Lunchables: going green with kids lunch alternatives

Inspired by my fellow bloggers, I have decided to try and up the anti in our efforts to bring sustainbility into our lunch practices.  My husband (Mr. Zero carbon footprint himself) has been reusing bread bags for his lunch for the past year, as well as bringing home plastics once used so that they have a longer “lifecycle” – meaning a zip lock bag should be able to be used at least up to 5 times!

For myself, to try and meet the cute “lunch buddies” that I am competiting with in the market place, I have been able to reuse Starbucks bento boxes and repack my kids greens and crackers. (so far, so good).


Pack A Recyclable Lunch


Pack “zero-waste” lunches — schools that have enforced zero-waste lunchroom policies have reduced trash volume by up to 90 percent. 

How much can I save?

How much could you save by going waste-free with your child’s lunches? Let’s do the math:

Disposable Lunch: $4.02 /day or $723.60 /year

Waste-Free Lunch: $2.65 /day or $477.00 /year

You save: $246.60 per year – that’s 1/3 of your food budget! As you can see, you’ll quickly recoup what you invest in reusable lunchboxes, bottles, and other food packaging containers.


What difference does this really make to the environment?

The average child’s lunchtime trash totals up to 67 pounds per school year. For the average elementary school, that’s almost 10 tons a year – just from lunchbox waste! (Source: NY State Department of Conservation)

Many of the the items included in an average school kid’s lunch are substances that are tossed into the trash can. Sophie Javna, author of “The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth,” writes that school children throw away 380 billion plastic bags and 2.7 million juice boxes each year. Packing a recyclable lunch teaches your children to recycle their lunch products rather than just throwing them away. Teach your kids to pack lunches in recyclable containers, such as brown paper bags, and to use them for several days. Instruct your children to bring home plastic bags and juice boxes to put in the recycle bin or to use again. Aluminum foil and soda cans can also be recycled.

Read more:

5 Sack Lunches Kids Love

Distract finicky eaters by putting together a meal that’s so much fun to eat, they won’t be thinking about whether it’s on their short list of “likes.”

Fun foods don’t have to be deep-fried or full of preservatives. Just think bite-size, dippable, and varied. Natural foods aisles in many grocery stores have a lot of healthier products, such as snacks sweetened only with fruit juice or packaged with fewer trans-fats and preservatives.

Here are five ideas for health-conscious meals that are easy to prepare and fun for kids. Whether your child is a try-anything eater or has the pickiest appetite ever seen, these lunches are sure to please.

MONDAY: Deconstructed Sandwiches

Instead of buying prepacked sets of crackers, cheese, and deli meats, put together a homemade version. Your child can even help out the night before, picking out the crackers, meat, cheese, and a small dessert. Another fun idea is to use mini cookie cutters (about the same size as the crackers) to cut the lunch meat slices into fun shapes. (The leftovers make a good mid-morning nibble for you!)

Some options:

  • veggie or water cracker rounds
  • chicken or turkey deli meat, cut into roughly cracker-size pieces
  • part-skim mozzarella or cheddar slices, cut into roughly cracker-size squares
  • fruit cup (packed in juice) or unsweetened applesauce

TUESDAY: Grilled Cheese Pockets

  • As a variation on the standard pan-browned cheese sandwich, try using a sandwich maker; some machines even make the crispy triangles sealed around the edges. Use whole-grain bread and low-fat or part-skim cheeses, which are healthier than their whole-milk counterparts and melt better than completely fat-free versions. Include a couple of fruit leathers and a handful of baked pita or potato chips in the lunch bag, too.

WEDNESDAY: Turkey-Cran Tortilla Bites

  • Instead of packing a bulky wrap or burrito, slice up a tightly rolled tortilla and fillings. The trick is to spread all the ingredients evenly, rather than pile them into the middle like in a traditional wrap sandwich.
  • Lay the tortilla flat, then spread a thin layer of cranberry sauce over the whole surface. Top with one layer of lettuce leaves, then with pulled turkey (in smallish pieces) or deli meat slices. Roll tightly, then cut into one- or two-bite pieces, holding each piece closed with kid-safe toothpicks. (For vegetarian kids, try it with a thicker spread of hummus, thin slices of peppers and cucumber, and lettuce.) Toss in a box of raisins and a few animal-shaped crackers on the side.

THURSDAY: Dipping Day

Everything in this lunch is bite-size and gets dunked. Pack them loosely in separate containers for younger children, or in rows on “skewers” for older ones.

  • Chicken nibblers with honey mustard
  • Baked tortilla chips and tomato salsa
  • Baby carrots and cut-up celery sticks with light ranch dressing
  • Sliced apple, banana, and peach with fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt stirred with all-fruit jam)

FRIDAY: Layered Lunch

Turn the traditional sandwich on its head—literally—by piling the halves onto one another. It even works without the crusts! (Just cut them off before building.) This is a great way to liven up old standards like peanut butter and jelly, or try a club sandwich variation.

Cut two whole-grain bread slices diagonally in half, then line up the four resulting triangles. Spread a little bit of mustard on the first triangle and top with one piece of deli meat and cheese. On the next triangle, use mayo and a different kind of deli meat. The third triangle gets sliced veggies, such as tomato and cucumber, and lettuce. Stack these three, covering them with the last triangle. Spear the tower with two kid-safe toothpicks and cut in half. Include some pretzel sticks and chopped dried fruit.

Pack a Natural Lunch

If you want to send your kids to school with a healthy, nutritious, natural lunch, here are a few ideas.

By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1981

Read more:

Read more:

Sandwich Ideas

Probably the single most popular item of lunch-box fare is the sandwich. This simple noonday treat can be more appetizing—and nutritious—than the old white-bread-and-bologna standard. To prepare a slightly sweet and energy-boosting sandwich, spread peanut (or any nut) butter on whole wheat bread, and top it with banana slices, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Or, as a variation, cover the protein-packed filling with grated carrot (or cucumber slices) and alfalfa sprouts.

Sprouts can also make a delicious and crunchy addition to cheese sandwiches: Just spread the bread with mayonnaise, add thinly sliced cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey Jack, then pile on a thick layer of tender alfalfa sprouts.

Cheese sandwiches can benefit from the addition of raw vegetables, too. Butter your slices of bread (or use mayonnaise), and add the cheese, either sliced or grated, plus any one—or all—of the following vegetables: sliced cucumbers, avocado, tomato, grated carrot, and diced onion.

Other Options

Of course, sandwiches—as nutritious and filling as they are—don’t have to be the only main courses your children ever carry to school, because many leftover dinner dishes can be recycled for the next day’s lunch. A piece of cold quiche travels well, as do macaroni and cheese wedges. You might also like to cut a slice or two of the previous evening’s lentil nut or millet loaf (or even a few spoonfuls of rice salad) to be served alone or stuffed into pita bread pockets. Or simply prepare a bag of finger food (such as cauliflower and broccoli florets, whole mushrooms, carrot sticks, asparagus spears, cherry tomatoes, cucumber strips, celery stalks, and green pepper rings) along with a yogurt or sour cream dip.

When packing snacks, don’t succumb to the “easy out” of grabbing individual bags of potato chips or cookies. Instead, throw in a small container of homemade popcorn to satisfy the munchies. Fresh fruit makes a delicious dessert, too … and it just may be sweet enough to help your child avoid the urge to visit the candy machine! Toss together whole strawberries, blueberries, banana sections, melon cubes, and pineapple chunks, then turn that fresh fruit salad into a special treat by adding a cream cheese or carob-honey sauce. Whole wheat or bran muffins—with nuggets of dried fruit inside—are also great school lunch desserts. They’re a lot more wholesome than are cake squares or candy bars!

Drink Up!

While you’re concocting imaginative dishes for your child’s noontime meals, remember that take-along lunches don’t have to be accompanied by plain milk, sugary fruit punch, or (worse) soda pop. You can, instead, fill your child’s thermos with a hot, hearty soup …or—while the weather’s still warm—try one of the following cooling drinks that Deborah has devised. (You can easily mix a large batch of any one of these in the blender make a healthful breakfast for yourself at the same time).

To whip up a carob-bananashake, blend together 1 1/2 cups of milk, 1 teaspoon each of honey and carob, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and half a banana. Or, if you think that your child would prefer a creamy drink, combine 1 cup of plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons of honey, and 1 cup of any juicy fresh fruit (such as peaches, strawberries, or oranges). A honeydew delight—which can provide a pleasant change from milk-based drinks—requires 1/2 cup each of chopped melon and orange juice, plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.

A thick and tasty peanut butter shake will provide enough protein to keep your youngster going all day! To make one, blend 1/2 cup each of milk and plain yogurt with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of honey. You might also want to try a tomato supreme …which is made by mixing together 1 cup of diced ripe tomatoes, 1/2 stalk of chopped celery, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and a dash of salt. Finally, you can include a nice surprise in your child’s lunch box by making spiced apple juice. Simply soak a cinnamon stick in one cup of apple juice overnight, then remove it before pouring the beverage into the thermos.

As you can see from the recipes provided here, box lunches don’t have to be either dreary and unappetizing or low in nutritional value. If you want to be certain your children are eating as well at school as they are at home, send the young scholars off each day with a lunch box full of homemade foods that you know you can trust. Sure, it may take you a few minutes longer to prepare such meals in the morning, but you can likely get the youngsters themselves actively involved in the task … which would not only ease your workload, but would help them become aware of sound eating habits, too!

Read more:

Another great callout is made by the company One Small Step, in their article/video series:

Who Needs the Junk?

With their new video Who Needs the Junk, takes us on a journey through a day in the life of … your garbage. It all starts out so innocently: a brown bag here, a juice box there. But here is the challenge:

Boycott the Baggie with One Small Step!  We’re not looking for a massive change – just a small step to do your part and commit to stop using one disposable a day. Which disposable will you boycott? It can be a baggie, a paper napkin, a grocery bag, a disposable bottle or cup, a utensil – it is your choice!

All those plastic baggies, napkins, bottles, cups, utensils and bags add up. See our video to the left – we collected one school year’s worth of trash for one child. We’re on a mission to get rid of this useless trash and make lunch time (and our lifetime) a little cleaner and greener. We hope you’ll help and take the pledge.

Welcome to One Small Step – The one stop shop for all your reusable lunchware needs and green school supplies. Take One Small Step toward waste-free lunches while you save money, improve your family’s nutrition, and reduce waste. GO GREEN.

Great variety of fun, stylish products at competitive prices
Opportunities to save money on disposables and expensive single-size portions

Give back to schools/non-profits – 10-20% of purchases benefit community organizations
Reduce your impact on the environment
Eating healthy has never been so easy
Educate your children and they will educate their friends and eventually their children
Non-toxic products – No lead, BPA, Phthalates, PVC or other nasty stuff in our products

And, for all you DIYers out there, the site offers some great ways to try this at home, using your own materials and recyling:

How to make a Reusable Sandwich Wrap (from Garbage!)

This video shows you how to make your own “green” recycled and reuseable lunch baggie!

Uploaded by OneSmallStepcom on Apr 13, 2011

It is easy to “Boycott The Baggie” when you make your own reusable sandwich wrap. All you need is: – a sturdy piece of plastic or mylar 11″ by 13″ or greater (like those from a chip bag, cereal bag, or gallon size storage bag) – velcro (tape will do until you can find velcro) – scissors



Make it easy, make it actionable:

Start with one small step – and go from there. Here are some ideas to start with:

• Eliminate the plastic sandwich bag and use a WRAP-N-MAT or Happy-Sacks Sandwich Sack

• Use a reusable bottle or thermos instead of juice boxes

• Double recipes when you cook, then freeze the extra in small containers for lunches

• Prepare fresh vegetables and fruits for the next day’s lunch as you cook your evening meal

• Use leftovers from dinner as is or as a starting point for a lunch entreé

Leftover meatloaf can be packed as is or turned into a meatloaf sandwich! Start small, and with each change you will see how easy it can be. Check out the Resources page for more helpful tips.

Can it really save me money?

Yes! On average, waste-free lunches cost 1/3 less. Your savings may be even higher, depending on your current buying habits.

Why? Purchasing food or beverages in bulk is always cheaper; individually-wrapped portions cost substantially more.

If you add up all the paper and plastic bags you send out over the course of a year, it’s much cheaper to get a cloth bag or long-lasting lunchbox and a WRAP-N-MAT or storage containers you’ll use again and again. Reducing waste is better for the environment, too.

My kids won’t eat peanut-butter sandwiches every day! What else can they eat?

Going waste-free can actually increase your food options! During your evening meal preparations, you can clean and prepare raw veggies and fruits for the next day’s lunch. If you cook a little more than you’ll need for your evening meal, the leftovers can be turned into the next day’s lunch.

• With a Thermos Leak-Proof Food Jar you can send your child off with a full, nutritious portion of hot soup or pasta

• With a Laptop Lunch Bento Set, you can offer a variety of veggies, proteins and carbs

• Our Laptop Lunch User’s Guide provides more fresh ideas, tips for picky eaters, and kid-friendly recipes

How can I get my kids to eat healthier food?

There’s a misconception out there that kids don’t like healthier food. It’s just not true. You can actually help your kids develop healthy food habits, rather than getting them used to high-salt, high-fat and high-sugar packaged foods.

• Involve your kids in the process: take a few minutes each evening with your child to pack up a lunchbox full of fun, colorful foods. You’ll find more food gets eaten and less brought home (or thrown away).

• Work together for an hour or so on the weekend to prep foods for the week in freezer packs. Make a game of it while you educate your kids about what’s good for their growing bodies. With effort invested in the process, children are less likely to waste food.

Check the websites on our Resources link for recipes and helpful hints on packing fun, tasty, and nutritious lunches for your kids.

Is this just for kids?

Not at all! Working parents can go waste-free for their own on-the-job lunches… families can bring snacks or meals on the road…Parents can pack food for baby. Waste-free lunches are fun! Get your whole family involved – packing lunches at home saves money and resources and can improve everyone’s diet. See our Resources links for recipes and meal preparation suggestions!

Is it true that you give 10% of anything I purchase back to my favorite non-profit?

Yes, we believe in investing in our community, and appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a waste-free lunch at your next event. If you make a purchase but don’t have a favorite non-profit, we donate 10% of our gross returns to Please suggest your favorite non-profit and we will consider adding it.




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