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After a long summer and kids are going back to school. This school year will for sure look very different than normal. My kids will be starting this fall session with distant learning and homeschool so I do not have to pack their school lunch…yet!! Packing a fun, healthy and zero waste lunch is tricky and takes some serious creativity.

All over the world, convenience is generating lots of waste. Too many people have come to depend on the many convenience products, most individually wrapped for school lunches. Of course it’s way more time-saving and easy to pack lunch items in single-use plastic bags, aluminum foil or wax paper, or even to purchase single-serving items in disposable packaging. The problem with these kinds of items is that the environmental cost is huge, and landfills are full to overflowing from convenient individually wrapped foods.

Ok, so packing a zero waste AND healthy lunch for children might not be super convenient, but it’s doable and does not have to take lots of time. This is how I pack my kids’ school lunches 5 days a week:

First of all, I always use reusable bento box or thermal soup containers for my kids’ food and, of course, send water in a reusable metal bottle, as well as cutlery and a cloth napkin. If I have to wrap food, I use either a cloth sandwich bag or beeswx wrap to ensure not ending up with unwanted waste. I also pack their lunches in either a backpack or an insulated bag that will keep things cool. Since we now live in a warm climate (San Diego), I also will include ice packs.

For their actual lunch, I send a warm lunch like soup, Udon noodles, pasta with tomato sauce or dhal, or a hummus and veggie sandwich (my kids are vegetarians), so I usually just make extra food for lunch or dinner the previous day and use it for their lunches the next day, which saves me lots of time. This way, all I have to do is reheat the soup and pack it in a thermal container like this one.  When I send soup, I will also pack a few crackers, a fruit like apple slices with almond butter, a few carrot sticks and one small sweet treat like a chia energy bite. For the days when I do not have a warm dish, I will send a tofurkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks with a hummus dip, potato salad, grapes and a sweet treat. My kids usually always drink water with their lunch: it’s simply how they like it. They do, of course, drink milk, but for some reason they do not prefer it with lunch. However, if I do send milk, I simply fill up a thermos with milk from home, and that will generally keep it cool until lunch.

Another part of zero waste packed lunches is to cut down food waste, so it’s important to figure out lunches that the kids actually will eat and not to pack too much food. This way, you will not be left with food that has to be discarded.

I admit that, in order to pack zero waste lunches that are also healthy and still appealing to your kids, you have to think outside the (lunch) box. But the major bonus of a zero waste lunch is that it will definitely save you money and save the planet at the same time.

What is your favorite packed lunch tip?

Fredrika Syren

Fredrika Syren is an environmental activist and writer. In 2016, she founded the website Green-Mom.com where she shared her family’s journey of living zero waste. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband James and their children Bella, Noah, and Liam. Fredrika and her family were recently featured in the documentary Zero Time to Waste. Fredrika is also the author of Zero Waste for Families - A Practical Guidebook (which you can buy on this site)

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