If you’re looking for ways to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, figuring out how to pack a zero waste lunch or even just reducing lunch waste is a great place to start.
Pack a Zero Waste Lunch
Packing a lunch is a necessity for our family on the go. Honestly, I’d go crazy and we’d be broke if I didn’t! The kitchen can be such a wasteful space in our lives. But surely it doesn’t have to be. Packing a lunch is good for your wallet and can be good for the Earth to.
Back when I was in school, packing a lunch meant a sandwich in fold-over plastic baggie with a bag of chips and a pack of Hand-Snacks Cheese Crackers and a Capri Sun to drink.
Of course it was all packed in a crisp brown paper bag. Let’s ignore the nutritional value of the lunch and just think about all that packaging!
Multiply that times all the schoolchildren just in the US and yikes, you can see why we have a major problem with our environment today.
Cutting down on disposables in the kitchen usually has a higher upfront cost. But the investment will pay off long term. I have had most of my reusable items for more than 5 years. They look just as good today as the day I got them!
And since we’re talking about being eco-friendly and reducing our footprint on the environment, it’s always a good idea to re-use or re-purpose something rather than buy new.
Buying secondhand is another option that significantly reduces the upfront cost of transitioning to a waste-less kitchen.
It’s All About Planning
The first step to pack a zero waste lunch happens way before you ever even make it into your own kitchen. We have to think ahead at the grocery store and shop with waste in mind.
Buying individual packs of chips and snacks is not only way more expensive, but it creates so much more waste.
I have seen some awesome zero-packaging grocery stores, but those are few and far between. Most grocery stores do have a bulk section though, and it’s a great idea to shop there when you can.
Buy in Bulk
Bring your own glass jars or reusable produce bags to skip the plastic at the bulk bins. Didn’t know you could do that? You sure can! At most stores, you’ll just need to take your jars to customer service and have them weighed before filling them. The mesh bags are so lightweight which means you can use them just like a disposable bag.
Another idea for buying groceries with less packaging and waste is to shop local at your farmer’s market or food co-op. Bring your own bags, and you not only cut down on packaging waste but you’re supporting small business owners too.
Grow Your Own Food
Finally, I can’t talk about cutting down on grocery store packaging without mentioning that you can grow your own food. Start an organic garden and you’re making a big impact on the environment.
Shopping with waste in mind takes change in mindset. My kids love baby carrots, but are they worth the extra packaging when I can buy whole carrots from the bulk section and cut them up?
For the most part, reducing packaging does create slightly more work in the kitchen, but that trade off is worth it to me.
Just a note, we’re not perfect when it comes to reducing packaging waste. We do still occasionally buy things that come in packages, but I look for bulk packages and recyclable packaging whenever possible.
Essentials for a Zero Waste Lunch
The lunch box
Toting lunch to school or work or out on the town can be a challenge when you’re not packing disposable items. We have several sizes and styles of lunch boxes and bags that work for different occasions.
I’m all about re-using what I can. We’ve been using the same kids’ lunch boxes that were gifted to us four years ago.
I also have a Pioneer Woman lunch tote that works great for packing up a lot of little items in a larger bag.
We’re a family of five so I often just end up using a big cooler bag for our lunch if we’re headed out for the day. I have an over-the-shoulder cooler bag and a rolling cooler bag that I like to use for different occasions.
Bento containers are super popular right now, and for good reason! Packing a zero-waste lunch has never been easier.
We got rid of plastic in our kitchen several years ago and made the switch to mostly glass for storage at home. Obviously that’s tough with little kids and packing lunches. Stainless steel lunch containers are a must for packing a zero-waste lunch!
We have several containers that we love and use for different purposes.
The first containers I ever bought were these awesome Blue Water Bento containers from Eco Lunch Box. The leak-proof silicone lids stay in place keep everything where it should be.
The splash box is great for a good-sized salad or leftovers that can be eaten cold.
The trio comes with three sizes. The largest is bigger than I need for individual kids’ lunches most of the time, but makes a great container for adults or for taking raw veggies, crackers, or fruit that our family can share for a snack.
The medium-sized container is great for a side salad or side item.
We love the small seal cup so much that we have about 10 of them and use them everyday! We also have some smaller rectangular cups (pictured below) that we use frequently, but I think they must have discontinued that size.
For kids, opening each individual container and getting the lid back on when they are done can be tough. I prefer to use an all-in-one bento box. There are a lot of options when it comes to bento boxes.
The trio is the perfect size for my 4 year old to take lunch to preschool. I can fit a half sandwich or a muffin in one of the larger sections. I usually do cut up fruit in the other large section and a cheese stick or veggies in the long section.
The larger Cinco container is great for my 7 year old or for me to have lunch on the go. It’s not quite enough room for a full lunch for my husband, but it makes a great snack tray or part of a lunch if I add a soup or salad on the side.
Sometimes, you need to contain smaller items within a bigger container. I like using silicone muffin cups for cut up fruit, trail mix, granola, nuts, and raisins.
For dips and sauces, stainless steel restaurant condiment cups with lids work great.
We’ve tried several styles of reusable snack bags and Bumkins brand wins the top spot at our house. We’ve had some of these bags for more than five years and they are still going strong. We have the larger sandwich bag size and the snack bag size.
These bags are great for trail mix, pretzels, sandwiches or other mostly dry snacks. Fruits like grapes or apple slices do fine, but very wet items like cucumbers or orange slices would do better in a leak-proof container.
I hand wash these after every use and let them air dry inside out on the counter. Every week or so, I toss them in the laundry for a thorough cleaning.
Containers for Hot Food
We love being able to use up leftovers for lunches. We’re often on the go without a way to heat up foods so a container to keep the food warm is a must.
We have used Thermos food jars for years. They’re great for soup, oatmeal, leftover pasta, and more. You can prime the jar with hot water in the morning to help keep the temperature up once the food is in it.
It doesn’t keep the food exceptionally hot, but does a good enough job if we make sure to eat it within a couple of hours.
The Thermos jar is a great size for kids, but I wanted something a bit larger for myself and my husband. These Mira Food Jars are slightly bigger at 13.5 ounces and were exactly what I was looking for.
There are so many great non-toxic sippy cup and water bottle options out there. Our favorites and most used cups are the Thermos Funtainer for the kids and the Contigo Autospout Stainless Steel Water Bottle for adults.
You need something to eat your delicious lunch with, and you definitely go out an buy a cute utensil set, but I don’t necessarily recommend it.
Part of packing a zero-waste lunch means reducing your overall consumption. Most of us have perfect good utensils at home. Why not just pack up a fork for the road? It’s simple, easy, and the most eco-friendly way to eat your lunch.
Ditch the disposable napkins and go for reusable cloth napkins. We have collected napkins from thrift stores, IKEA, and all over that make perfect napkins to tuck into your lunch boxes.
DIY napkins also would be a sweet project to work on as a family or give as gifts to friends or family.