Kids lunchboxes can be an absolute minefield when it comes to trying to be eco-friendly. Food designed for lunchboxes like muesli bars, chips, yogurt, dried fruit etc. all tend to come in convenient single-use packets because the food companies know that parents are often looking for the option that's going to save them time, rather than money. Unfortunately, this means that a huge amount of rubbish is heading to landfills from school lunchboxes. There are lots of ways you can combat this, here are a few of my tips as well as some of Rochelle's tried-and-true lunchbox recipes to get you started.
Use reusable packaging options
These are easy switches to make for food that you need to wrap/bag up before putting in a lunchbox. Ditch the single-use plastic and invest in some reusable alternatives.
- Snaplock bags < Reusable snack bags (fabric or heavy-duty plastic)
- Even if you reuse snaplock bags a few times before binning them, it's still plastic in the landfill, and they get tatty pretty quickly. Think about investing in some reusable items that will save you money in the long run. There are lots of different options like Munch's machine-washable fabric bags and wraps, or Kai Carrier's heavy-duty BPA free plastic pouches. Have a think about what would work best for your needs and go from there.
- Plastic food wrap < Beeswax wraps
- Beeswax wraps are a fantastic alternative to plastic wrap. They can be used again and again and are completely compostable when they do finally give out. They're everywhere now and loads of Kiwi companies make them so they shouldn't be too hard to find. Honeywrap and nil make some fantastic wraps which you can grab online.
- Plastic lunchboxes and bottles < Long-lasting stainless-steel lunchboxes and bottles
- These aren't must-have items, but they're good items to consider investing in if yours need replacing. If you're using plastic ones now and they're still going strong then no worries! But if you're needing a new lunchbox, stainless-steel is going to last pretty much forever. Plus, you can get covers or magnets with different designs on them so your kid(s) don't need to have plain metal boxes - these are also great for if/when they grow out of a certain style as you can just swap out the cover/magnets instead of the whole lunchbox. My son, Daniel, has a Planetbox that has been going strong for four years.
Buy in bulk and then repack food items yourself
The zero-waste gold-standard is obviously to buy items that are package-free outright. But this isn't always doable - you may not have a bulk-bin store, green-grocers or butchers near you, or the supermarket may not even have a package-free option, or they may be more expensive than other options. In that case, the general rule of thumb is that it's better to buy the largest available amount and repackage it yourself - this usually tends to be cheaper and have far less packaging.
Some lunchbox examples:
- Fruit: always try to buy package-free with reusable produce bags, there's really no need for apples to come in a plastic bag or peaches to come in a plastic box.
- Yogurt: buy the biggest container of yogurt, divvy it up into reusable pouches and freeze them, then send the kids to school with frozen yogurt which will be defrosted by morning tea. This saves so much more plastic from landfills than individual pottles. Kai Carrier's pouches or Munch Ice-Pops Molds are great for this.
- Nuts/chips/pretzels/dried fruit etc.: avoid individually wrapped items and go for the largest option instead, then pop what you need in a reusable snack bag.
- Bread: this is a tricky one as there aren't any plastic-free options unless you have a local baker that puts everything in paper, or you make your own bread. But to avoid bread going moldy or stale, store it in the freezer or a proper fabric bread bag and in a cool dark place.
Make/bake what you can yourself
One super easy way to do this is to make larger amounts of dinner, then freeze leftovers in individual portions to pop in lunchboxes later on. This way, you and/or your children are getting a quality meal during the day and it doesn't involved too much more effort than cooking in the first place (obviously, this works best for kids if the meal can be eaten cold e.g. quiches, pies, wraps etc.).
Baking your own muffins, biscuits, muesli bars, quiches etc. for your kid's school lunches (or your own) is a great way to make sure they're eating quality food and save a whole lot of unnecessary packaging from going to landfill. If you do have the time, set aside a couple of hours and bake in bulk, then freeze everything. This way, you can take out items as you need them, pop them in the lunchbox frozen, and by the time morning tea or lunch rolls around, they will have defrosted and be ready to eat.
There are loads of good recipes out there, just jump on Google or have a look at Rochelle's tried-and-true recipes that are staples in her household below: