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How to Prepare Waste-Free School Lunches

In the frantic rush to get the kids off to school with a healthy lunch in hand, we go for convenience.

We stuff sandwiches and other goodies into plastic baggies or wrap them up in aluminum foil and wax paper; we toss individual packages of chips, yogurts, puddings, and juices into bags -- packaging that gets a single use and then lands in the garbage...and eventually the landfill.

The cost of convenience is high, however. In fact, according to Waste Free Lunches, an average school-aged child's lunch box generates an estimated 67 pounds of waste per school year. That's 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school. As a result, our landfills are overflowing and incinerators are burning up loads of plastic waste, polluting the air we breathe. Meanwhile, Ecowatch reports that "93 percent of Americans age 6 or older test positive BPA (a plastic chemical)."

Here are some ideas for how to turn a typical disposable school lunch into a waste-free, reusable lunch.

Waste-Free Lunch on the Grass

Photo by Meredith

1) Instead of disposable plastic bags or aluminum foil, store these foods in reusable containers:

  • Sandwiches and wraps
  • Sliced cheese and cut fresh fruit and veggies
  • Crackers, pretzels, cookies, chips, and other snacks

You can purchase fun "bento box" style lunchbox inserts, like the one shown above, from Target or similar stores. Or stow sandwiches and snacks in reusable, washable sandwich bags, like these from lunchskins.

Reusable Sandwich Bags

Reusable Sandwich Bags | Photo by Meredith

2) Instead of pre-packaged individual-serving containers, put these foods in reusable jar containers:

  • Soups, stews, and chilis can go into Thermos-style insulated jars
  • Yogurts, applesauces, and pudding go well with sturdy, screw-top jar containers to prevent leaking

3) Instead of sending juice, milk, or other drinks in individual cartons or pouches, fill a reusable, washable drinking cup (one with a good seal!).

4) Instead of packing plastic forks and spoons and paper napkins, include cloth napkins and reusable silverware in lunch boxes.

Sure, there's bound to be a learning curve as kids get used to toting empties back home for washing, but once you establish your waste-free routine, you'll both feel good about your eco-smart lunch box.

School lunch in waste-free packaging

Photo by Meredith

BONUS: Making lunches like this means you can buy foods in larger quantities -- which saves money while it protects the planet! Waste Free Lunches estimates that packing a waste-free lunch results in a savings of $246.60 per person each school year.

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Carl Hanson

About Carl Hanson

Carl will eat that. Share with him @CarlNo9 on Twitter.