a healthy and simple drink option. Rather than sending a disposable water bottle or juice box, opt for a sturdy stainless steel bottle you can use for school, sports, or any kind of travel. If glass is allowed at your child’s school, we’ve had great luck with LifeFactory glass water bottles. Flat caps have been the best leak-proof option we’ve found, but some of the sports tops work well, too.
Instead of that hard plastic wonderbread container (you know you’ve seen it in the bread aisle), a sandwich mat takes up way less space and can fit just about anywhere inside the lunchbox.
Much neater than sliding a sandwich into a plastic bag, where you might end up with sunflower seed butter smeared all over the seal. With the wrapping mat, you just place the sandwich in the center, fold the sides up, and velcro to keep it secure. We’ve used one of these for four years now. It’s nice to have more than one on hand in case someone forgets to empty the lunch boxes at night.
Reusable snack bags
Reusable snack bags are another way to keep lunch neat and simple. Carrots, celery sticks, grapes, pretzels… pretty much anything fits in these. There may be a zipper or a long strip of velcro to keep the bag closed. We rarely have crumbs in the bottom of the lunch box, so our kids must be sealing them well.
The best brands are free from lead, and phthalates. Some are made from nylon and the patterned, wipe-off styles are made from 100% cotton laminated fabric. The laminate should also be non-toxic.
If your school allows glass lunch supplies, you can’t go wrong with Wean Green containers. Ranging in sizes from snack cubes to full meal portions, you can always see exactly what’s inside them, making it super easy to pack lunch the night before. And no worries about breaks. We’ve used these containers for three years with no issues, (and we’ve even watched their founder bounce them off the floor at trade shows, only to land completely in tact).
Cleanup is simple, too. I run the glass or stainless containers through the dishwasher. And because most of our cookware is not dishwasher safe, I already have a sink full of soapy water every evening after dinner. I dunk the bags in the water, rinse, and leave them in the dish drying rack until the next morning.
One of the simplest (and cutest) ways to make a waste-free lunch is to swap paper napkins for cloth. For more on why they’re green and super useful, check out the 12 reasons we love cloth napkins. The cute polka dot print in the photo above is by Funkins. We love using these as placemats and backdrops every year in our Back to School lunch inspiration section.