School and Work Lunch Solutions

Monday’s Lunch: Mozzarella, fruit cookie, trail mix, grapes, home-grown tomatoes, rice crackers. Photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

 A packed Lunch Less Plastic is possible, it doesn’t take long to pack, and it’s tasty.

by Rebecca Rockefeller, republished from Rock Farmer

The school year is underway here in the US, and with it the tradition of either packing a lunch or checking the school hot lunch calendar to prepare your taste buds for the day’s offering. There are multiple movements afoot to improve school lunches in various ways. People such as Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver, are Michelle Obama devoting their names and energies to improving nutrition and connection to local and seasonal whole foods; other groups such as Waste-free Lunches and individual schools such as this one in Austin, TX are working to reduce lunch waste; and everyone from the Hillbilly Housewife to zenhabits knows that packing a lunch can save you some serious money over time.

Your family can jump into both of these movements on your own by packing an affordable, healthy, and delicious zero waste lunch for anyone in your household who eats away from home.  It’s not hard, and a lot of classic lunch foods are prime contenders for lunches with less waste. The old sack lunch standby the sandwich is a wonderful option: quick to assemble, easy for hands and mouths of all sizes to manage, and as healthy and whole foods-ish as you’d like it to be.

Tuesday’s Lunch: Grapes, trail mix, tortilla chips, seasoned seaweed, crystallized ginger. Photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

Sadly, I may have the only two children in the US who don’t like sandwiches. We’ve had to find other foods and other ways of packaging them to reduce our packed lunch waste while increasing their nutrition and fitting within our food budget. We have a variety of containers that we use, everything from bandanas to classic brown paper bags to stainless steel tiffins to a set of PlanetBoxes, stainless steel compartmentalized lunch boxes that we received as a gift (they’re amazing, and not something I would have been able to afford). You do not need fancy containers for this sort of lunch – Go with what you’ve got on hand and look for containers that match the foods your family likes to eat.

There are wonderful basic tips from many sources online: Waste-free Lunches has a breakdown of costs and great suggestions on where to start; Laptop Lunches has 365 lunch ideas, organized by season; Vegan Lunch Box has a blog chock full of lunch ideas ranging from simple to very fancy, all of them vegan but easy to adapt to an omnivore’s desires.

I’m no expert, but here are a couple of recent lunches from my own home to prove that this can be done, even by a single parent who’s not a morning person yet must get two lunches packed and two kids out the door by 7:30 am each school day. Almost everything I pack is purchased from our local grocery’s bulk foods department, reducing our packaging waste (I bring my own containers from home) and lowering our costs.

 Autumnal Lunch Less Plastic photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

In large rectangular tiffin: Brown rice cake, sheet of nori, cheese wrapped in waxed paper.

In the medium round tiffin: Fresh grapes from a u-pick my kids’ grandfather stopped at on his way home from across the mountains; things ripen more quickly on the sunny side of our state.

Small round tiffin: Home-baked chocolate gingerbread cookies (I use blackstrap molasses to up the iron content).

Plastic alert: The rice cakes and nori both come in plastic packaging. I can recycle the rice cakes’ outer bag. I reuse the inner plastic to scoop poop when we walk our dogs, and the nori’s zippered plastic bag is handy for other dry good storage at home.

What about the cheese? We are so lucky – A friend of mine on the island orders bulk cheese each month through a chef friend of his, and we can share his order at prices below retail. He’s happy to wrap our portion in waxed paper if I provide him with a roll of it. Plastic-free cheese, and good cheese at that! Heaven.

Everything else came home without plastic packaging, including the flours and other cookie ingredients – I buy those in bulk; the flours come in unbleached paper bags, and I use glass jars for the cocoa and chocolate chips.

Another September Lunch Less Plastic photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

A lunch and snack from last week:

In the large rectangular tiffin: Organic corn tortilla chips and mozzarella cheese wrapped in waxed paper (our DIY string cheese).

In the medium round tiffin: Blanched home-grown green beans tossed with a splash of lemon juice and tamari.

In the small round tiffin: Dried cranberries and cacao nibs.

On the side: Home-made snack bars wrapped in waxed paper. These were Orange Creamsicle bars, made from raw almonds, Medjool dates, orange zest, sea salt, vanilla extract, and orange and lemon essences. My kids start school early each day and have a morning snack break; one of these bars tides them over until lunch.

Plastic Alert: The tortilla chips come in a paper bag with a plastic liner. We need to work on making our own! The mozzarella comes in polyethylene plastic that I wash very well so it can be recycled.The tamari comes in a glass bottle with a plastic lid.

Everything else came without plastic packaging, either from our garden or the bulk department or in glass bottles with metal lids. Of course, I’m guessing that the bulk almonds and dates are shipped to our local grocery store in plastic bags, but at least this is a start.

So, what are you doing for school and work lunches? I’d love to hear about it – The more Lunch Less Plastic ideas we share with each other, the better for all of us. 

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Categories: Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff, Zero Waste Guide


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One Comment on “School and Work Lunch Solutions”

  1. September 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    When my children were young I also packed them lunches in bring-back-home-containers (what we called it then as no one else did this). My boys did like sandwiches but they were made with homemade bread. Apple crisp was always asked for on a regular basis along with veggies and other fruits. My son’s friends used to beg them to share their food, so I had to pack more than my boys would eat to make sure they didn’t share too much and come home hungry. Kids really are starving for healthier foods.

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