Whether you're sending the kids back to school, planning a summer picnic, or simply trying to reduce your environmental footprint, creating a zero-waste lunch doesn't have to be stressful.
Remember: small changes add up. By following these 9 tips on how to create a zero-waste lunch, you can have a huge impact on the environment while making your life easier. Cleaner. And more beautiful.
How to Pack and Create a Waste-Free Lunch
1. Choose Your Food Containers
There are so many food containers on the market today from plastic to glass to stainless steel. I am a big stainless fan for a multitude of reasons. They are:
- And do not leach toxins into our foods especially warm ones. Who wants BPA with their pasta? Not me.
I am biased to Lunchbots and Klean Kanteen. I love the small LunchBots dip condiment containers. Let me tell you – they are perfect for dips, dressing, and trail-mix. Making it a win-win-win for all occasions. I've also enjoyed the insulated Klean Kanteen canisters and they do a great job keeping your food warm. The fact that both are light, sustainably made, and almost plastic-free except for a small amount used in the seals makes these my go-to reusable containers. In addition to the links above, be sure to check out Mighty Nest who has a nice array of stainless steel containers.
2. Pick Your Snack Packs
Sometimes lugging around a bunch of containers is not an option. In these scenarios, there's always the possibility of small reusable “baggies” that are very lightweight. My bag of choice is from Eco-Ditty. They are made of organic cotton and sustainably made in the USA. There's no plastic liner like most reusable bags, so no plastic is touching your food.
Pro tip: since there is no plastic liner to prevent air from reaching your food, I'd suggest not using these bags as long-term storage for certain foods – such as crackers – as they may get stale or soft, or for wet foods which may leak. They are great, however, for short term use for foods like sandwiches in in a lunch or for a picnic.
3. Use a Reusable Water Bottle. Just do it.
Individual juice boxes and disposable water bottles are unnecessary and just plain wasteful. Purchasing reusable water bottles – and using them! – is one of the single biggest moves you can make to reduce your ecological footprint. I have both glass and stainless steel bottles at home and fill 'em up with juice, my morning smoothie, or simply water to stay hydrated on those long, busy days.
Stainless steel is great for school-age kids, as glass can break and plastic bottles can leach into their water and beverages. Mighty Nest offers great kid-friendly stainless bottles that are small and compact.
Personally, I'm loving my new Klean Kanteen stainless steel bottle and have been using it every day since I received it in the mail. I can’t say enough about it. I especially love the bamboo screw top. Love.
4. Don't Forget Cloth Napkins and Reusable Cutlery
Having reusable napkins and cutlery will drastically help to reduce your household waste and divert many plastic forks, spoons, and disposable napkins from landfills. And if you're like me, you want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from the planet as possible.
Kids' – and sometimes our – hands get dirty and sticky fast when eating on-the-go, so make sure to have that cloth napkin handy to wipe up. Plus, by toting a reusable bamboo fork, you and your kids will not only help save the environment, you'll look ulta-hip, too.
5. Pack Your Lunch Bag
Now that all your containers and bags are ready to go, what will you pack your lunch in?
Most lunch bags are laced with chemicals such as phthalates, PVC and BPA, which are unhealthy for our kids, as well as the planet. We can do better. Take a look at Mighty Nest and browse all the different styles of eco-friendly lunch bags. They have a bag for everyone’s taste from organic cotton to insulated bags, and from over the shoulder to simple handbags.
Your lunch, your style.
6. Chow Down – Pick Your Food!
Filling your kids with all the right foods will help them power through their day. Switching to homemade snacks will cut hundreds of artificial ingredients from your regular routine. Or, if you're short on time, choose less processed foods at the grocery store instead of pre-packaged ones – these can make a world of difference.
Start simple: try opting for fresh fruits and vegetables rather than overly-processed fruit-flavored snacks, as well as protein and fiber-rich foods like hummus, peanut butter, or your favorite cheese. Not only will this small change help keep the kiddos on track all day, but most packaged products contain an insane amount of unnecessary packaging which you can avoid if you choose fresher, less processed food.
7. Buy in Bulk and Avoid Individual Packaging
It's not always easy to avoid processed and pre-packaged foods – especially when you're busy day in and day out – but reaching for prepackaged, individually packed foods is just wasteful. Aside from the actual packaging the product comes in, you then have to unwrap each individual item – who has time for that?
Instead, buy in bulk! Dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and even flours, chocolate, and other snack foods can be a great addition to your waste-free lunch. Look for snacks that have the least amount of packing, so you can just pop them in your reusable containers and go, saving you packaging, time, and money!
Composting is one of the best ways to reduce your organic household waste and make your lunches waste-free. The best part? Getting your kids involved in composting can help them become more aware about not just throwing organics in the trash.
Get them to bring home their banana peels, apple cores, and sandwich leftovers. I know this is not always possible and sometimes your kids will forget. That's okay! This is a learning process for all of us. But for the times they remember – reward them. Make a big deal about it. If you're excited, they will be too.
9. Let the Creative Juices Flow
Living greener isn't about perfection – it's about progress. Taking small steps in creative ways that work for you and your family. This includes creating a zero-waste lunch. So let your creative side flow. Cut up your kid's sandwich in different shapes; add different colored fruit and veggies to brighten their day; use what you've got and make a game or challenge out of how you can create less waste.
Zero-waste living is all about feeling good about what you're doing for yourself, your family, and the planet.
What is your favorite zero-waste lunch item? Drop a comment below and share! I'd love to hear from you.
Disclosure of material connection: Thank you to Mighty Nest who sponsored this post by providing me with one Klean Kanteen water bottle, one Klean Kantean insulated canister, 3 small LunchBots condiment containers, one Wean Green square glass container and one Eco-Ditty snack bag. All opinions are my own.