29 Ways to Green Your Kids Lunch


School is back in session, and that means it’s time to pack school lunches. Waste-free lunches are a “must” for green living. Every school age child that uses a disposable lunch generates nearly 70 pounds of waste per school year on average, estimates the Environmental Protection Agency.

Replacing disposable, toxin-laden products with reusable, safer ones that don’t leach harmful chemicals into food is a good idea both for the health of your family, and for the good of the planet.

There are so many potentially harmful chemicals used in the manufacturing process of disposable packaging, not to mention the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and incinerators every year. For these reasons, packing greener lunches should be an important consideration for everyone who is environmentally aware.

Let’s face it, most kids are fussy eaters, so when it comes to preparing waste-free lunches that they’ll love, it can be difficult. They might want to be like their friends, bring the latest cartons of juice, and to show off a wide array of brightly colored plastic food boxes.

Thankfully, we have 25 eco-friendly lunch-packing ideas that are kind to the planet, and that your little ones will adore too.

  1. Use metal lunch boxes. Metal lunch boxes are back in vogue, and are looking brighter and cooler than ever. For that “old school” cool look, nothing is better! They also don’t pick up food odors like some plastic containers can. What’s more, metal lunchboxes are more durable than plastic, so you get much more mileage out of a metal lunch box than a plastic one.
  2. Consider neoprene bags. If your son or daughter is too old to want to carry around a metal lunch box, these are perfect for keeping hot foods hot and cold ones cold. Some neoprene bags convert to a place mat, which means that they perform double duty.
  3. Buy one reusable plastic compartmentalized container for each of your kids. Yes, Ziploc bags offer convenience, however a plastic container can be reused hundreds of times over. Keep in mind, that some plastics contain BPA, so be sure to check the label.
  4. Steer clear of prepackaged foods. Sure, prepackaged foods are so much easier, right? But, we all know that prepackaged usually means being filled with chemicals and preservatives. Also, all that extra packaging is wasteful, and will eventually and usually have to go back into the environment somehow. With this in mind, it’s better to make your own treats or to buy snacks in bulk, and then put them into your child’s lunchbox. It’s also inevitably cheaper.
  5. Buy a reusable Thermos-type container for carrying drinks. Good for both the environment and your wallet, make sure you buy one that’s chemical-free. The thermos can also keep food items, such as, chicken noodle soup hot.
  6. Ensure you buy only the food your kids will need. Yes, it’s tempting to spoil your little ones, however it’s more environmentally sound to buy what they need, and will eat.
  7. Get creative in presenting healthy options. Consider cutting carrots in cute designs and changing up their menu from day-to-day to prevent boredom. It’s a good idea to include a combination of foods that are naturally sweet, crunchy, creamy, and savory to add variety to their meals.
  8. Think outside the bread. Utilize pita pockets and whole-grain wraps as well.
  9. Buy local. Buying locally will not only help the economy in your area, but it will also take less energy to transport. We’re not talking about shopping at your local grocery store necessarily. Rather, shop at local farmers markets or farms to get produce that is about as fresh as it can get, other than growing it in your own backyard.
  10. Buy organic. Herbicides and pesticides pollute the environment. Avoid them when you can.
  11. Carry lunches in cotton canvas bags. This is far more environmentally friendly than using paper bags to transport their lunches.
  12. Use filtered or tap water. Bottled water costs more, and due to the distance it travels to reach you, has a large carbon footprint. Today, you can even get reusuable bottles of water with filters.
  13. Don’t use so much meat and dairy in your kid’s lunch. Meat, cheese, yogurt, and so on have a higher environmental footprint than plant-based foods. Try your kids out with some imaginative, tasty vegan protein alternatives like hard-boiled eggs, bean or chickpea spreads, or hummus wraps. But always, always pack vegetables to get your child in the habit of eating vegetables with every meal.
  14. Be careful when buying any meat and dairy products. Keep in mind that processed meats are filled with sodium, nitrates, and could come from antibiotic-treated animals. For this reason, you should try to only buy antibiotic-free, and organic meat and dairy products.
  15. Buy seasonal produce. When buying locally, consider what’s in season, and what hasn’t traveled for many food miles. This will also mix things up a little for your child, as they will have variety in their lunches.
  16. Be careful when buying non-organic. It’s not always possible to find, or to afford organic produce. If that applies to you, remember to steer clear of fruits and vegetables that could be laden with pesticides and toxins, or wash them thoroughly. These may include these include, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce, cucumber, grapes, imported nectarines, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, strawberries, and peaches.
  17. Consider themes. Taco Tuesday comes to mind as does Waste-Free Wednesdays and Fish (tuna fish) Friday.
  18. Compost leftovers. Encourage your children to finish their lunch, but if they can’t ask your kids to bring their leftover food back home, so you can compost it, and give something back to the earth.
  19. Pack reusable utensils. Rather than the plastic, disposable kind, wooden, BPA-free plastic, metal, or bamboo knives, and forks are far kinder to the environment in the long-term. Waste-free lunches, among other things, replace potentially toxin-laden disposable products with safer reusable ones that don’t leak out into foods.
  20. Forget about buying juices boxes. Give your little ones a reusable bottle of their favorite juice from home instead. Consider diluting the juice with water to not only stretch it, but to reduce the sugar content.
  21. Stop buying paper napkins. Cloth napkins can be washed time and time again, and will save you money, as well as being kind to the environment.
  22. Pack lunches the night before. Mornings are usually hectic and chaotic times, ensuring that all homework is packed and your child makes it to the school bus stop on time. Packing your kids lunches the night before gives you the time to put some thought into them, rather than rushing and potentially making bad nutritional choices at the last minute.
  23. Add a reusable cold pack. Putting one of these in their lunchbox will ensure its contents are cold, fresh, and safe to eat.
  24. Pack fruits that come in their own eco-friendly packaging. Bananas, oranges, grapes, peaches, pears, plums, and apples come ready-wrapped in their own skins. Take advantage of that, and ensure your child brings one or two of these to school each day.
  25. Use your leftovers. If you’ve made a particularly large Sunday dinner, pack up the leftovers for lunch the next day. It’ll save you using up energy on cooking more food, and there’ll be less waste!
  26. Grow your own fruits, and vegetables. Get your kids involved in growing their own eco-friendly lunch items – they might even start a new trend among their friends!
  27. Cut up your kid’s fruits and vegetables before packing them. Often kids will take a few bites from a whole banana or apple, and throw the rest away. They will be more inclined to eat the lot if it’s cut up and nicely presented.
  28. Don’t forget the dessert. Desserts don’t have to bad for you kids. Consider adding a few dried fruits, such as dried apricots into their lunches.
  29. Finally, encourage your kids to get involved in meal preparation. This way they will gain a better appreciation of waste-free eating. Ask them to make their own trail mix from healthy items like pumpkin seeds, whole-grain cereals, raisins, and dried apricots.

Bonus Tip: How can you ensure that your children bring back their reusable container from school at the end of the day? Implement a deposit system. Give them a nickle or dime every time they return home from school with their reusable containers. They can either keep the money they’ve earned to buy something special, or to take it one step further, let them donate the money to a charity they care about, whether it’s to the local animal shelter, children’s hospital, or some other passion they have.

These 29 30 tips will help you and your children make some small changes to your routine that can potentially make a real difference to the world. Keep in mind that when implementing one or more of these green tips for your kids lunches, you have great teachable moments to explain things like:

  • ecology
  • conservation
  • the planet’s natural resources
  • peer pressure
  • earning
  • being kind to the environment
  • charity
  • and so much more.

Implement one or more of these tips this school year!

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