When I pack my kids their lunch in the morning, I do it out of love and concern. I love them and want the best for them and I am concerned that the food choices they face when they leave my cozy home will not nourish them and at worst may harm them. It may cause cavities, it may upset their stomach’s, it may give them a sugar high followed by a crash, it may cause them to put on extra weight and it may, horrendous as it sounds, trigger development of a cancer as a result of pesticide residues or genetically modified foods breaking down essential enzymes. This is when I even ask myself, “Do I sound totally nuts?” But the truth is, I’m not nuts, but our food choices are. So, I shop with a focus on whole foods and organic. I strive for non-GMO. And then I lovingly pack a lunch for my kids.
But concern for their health and future can’t stop at the food I pack. I must also consider what I pack their food in, because those little baggies are going to be around when my kids are grown and it is a waste and a shame that their highlight is a 3 hour trip in a lunchbox carrying pretzels or grapes and then off to the dump.
In fact, it is estimated that an average lunch packing child creates 67 pounds of waste from disposable packaging in lunches. Sixty seven pounds! That is more than each of my kids weigh themselves! And that is every year. So if I pack a lunch from kindergarten to senior year, that is 871 pounds. Between my two kids that is almost a ton of trash! Literally! Multiply that against the other 23 kids in their classroom, the other classes in their grade, the other grades in their school and you can see that the waste of those one use baggies is huge.
But I know how much we love convenience. I love it too and it has been challenging to switch to waste free. Additionally, it requires an upfront cost. Buying the cute reusable baggies and containers is expensive. But, as with most quality goods that are designed to provide lasting use, it is worth it, and in the end, the dollars make sense and you wind up ahead financially.
Waste Free Lunches estimates that on average a waste free lunch costs $1.37 less than a lunch made with disposable spoon, napkin, pouches and baggies. In a typical school year, that amounts to a savings of $246 per person. Additionally, buying whole foods or snacks in bulk instead of snacks in individual serving packages is a major cash saver.
So, when I add up the cost of the lunchbox, water bottle, reusable baggies and containers, I will have still saved over $150. Next year, of course, I will save the full $250 because these supplies will still be in use.
Here is what I use:
PVC Free Lunch boxes from Hanna Andersson. Honestly, this is way more lunchbox than we need. It is too big. That bottom section goes to school completely empty every day. I spent $26 on these but would have done better to get the smaller $20 or $16 option. Lesson learned. The part of this purchase that I am very happy about though is that their products are non-toxic. Be careful when selecting a lunchbox or lunch bag that they are not loaded with PVC, have lead traces or other chemical making them stink and stain free.
Stainless Water Bottle by Kleen Kanteen $17. These go everywhere and are used all day long. If you want huge bang for the buck and can’t go completely waste free right away, start with the water bottle. And make sure you give your kids clean water inside that bottle!
My daughter’s bottle was purchased 6 years ago at Target and I have no idea what I spent but considering how long we have used it, I’d say it was worth it. She also has a BPA-free Camelback thermos that I got for her two years ago for $16.
Each kid has a small round insulated thermos for the lucky days I pack them spaghetti, mac and cheese or leftover casserole of some sort. I can’t find the kind I use online anymore as they are at least 5 years old but these are similar and cost $25 each.
This year, I got a set of Lunchbot containers that are being shared among all of us. The jury is still out on these. I haven’t quite gotten into the swing of using them but I do like the design and the feel of them.
I also just purchased some Reusies reusable snack bags. I got these in the mail yesterday and I already love them. They were fun and easy to pack, the kids were excited, the size was great for their snacks. After the water bottle, this is the second thing I would invest in for bang for the buck. Think of all those little plastic baggies you will never need if you use these! Put your sandwich right in there! I combined their snacks this morning, since I got two each. Pretzels and Pirates Booty in one and grapes and carrots in the other.
I also have Laptop Lunches. These were my introduction to waste free lunches and are still my favorite. There is nothing more fun or satisfying than packing lunch parts in all the pretty colors. The containers are non-toxic, easy to use and fun. I’ve been using my lunchboxes for over 6 years and they look identical to the day I bought them. I wash them on the top shelf, I throw them in the cabinets. I am not gentle. These things are sturdy. I really didn’t need to get the other products because these work great, but there are days you want more flexibility than the hard container.
Finally, this was a totally unnecessary purchase but I couldn’t resist; I bought the kids each their own reusable napkin. Why is this unnecessary? Not because they don’t use napkins, although, some days I do wonder when I see their sticky faces hop off the bus. And not because paper napkins are okay, but because we all have cloth napkins or scraps of fabric that can be turned into napkins at home. Someone is making a killing on these decorated washcloths and I was happy to fill their pockets. Honestly, you can find something at home to use like I did for the past several years, but if you want to support a product made in USA by a company focused on sustainability that has a cute design on it like I did, well, I won’t stop you! These are cute. I do, wonder how long they will look this cute especially once they encounter spaghetti day.
Of course, the savings goes farther than just lunch. As you may too, we have an on-the-go lifestyle. Most of our meals are on the benches at baseball practice, at the tables outside dance class, next to the soccer field, on the beach, at the pool, at the park… you get the idea.
When I have portable, reusable containers, I can be prepared with snacks and meals on the go and the temptation or need for fast food or other junk food options is also tackled. It’s a picnic lifestyle but it works! Your kids, your planet and your wallet will thank you for giving it a try.