Summer holidays will soon be over for my family. There are many things I enjoy about summer holidays, one thing I certainly have enjoyed is the break I get from packing lunches. I am sure I am not alone and that there are many other parents out there who also dread packing their children’s lunches on a daily basis. Packing lunches for myself and husband is no problem, however, packing lunches for my picky four year old can be quite challenging. My daughter is entering her second year of school so I am still very new to this new journey of packing easy, healthy, eco-friendly lunches that my child will actually consume.
Back in the ’90s when I went to elementary school, green lunches were a hot topic, we would earn points for our house league team for bringing in litter-less lunches, all garbage bins were removed from classrooms during our lunch breaks and any garbage you brought to school had to be taken back home with you. This made both students and parents aware of the garbage they were creating daily from their school lunches. The importance of packing package free lunches became ingrained in me at a young age. I hope that schools all over the world are still working hard to teach families the importance of packing both healthy and eco-friendly lunches for their children. For many, having the time and being able to afford to pack their children healthy eco-friendly lunches might seem overwhelming. However, many prepackaged foods that are more convenient are also more costly, and their ingredients are certainly not as healthy as the ingredients in the foods that you prepare yourself at home.
I feel like I have mastered packing my own zero-waste lunches. All of the containers I use are reusable and made from glass, stainless steel, or silicon. I often show my students what is in my lunchbox to encourage them to reflect on the packaging in their own lunches. I remind them that many packaged foods are not great for our bodies or the planet.
When grocery shopping, I reflect on the items that my daughter asks for in her lunch that have packaging and are individually wrapped, and I try and think of ways I could make something similar and healthier at home avoiding both the packaging and the unwanted ingredients. This is challenging. If packing lunches for your little ones is overwhelming for you, like it is for me, then start small, replace one thing that you usually buy in single-use packaged form, for something you can make at home. When your child grows tired of that snack, then try something new out and build your repertoire of package-free snacks you can pack for your children.
Here are some things I have learned in my short journey of packing lunches for my daughter to make them friendlier for our planet.
Use the containers you already have in your home instead of buying new ones. If you need to buy new containers then try to invest in stainless steel instead of plastic. Stainless steel is durable, easier to clean than plastic, and 100 percent recyclable and it won’t break like glass containers.
Label label label! Write your child’s name on every part of their lunch containers so that if they misplace them they can be returned to your child.
Reuse your child’s lunchbox and backpack year after year, a new school year does not mean that your child needs a new backpack or lunch bag.
Pack a reusable cloth napkin in your child’s lunch bag so that they do not need to use paper towels at school.
Have your child help. Getting your children involved when packing lunches is important because then you are spending time together, teaching them responsibility for themselves and the planet.
Reduce food waste. Ask your child to bring home their food scraps so you can assess what they are eating and what they are wasting. Compost all fruit and veg scraps, and avoid future food waste by packing smaller portions.
Involve your children in planning their healthy lunches, find out what other kids at school are eating. Chat with other parents about what they pack for their children, it’s great to share healthy, ecofriendly ideas.
Replace Ziplocks and other plastic bags with reusable bags.
Cut down on the meat and dairy and reduce your child’s carbon footprint. You could try doing meatless Monday lunches.
Buy ingredients in bulk and make your own snacks instead of buying prepackaged snacks.
Here are some simple and healthy snack recipes that I frequently make at home to avoid single-use packaging in my daughter’s lunches.
Energy balls (to replace packaged granola bars):
- 1 cup of organic oats
- 1/3 cup of coconut flakes
- 15 pitted dates
- 1/2 cup of chia, hemp hearts or flax (or all three, or none)
- a dash of vanilla
- 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Roll into bite-size balls and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Apple Sauce (to replace packaged apple sauce)
- Peel apples and cut them into chunks
- Steam apples until they are soft
- Remove the apples from the steamer basket
- Use the liquid leftover after steaming the apples to add to the apples while mashing them.
- Mash apples with a potato masher
- Add a dash of cinnamon (or honey, or any other flavor)
- Spice up your apple sauces by adding other ingredients like spinach, kale, pears, berries anything your child might like or you would like them to consume.
Pop your own popcorn (instead of buying packaged chips or popcorn)
- Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil on the stove on medium heat add two popcorn kernels and wait for them to pop.
- When the kernels pop remove the pot from the stove, pour in 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels into the pot, distribute them evenly, cover the pan and wait 30 seconds.
- Put the covered pot back on the stove on medium heat and shimmy the pot a little, tip the lid to allow some steam to leave as the kernels pop.
- Once the popping slows down, remove the popcorn from the heat.
- Flavor your popcorn as you wish. For savory popcorn, we use nutritional yeast, for sweet popcorn I use maple syrup and cinnamon.
Make your own fruit gummies (to replace packaged fruit snacks)
I started making homemade gummies for my daughter before she started school because she has a sweet tooth and loves gummies, but I did not love the ingredients in the fruit gummies you can buy in the grocery stores, so we started to make our own. Now making gummies together is something my daughter gets really excited about doing.
- Use 1 and 1/2 cups of fruit or vegetable juice (You can make your own fruit juice or use store-bought fruit juice)
- 4 tablespoons of gelatin (I use the organic, grass-fed, collagen powder that I also put into my smoothies)
- 2- 4 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
- You can sneak in any other ingredients you wish, such as probiotics, elderberry syrup (for immune support), Omega.
- Pour the juice into a medium saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over and let sit for a few minutes until it gets wrinkly looking then stir it well.
- Place the saucepan over medium heat on the stove, do not let the liquid boil, stirring frequently until all of the gelatin dissolves.
- Add honey and any other ingredients.
- Pour the liquid into a baking dish and refrigerate for 3 hours.
- Get your child’s favorite cookie cutter and cut the jelly into fun shapes. You could also buy special molds, but this isn’t necessary at all.
- Store the gummies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week.
Packing eco-friendly lunches that are healthy, and that my picky eater will actually consume has been a huge challenge for me. I still struggle to find the time, energy and creativity but it is a challenge that is important to me so I keep on working away at it and I hope it will get easier with time. This is still a new journey for me as a parent, and I need to remind myself daily that it is not about perfection, it is about progress. Please share with us some of the foods you pack in your children’s lunches which are healthy, nutfree and ecofriendly?