5 Tips for a Waste-Free School Lunch #bts2016

Our middle baby, Eliza, turned 5 last week and one of my favorite gifts was the Hanna Andersson backpack and lunchbox my mom got her for KINDERGARTEN.


waste free lunch
One thing we’ve done for a few years now is use almost entirely reusable products in our kids’ lunchboxes. It’s been estimated that the average American school kid produces about 67 pounds of trash each year. By definition, most of us are average in so many ways. But this is one easy way to be an above-average family. Or…below, I guess. LET’S BE BELOW AVERAGE TOGETHER!
Wait, what?

Anyway, as we get ready for school this year, I’m sharing my favorite ways to pack waste-free lunches for my kids:

  1. Get a great “exterior” lunchbox.

Okay this is obvious and not necessarily different than the first step in packing ANY lunch, unless you’re planning on sending a brown bag every day. Which, just don’t. We have three different lunchboxes and all are great. We’ve got a Lands End Classmate for Liv, in a cute navy polkadot pattern that isn’t around anymore. We have a Skip Hop lunch box for Piper (and we’ve had them for all of the kids’ preschool lunch boxes!).

These are seriously adorable and if you’ve got a preschooler you should definitely check them out. And Eliza has her Hanna Andersson box now! (Get 20% off by using that link if you see something you like!) So this is an important, although pretty obvious first step.

2. Get a great “interior” lunchbox.

If you’re putting your food directly in a lunchbox, you’re going to have to use a bunch of ziplock bags or buy things that are prepackaged. Both options create unnecessary garbage, so the most important thing is to get an “interior” lunchbox that’s sectioned off so that you can put the food directly in without it getting all mixed up and soggy. Plus, let’s be honest, there are kids out there who won’t eat food that’s touched other food (not that I know ANYONE like that).

There are a few other benefits of this type of lunch box. Food looks more fun when you open a box and see it all laid out this way. It’s helpful for me as I pack too. I try to vary the tastes and textures, and I go through my mental checklist – is there a fruit yet? A veggie? Some sort of protein? Plus, I think it’s great to let kids pick what they want to eat, when. We try not to be mealtime dictators but there are definitely meals where I end up saying “six bites of chicken, all your peas, and 3 carrots before you get up!” My kids don’t always eat everything I give them for lunch but I like that they can open the box, see all the food, and make their own decisions that will usually end in eating something relatively balanced, even without our oversight.

The box most people jump to for this type of thing is probably something from Planetbox. I’ve heard GREAT things about these stainless steel, bento style boxes. These are the kind of boxes you’ll buy once for a lifetime. And that’s good because they’re expensive! If you’re the type to invest once and not worry about it again, this is the box for you.

I wasn’t up for the investment, honestly. So I ended up with this Sistema “Quaddie.” I bought two several years ago, and bought a third when Piper started preschool. They’ve held up pretty well! A few of the tabs have pulled off after 2-3 years of pulling the tops out for dishwashing, etc.

But even after the tabs break off, the lids stay on, so it’s not that big of a deal. These babies are less than $10, and to me it’s worth it to see how long I can make them last before repurchasing. And I do plan to repurchase! They fit perfectly inside Liv’s Lands End lunchbox and in Eliza’s new Hanna Andersson one, as well as in Piper’s adorable Skip Hop box. When I’m packing lunches, I create a little assembly line and fill ’em up then distribute to the appropriate lunch boxes! #streamlineit

3. Get a few great reusable snack bags

Another side to this whole “waste-free” lunch thing is purchasing fewer items that are individually wrapped. Now listen, I’m not 100% on this. It is REALLY easy to toss a little bag of WHATEVER in there, straight from the pantry. But it’s not really that much harder to buy in bulk (or just in normal size) and put some in a little bag.

We love these from Green Sprouts. Each set has a sandwich sized bag and a little snack bag. I hardly ever use these in our regular schoo lunches because, like I said, our Sistema boxes have compartments. But sometimes I’ll put a pickle or something in one to keep the flavor from totally taking over.

We’ve had these for several years and they’re in perfect shape. I put them inside out in the dishwasher when they’re dirty. They come in a bunch of patterns, they feel great, and they’re easy to open and close. When we do picnics at the park, I usually grab an insulated bag and use these for fruit and sandwiches.

4. Include a great water bottle.

I’ve been on a water bottle MISSION over the last few years. We’ve had Camelbacks, Nalgenes, and lots of other guys that have all ended up leaking a little. It’s the baneΒ of my existence. Maybe it’s user error, I don’t know. What I DO know is that we’ve landed on the THERMOS VOOGO stainless insulated bottle and I love it. They’re only $12, totally dishwasher safe, and they come in a bunch of cute patterns. There’s even a Frozen one (and lots of other licensed characters)Β if you want to sell your soul to please your kids. (Listen, my 3rd kid is somehow wearing light up Frozen tennis shoes, I’m not judging anyone but myself. And maybe my mom and aunt just a little bit for buying them.)

The kids can open the tops easily and they’re part of an interchangable lid system. So you can start your kids on these when they’re little and work up to the final straw stage. Which is where we started because I didn’t order them until later. Anyway, I highly recommend grabbing a few of these. Kleen Kanteens also have a great reputation for durability ease of use!

5. Grab some inexpensive reusable cutlery (bonus points if it’s made from recycled materials!)

I kind of love the word cutlery. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s a little pretentious but in the end it refers a simple eating utensil?Β Maybe? I love RePlay’s kid cutlery (!!) for several reasons. One, it’s a startup company that’s doing very well and I love supporting small businesses even when they get bigger. Two, they feel good. Three, they’re wonderfully ergonomic for little hands. And 4, they’re made from recycled milk jugs. WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE. They come in lots of colors, and these easy 8 packs are only $9.


Packing lunches this way is quick, cost-efficient, and it definitely helps me be more creative and more whole-foods minded too, even though I’m not sending seaweed chips and swiss chard wraps. I mean, not daily. It does feel good to know that we aren’t adding our 67 pounds of trash to the landfill each year.

waste-free school lunch


Do you have anything to add here? How do you “green” your lunches? If you have recipes that help the waste-minimizing process even more (I’m thinking homemade granola bars!) share them in the comments. And if you have a favorite creative lunch post, share that too!

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6 thoughts on “5 Tips for a Waste-Free School Lunch #bts2016

  1. This post was AOOO HWLPFUL! Grace is starting first grade at the end of this month and we’ll be packing daily lunches for the first time! I NEEDED this post! Thank you!

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