Blogger and Live for Less DIY guru Cherie Pasion takes inspiration from her own kids for these tips on cutting down your lunchtime waste and saving money along the way.
I wish I could take credit for the idea behind this article, but all credit must go to my son’s forward-thinking school, who last year banned single-use-plastics as part of their sustainability policy.
As more schools adopt similar single-use plastic-free policies, it highlights that children of today are driving the changes they wish to see for their future. The flow-on effect is impactful. Not only are the children influencing policy at their schools, they are also changing the behaviour of parents and adults in the school communities.
So today I want to pay respect to the vision of our kids and share what I’ve learnt – about waste-free school and childcare lunches, and also taking adult lunches from home for the workplace.
Let’s talk lunchtime waste
I’m the first to admit that mornings can be stressful. When you’re on a time limit and trying to get yourself and the children ready and out the door, it’s easy to reach for pre-packaged foods – for example, little packets of biscuits, muesli bars, cheeses and yoghurts. Or grab a juice box out from the plastic shrink-wrapped casing. Not to mention sandwiches wrapped in cling wrap or placed in a plastic zip lock bag.
This convenience-driven mindset has changed the landscape of consumerism. Yet, the convenience of today has a long-term cost of tomorrow – both for the environment and our back pocket.
Let me show you that it’s possible to cut down your plastic-footprint when it comes to lunches and not be too inconvenienced.
Reach for reusable containers
If you go online to sustainable living shops, you will soon see the eco-friendly lunchbox industry is thriving. My ethos, however, is the most sustainable choice is to buy nothing. No doubt you already have a drawer overflowing with containers ready to be filled with lunchtime treats.
Alternatively, you could choose to repurpose items you may normally recycle. It’s quite trendy these days to eat your salad or breakfast muesli out of a jar – so before throwing your jars and plastic containers into the recycling bin, see if you can repurpose for lunches instead.
I understand that children can be heavily influenced by their peers and may not let you get away with serving their lunches in recycled vessels. If this applies in your household, perhaps you can make it into a craft project, and have the kids personalise their recycled lunchboxes with glass paint and stickers.
Or, to make things easier, you may wish to purchase ‘bento’ style lunchboxes. The benefits of these containers are that they make the lunch offering look enticing, they keep the food separate – avoiding mess and spills, and you don’t have to worry about your child losing separate smaller containers.
In recent years there has been a rise of food pouches – such as for yoghurt and baby/toddler foods. It’s possible to replace these single-use items with reusable pouches which are quite generous in size and surprisingly easy to clean.
Buy in bulk
It’s lighter on your back pocket and creates less waste if you buy in bulk. Typical lunch staples that are bought pre-packaged in small servings – such as yoghurt and snack foods like biscuits, dried fruits and popcorn – can be purchased in bulk and then split into smaller portions in reusable containers.
Cook and freeze
Even lighter on your wallet and a healthier option is to cook large batches of lunch foods in advance and freeze.
As I type, I have home-made muesli bars, vegetable samosas, mini-quiches and mini-savory muffins in my freezer, ready to be pulled out in the mornings, reheated and popped in a lunchbox. While it may seem like more effort up front to cook and freeze large batches of food, the health benefits of knowing exactly what’s in the food justifies the effort. And hint, it’s a great opportunity to ‘hide’ more vegetables and grains in your kids’ food.
Ditch the clingwrap, opt for beeswax wraps
In recent years, a new and nifty product is on the rise – beeswax wraps.
Made from cotton material and beeswax, these wraps can be used to enclose sandwiches, cover bowls and well, do most of things that clingwrap can do. Beeswax wraps can be washed, re-used and they last a long time. It’s possible to purchase these wraps in health food and green-living stores, but it’s also quite straightforward to make your own DIY wraps. There is no shortage of tutorial blogs and videos online. Hint, they would make awesome gifts if you were to get your DIY on.
BYO drink containers, straws, utensils and napkins
In the last few years, there has been much focus on bringing your own coffee cup, water bottle and straws, and saying no to these disposable options.
The same can also apply to utensils and napkins. Pop a set of utensils (stainless steel, bamboo) in your child’s lunchbox, or your office bag, alongside the reusable drink bottles and straws. And don’t forget to pack a handkerchief or napkin to replace the paper napkins.
What about lunch-on-the-go?
As Live for Less editor Mike Watson found when he participated in Plastic Free July, you don’t have to compromise your single-use plastic-free goals when you order takeaway. If you bring your own reusable container with you, many places are more than happy to fill up your container (it’s win-win – it saves them a few cents on their takeaway containers.) Don’t forget to bring along your own utensils and napkin too.
What small change will you make today?
While all these tips and hints I’ve shared with you may seem like a lot of information and effort, the key is to start off by taking simple and small changes and then you can work up to eliminate waste from your lunches. And remember, even the smallest change will have a cumulative difference over a number of years.