Eco-Friendly Ways to Pack a Lunch

Most cafeterias’ trash cans are filled to bursting with plastic wrap, aluminum foil and milk cartons (not to mention the occasional retainer). Send less trash to landfills and reduce your carbon footprint with these tips on more eco-friendly ways to pack lunch for yourself and your family.

1. Use recycled (and recyclable) food wrap

Wrap sandwiches in recycled aluminum foil or unbleached, recyclable parchment paper. If you use plastic baggies or zip-top bags, get your child in the habit of bringing them home again so you can rinse them out, dry them and reuse them a couple of times. Try one of those clever plastic bag dryers — they make it easy to get the bags totally dry before reusing. Better yet, invest in a few sets of reusable food-storage containers in various sizes that you can use every day. And if your kids brown-bag it, use recycled paper lunch sacks and ask your family to bring the bags home so you can use them again.

2. Take a cue from the Japanese

The Japanese often pack their meals in a bento box, a compartmentalized food container that is often elaborately filled and arranged with a contrasting array of foods. Young kids in particular will love eating out of a cleverly designed box with its many compartments. Traditional bento boxes can be purchased online or at Asian supermarkets. Or try a reusable stainless steel food to-go container, a different take on the same idea that's easy to clean and plastic free. Send them off with a reusable water bottle too.

3. Be smart about utensils

If you need to pack plates, bowls or utensils, buy a couple of sets of inexpensive reusable or biodegradable partyware and utensils and teach your kids to bring them home in their schoolbags. Or, you can invest in earth-friendly utensils made of bamboo and other sustainable materials.

4. Pick a fun lunch bag

Get your child involved in choosing her own insulated reusable lunch bag. A reusable lunch bag will cut down on the waste of paper lunch sacks, and will also make it easier for your child to transport reusable containers back home.

There are lots of fun options on the market, and whether it's her favorite color or features a favorite cartoon character, she'll be more likely to tote the bag to and from if she's decided for herself that it's "cool." Or buy a plain lunch bag and embellish it with fabric markers, patches and beads. You can even add a clip to the bag or your child's backpack so that the empty lunch bag can easily be carried home from school.

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