7 Ways to Pack a More Sustainable School Lunch

by Megan Saynisch

Published: 8/15/18, Last updated: 9/27/19

You can hear a collective sigh of relief from parents around the nation: back to school is here! As much as I love spending time with my son, I’m not going to lie — the first day of school is kind of exciting. As we gather up his school supplies, I’ve also been spending a lot of time thinking about what to pack him for lunch (Every. Single. Day.), along with ways I can try to be a little more environmentally-friendly.

With that in mind, here are a couple of ideas to make packing an eco-friendly school lunch bag:

1. Use Reusable Sandwich and Snack Bags

Get rid of throwaway zip-top bags and get on board with reusable sandwich and snack bags. Mostly made out of coated fabric, these bags come in super cute patterns and colors and a range of sizes for your kid’s lunch and snacking needs. While they take a bit of an initial investment (they can be a bit pricey), in the long run you’ll save money ditching your zip-top bag habit.

2. Get Your Kid a Reusable Water (or Juice) Bottle

Single-use bottled water and juice boxes generate lots of waste — think about throwing away one (or both) every single day for the entire school year, and you’ve got a lot of potential trash on your hands. A reusable bottle can be rinsed out and reused each day.

3. Use Reusable Stainless Steel Containers

Instead of plastic wrap, tin foil or plastic containers, try reusable stainless steel containers in your kid’s lunch bag. They are durable, last forever, and you don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching into your kid’s PB&J.

Flat lay of healthy school lunch
@makenamedia / Twenty20

4. Cut Out Processed and Pre-Packaged Foods

I know this one can be hard for busy parents (myself included), so even cutting out one or two processed or pre-packaged foods, like lunch meat or little bags of chips, can make a big impact on both your kid’s health and the environment.

5. Choose Organic, Seasonal Fruits and Veggies When You Can

Seasonal fruits and vegetables taste better (IMHO), so you’re way less likely to see the dreaded halfuneaten lunch returned to you at the end of the day. I like to cut up a big batch of fruit or carrot sticks, or steam a big pile of edamame on Monday and add them to my kid’s lunch every day. Check out our Seasonal Food Guide to find out what’s in season in your area.

6. Think About Going Meatless on Mondays

I often pack my son meatless lunches, mostly because I’m constantly in a hurry and they tend to be easier (sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple for our nut-free school). Going meatless for lunch even one day per week can make a big environmental (and health) difference.

7. Choose Better Lunchbox Meats and Cheeses

Speaking of meat: if your kid is a big meat and cheese eater, choose organic and grassfed meats and cheeses for their lunchbox, if you can. Here’s more information that explains that all meat (and cheese) is not created equal.

Check out more ideas for reducing lunch waste over at Waste Free Lunches.  And good luck packing a more eco-friendly school lunch bag!

This post was originally published in August 2015. 

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