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Environmental Eating: The No-Waste School Lunch

School lunches are a packaging nightmare. Here are some tips for a more sustainable school lunch.

I, like many parents, have survived another action packed summer with my kids. If the school year is not chaotic enough, summertime is that time of year, when my wife and I have to continually recalibrate our daily schedule to accommodate the ever-changing myriad of summer camps needed to keep our kids from being bored. Soccer moms have nothing on me.

This last summer, I noticed a new camp program fad emerged; the Zero-Waste Lunch. It seems that just about everyone out there has discovered the waste created by the tiny little packages made to make beverages and snacks “cute” for our kids. It’s interesting that while some families are worried about if they will have lunch for their children at all, food companies have perpetuated the idea that kids won’t eat unless they have tiny prepackaged, cartoon covered items to fill their lunch sack.

So, with the start of the school year at hand, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tools I’ve learned over this summer to reduce the waste in your child’s lunch.

At first glance, you may think that getting rid of the packing in the school lunch is easy. Or, at least, I did. Buying food in larger quantities is cheaper and greatly reduces the amount of packaging you purchase. But then, you run up to the grand hurdle of the No-Waste Lunch; the all-consuming sandwich bag! After the sandwich, the chips, and the fruit or veggies; you’ve already added three plastic bags to the lunch pail each day. This is a startling amount of plastic generated daily when you consider the number of kids at your child’s school.

Fear not, however, for there are alternatives. Today, there are a wide variety of reusable sandwich bags available online or through local merchants. There are many variations on the theme, but most are cloth bags, some with or without liners. If you venture into SF, you’ll find them at Rainbow Grocery. The only drawback with these is that they can be expensive and have a tendency to wear out over time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be quite deadly to a cloth sandwich bag. If you’ve ever tried to wash a squashed banana from a lunch bag, you know what I’m talking about.

Another option are reusable containers. Many reusable co

ntainers for kid’s lunches are, reasonably so, made of plastics. And yes, many are BPA and phthalate free, but really after the discovery of their potential health affects (not to mention the environmental impact of plastics), why would we want to continue using plastic containers in lunches unless totally necessary?

My favorite lunch containers are modeled after the old Irish miner’s lunch tin or the Indian tiffin. Made of stainless steel with multiple compartments, these boxes are durable, hard to break, food-safe and dishwasher safe. While they are higher priced than the big brand lunch boxes, they last for years. Some of the newer versions have rubber seals that keep liquids in and food sealed inside extremely well.

Armed with sustainable lunch containers, your family will be admired by parents and teachers alike. According to the folks at the EcoLunchBox website, a family packing a waste-free lunch saves on average $400 annually and averts 4,320 pieces of trash. Finally lunch can be good for your kids and good for the environment.

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