As we start another school year I am once again ready to start packing healthy and waste free school lunches for my children. Like many parents across the country, I am unhappy with not only the poor nutrition of the food that is offered in my kid’s cafeteria but I am also disappointed in the way the food is presented. There are far too many processed food items that are served in individual wrappers. The food is highly processed, full of chemicals and preservatives and the packaging contributes to the continuing landfill and ecological problems faced by our communities.
By sending nutritious, natural foods packed in re-usable containers, I feel that I am modeling responsible stewardship of our planet’s resources while insuring that my children are getting the nutrition they need to thrive both physically and mentally. My children were already well versed on the benefits of eating real foods vs. junk foods and I found that waste free school lunches were a natural way to introduce them to the concept of green living because every day they saw for themselves in the cafeteria that disposable lunches create a lot of garbage.
School lunch garbage is created in mass quantities because there is a whole category of food products made specifically for school lunches that feature individually wrapped servings of everything commonly found in the average lunchbox. Grocery stores stock an amazing number of individually wrapped lunchbox items including juice boxes, single serve puddings, jellos, granola bars, chips, yogurt tubes, cheese sticks, Lunchables and even individually packaged servings of fruits and veggies. In fact, according to wastefreelunches.org, ” it has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school.”
Unfortunately, these lunch items also tend to be highly processed foods that have chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers and fillers and provide very little, if any, real nutrition. Since I am determined to not only nourish my children’s bodies, but to also make a positive impact on our environment, I think that healthy waste free lunches are fantastic.
So what do I pack in our re-usable lunch containers?
I like to look at my kids’ lunches as mini buffets so I use a rectangular, flat, plastic food container with a locking top and I use medium or large silicone cupcake liners to create food compartments within the container. Some of the items that I pack into the compartments include:
- Cubes or strips of leftover chicken breast, turkey breast, roast beef, or ham
- Hard boiled egg
- Cheese sticks or slices (cut from a block, not the individually wrapped ones)
- Rolled up lunch meat (from my home cooked roasts)
- Leftovers from any dinner that they particularly enjoyed
- Cherry tomatoes
- Baby carrots
- Any veggie my kids like
- Cut fruit such as apples, oranges, melons, kiwis
- Whole fruits such as grapes, cherries, mandarin oranges, plums
- Yogurt (in re-usable silicone tubes)
- Homemade jello or pudding (in re-usable silicone tubes)
- Granola bars (homemade)
- Cookies (homemade)
I found a re-useable silicone ice pop maker set that can be filled with flavored yogurt and frozen so that by lunch time the child has a yogurt tube style treat that is still cold and fresh. These tubes could also be loaded with homemade jello or pudding for a great lunch time treat that has the added benefit of not requiring utensils to eat it. For the beverage, I use a 12 ounce Thermos bottle with a flip top straw which will reliably keep drinks cold on even the hottest South Florida day.
In addition to being able to offer my kids excellent nutrition another great benefit of the homemade, waste free lunch is saving money at the grocery store. After the initial purchase of the lunch container (which can be a simple plastic food container system like mine to a dedicated lunch system like Laptop Lunchboxes, Goodbyns, LunchBots, PlanetBox, LunchSkins or EasyLunchboxes) I have found that each homemade lunch costs less to make than a comparable one made from individually packaged items and I am also saving money by not spending on all of those zipper bags either.
For my family it makes sense economically, nutritionally and ecologically to spend a little extra time preparing and packing lunches. My children are happy because they know that their lunch won’t be “gross” cafeteria food, and they enjoy being able to pick their favorite meats, cheeses, fruits, and veggies from the grocery store to include in their lunches.
Check out the ever growing collection of my kids’ lunches on my School Lunch Ideas gallery.
This post is participating in Make Your Own! Monday, Fat Tuesday, Trick or Treat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Heart and Soul, Real Food Wednesday, Healthy 2day Wednesdays, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Works For Me Wednesday, Home Is Where The Heart Is, Tout It Tuesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, Tastetastic Thursday, Keep It Real Thursdays, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Link It Up Thursday, Freaky Friday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Friday Favorites, Feasting in Fellowship Friday, Foodie Friday, The Gallery of Favorites, Inspire Me Fridays, Fit and Fabulous Fridays, Get Schooled Saturday, Prudent Projects and Smart Solutions, Show and Tell Saturday, Nifty Thrifty Sunday, Melt In Your Mouth Monday, On The Menu Monday, Monday Mania, Must Try Monday, Homestead Barn Hop, Scratch Cookin’ Tuesday, One Creative Weekend