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10 Tips for Sending Waste Free Lunches to School

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Packing a Waste Free Lunch can be simple & easy and can have a positive impact on our planet!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite awhile now.    I try to teach my kids sustainable practices.  We’re great at recycling because the city makes it easy for us.   But our packed lunches were not getting the same attention. When I spent money on lunch supplies, only to have my kids lose their lunch boxes at school,  I refused to purchase another!  Our lunch waste creep began, and I went back to sending brown bags and plastic, contributing to the landfill problem everywhere.

But a few years back, determined to make it a priority and understanding my kids are smart enough to work with me on making their world a better place, we adopted some simple things that allowed us to not produce waste and not lose the money I spent on reusable products!   In honor of Earth day, and with a challenge for you to follow suit, here is how we did it!:

10 Tips for Sending Waste Free Lunches that won’t lose you money!

funkins lunch bag girls

  1.  Talk to your teachers (or school lunch staff).   Our school teachers adopted a system for collecting lunch boxes after the kids ate.  This system is brilliant.  Once the kids finish lunch, they find their class bucket and leave their lunch bag before heading out to recess.  One student each day was responsible for bringing the bucket back to class.  If your teacher or school doesn’t have a collection system like this, ask them if you can start one!
  2. Let your kids pack their own lunch.  If you’ve been reading our blog long enough, you’ll know that I’m very vocal about kids making their own lunch.  When you pack it for them, the chances of them tossing out food they don’t like is like 99%.  If I send a bag of peppers to school and my child doesn’t eat peppers, they WILL throw it in the trash.  Letting them make their own lunch (with boundaries of course!) allows them to pack the food they will actually eat.
  3. Purchase in bulk.   A huge portion of lunch waste comes from pre-packaged foods.  Granola bars, single serving pretzels, fruit snacks, etc. all have their own packaging.  When you buy in bulk, you don’t even have that choice to throw extra trash in your lunch box.  Send pretzels in a reusable sandwich bag or homemade granola bars in a small container, and you can eliminate the trash from small, single serving items.
  4. Send Reusable Napkins.  Another trash accumulator, NAPKINS! And trust me, you want your kids to wipe their cute little faces after they eat.  For some reason, my son used to take bites out of the middle of his sandwich with peanut butter and jelly squishing onto his cheeks from both sides!  Yeah, he needed a napkin every single time. (these Funkins Napkins are 40-70% off the entire month of April for Earth Day!)
  5. Replace plastic water bottles. We are SO guilty of this one! It’s so easy to send a small, 8 ounce plastic water bottle in a lunch bag.  The way we handled this is the kids each picked out a favorite water bottle that they would use all day at school, not just at lunch.  The new teachers actually encourage this habit, and it’s part of the classroom culture that kids have a water bottle on their desk at all times.  If your teacher is willing, talk with her/him about encouraging the kids to bring a water bottle to school.
  6. Straws/Forks/Spoons  Our kids are bringing more and more soups and salads (especially as they get older), and they need utensils!  Replace plastic utensils with reusable ones, and talk to the kids about leaving them in their lunch bag so it comes home as well.
  7. Join the PTA!  There is a lot of change that can happen at the school if someone steps up and has ideas!  The EPA has a flyer you can print and share with the school to educate the entire school about Waste Free Lunches! Together, your school can make a difference! Reducing waste generated by school lunches.
  8. Start a compost Bin-  Educate the kids on what items they can bring home (banana peels, etc), and where to toss them when they get there. You can get a compost bin fairly inexpensively, or even make your own! 
  9. Memorize the three R’s.  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle! Brainstorm with the kids how your family can do their part by using the three R’s.  Let this be something they grow up hearing and becomes part of their experience for life.  Can they reuse a yogurt container for a lunch salad? Can they reduce the amount of packaging they use? Can they recycle the egg cartons for the next egg purchase, or for an arts & craft project?
  10. Pack leftovers! Just because something isn’t considered a lunch food, doesn’t’ mean you can’t eat it for lunch! When you send dinner leftovers to lunch, you are indeed helping the waste problem!

And there it is! Who’s with me? Who wants to take the challenge of doing at least ONE Thing on this list to live more consciously, sustainably and best of all, teach our kids that it’s necessary for their future to start practices like these?

One of our favorite companies, committed to reusable & sustainable practices is Funkins.  We’ve written several times about their napkins, but they now have a new neoprene, WASHABLE lunch bag! Yes, trust me, you want to wash your lunch bags after your kids have used them for any length of time!!  (SMELLY!)

They come in two different sizes (standard/elementary size and preschool/toddler size).

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

Learn More about Natalie

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