With six kids, I understand that it is infinitely easier to let your child eat a hot lunch prepared by the hard-working cafeteria folk. For the most part, the lunch that your school district offers is tasty, well-balanced, and cost-effective. However, if you want to and have the time to make your child their very own lunch, why not make it the sustainable way?
We’ve put together a quick list of how you can make your child’s lunch both delicious AND better for the environment.
Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers
On a related note, there’s no need for single-use plastic sandwich bags. Instead, consider a waxed fabric sandwich bag, or one of the many reusable lunch containers on the market. From bento boxes to tiffins, there are loads of choices, although glass jars may be a bit too breakable for some kids. Here’s a collection of some plastic-free lunch containers (from Treehugger).
Skip the individually wrapped foods
Individually wrapped snacks are often meant for long-shelf life, which means they’re full of stuff that is not really meant for consumption. Try using cut veggies or homemade snack mixes (Chex Mix is my fav). Also, when making your lunch, try buying and prepping your meals in bulk. This saves you money and can help reduce the amount of packaging going in the landfill.
Avoid the dirty dozen
What’s the “Dirty Dozen”? I’m not talking about the 1967 Lee Marvin vehicle. Instead, I’m talking about the dozen fruits and veggies most doused in pesticides. In an ideal world, we’d buy organic food all the time. However, finding organic options can be challenging (or too heavy a financial burden). So, if you’re going to eat non-organic produce, consider avoiding the fruits and vegetables that are most likely to be contaminated: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, domestic blueberries and potatoes.
Cut down on meat and dairy
Meat, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products tend to have a higher environmental footprint than plant-based foods. It’s well documented that it takes around 400 gallons of water for each pound of beef versus around 35 gallons of water for vegetables. Consider packing at least one vegan lunch per week (for Meatless Monday maybe?). Peanut butter and jelly is a good standby, but you can also get creative with hummus wraps, bean spreads, and thermoses of soup.
If you buy food that’s grown locally, you’re not only supporting your own community, but you’re also reducing the carbon footprint of your food by cutting down on the distance it’s shipped. Look to Minnesota Grown to find farmers and producers that are probably literally right down your road.
Buying seasonally is often more cost-effective, but it also goes hand-in-hand with the goal of buying local. If asparagus isn’t in season where you live, that usually means it’s coming from somewhere so far away they have different weather. Changing what you pack for lunch with the season can also help prevent kids with getting bored with the same lunch fare.
Drink Water, It’s Great
From juice boxes to plastic soda bottles to whatever those juice pouches are made from, disposable beverage containers are a bummer. Even if recycling is possible, it’s a much more eco-friendly option to opt for a refillable bottle. Consider indulging your kids in a fun water bottle with some personality if that will help to encourage them to use it. But, to be honest, nothing beats the water fountain in terms of sustainability.