Friday, September 25, 2009

Zero-Waste lunches

Have you checked out the Reduce Footprints blog? Every Wednesday is "Change the World Wednesday". Though I don't often participate, I love the idea of it as I'm big into making small changes. It's too much to try to be "perfect" or to change everything about the way I live. It's too overwhelming to expect that, and then it's too easy to give up entirely. So I've been trying to make small changes to the way we live our lives, in the hopes that over time, it will add up to big changes.

Anyway, enough about why I love the idea of "Change the World Wednesday". Let's get on to this week's challenge:

This week we're all about kids ... after all, they will take the "green torch" and become environmental "Olympians". So this week, your challenge is to do an environmentally friendly activity with your kids (or grand kids or neighbor kids or nieces/nephews, cousins, etc). Get them involved. Need some ideas? Here you go:

Awesome Activities


Kids Links (Teaching Green)

Gardening for Kids

Once you've done the activity, we want to know about it ... so come back here and leave a comment (either with the activity or a link to a post) ... or if they did something fun during the summer like an Eco-Camp, tell us about that. We'd also be interested in little Eco-Stars ... kids who have taken it upon themselves to come up with green living ideas.

Or ...

If you don't have any accessible kids to have "green" fun with, then write an article about ways that we can get kids involved in an Eco-friendly lifestyle.


So that's the challenge for the week, and it dovetailed perfectly to something I was already working on with N-man and B-man: zero-waste lunches. Friday was their very first day that they were eating lunch at school. Working in schools in the past, it was kind of appalling to see the vast amount of garbage generated at lunch time. And I'm not talking about the food thrown out (that's a separate topic, though I did briefly sub at a school that had the kids compost all their compost-able food so it is possible!). I'm talking about the juice boxes, single-serve packets, water bottles, ziplock baggies, paper bags, aluminum foil, disposable silverware and napkins, etc, etc, etc. Kids' lunches just seem to generate huge amounts of trash, and most of it can't be recycled, or just plain doesn't get to a recycling bin.

That's where a zero-waste lunch comes in. The idea is to pack the lunch in reusable containers, with reusable silverware and napkins. If all goes well, the child shouldn't have anything to throw away after lunch (besides those pesky sandwich crusts!).

The boys and I brainstormed some ideas of things that would be good to include in the lunch, and things that wouldn't be good. That was a bigger hit for the boys...they were very good at listing things that come in single-serve packaging (i.e., nutrigrain bars, yogurt tubes, etc...things I get for treats but have been trying to wean myself off even in our own house!)

You can get official bento boxes, but I just used a regular lunch box with tupperware I had around the house. And the Rubbermaid Litterless Juice Boxes that some readers recommended last year are still going strong (love these!).

Here's what the boys had for their first school lunch:

Apple cider for a drink

Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches (cut into the shape of dinosaurs! I have a cool sandwich cutter that cuts one sandwich into two dinosaurs with only a little crust waste.)

Cut up strawberries and kiwi

A scoop of hummus and some bagel chips

And for dessert, a soybean butter and honey oatmeal ball. I (kind of) followed this recipe, but with some changes to make it nut-safe:


1/2 cup soybean butter
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips (if you're not dealing with allergies, I'd use mini-chips. I just can't find any nut-safe mini-chips. Though heck, if you're not dealing with allergies, I'd go to the original recipe and use peanut butter and nuts in these!)
1/2 cup raisins


Mix soybean butter and honey until blended. Add all the other ingredients and stir until mixed and thoroughly coated.

Roll into balls (I made them from about 1 heaping tablespoon each). Freeze or refrigerate until firm.

N-man ate almost everything in his lunch! B-man didn't do quite as well, but said he liked everything.


So here's why I like the idea of zero-waste lunches:

  • The obvious, of no trash for the kids at school
  • More economical in that I can buy large containers and apportion them into smaller servings.
  • The packaging from the products can be recycled at home, while there might not be recycling available at school (or the kids may forget to use it).
  • Buying large containers means less packaging than the single-serving packets.
  • Any leftover lunch comes home, and if appropriate, can become an afternoon snack so there's less food waste. B-man ate his leftover bagel chips and hummus yesterday after school!
  • Gets kids involved in reducing the amount of garbage they generate.
  • Opportunity to make healthier lunches by not relying on prepackaged individual serving (and often highly processed) "convenience" foods.
And as I said, this is a small step. There's always room for are some future "small steps" I may try to take to make this idea even more effective.
  • I'm not sure what kind of non-plastic options there are for containers, but as the tupperware becomes lost or worn out, I'd prefer to replace it with something that isn't made of plastic.
  • Okay, my zero-waste lunch wasn't ZERO-waste, because I had to include a disposable napkin. I have fabric to make into cloth napkins...I just need to do it!
  • I could do a much better job making local choices for their lunches. For example, I got them strawberries and kiwi, their favorite fruits, as a special treat for their first school lunch. But come on! It's apple (and peach) season here. That would be a much better choice for future lunches this fall.
  • What other ideas do you have for me?

Overall, a very fun, and easy activity. As I said, this was my boys' first school lunch, so we're not in the habit of relying on convenience packaging. Hopefully it will remain just as easy to continue with zero (or very little) waste lunches!


LauraC said...

I forwarded this to a friend who is starting to pack lunches for her son. Their school is nut free!

Also have you seen Vegan Lunchbox? That book/website looks right up your alley!

Rhonda said...

I wish we could do this, but our school requires that all snacks be individual servings in original packaging so that they can verify the ingredients. I know several of the preschool options we looked at had the same requirement. The only exceptions are fresh fruit and veggies.

What A Card said...

Laura, I love Vegan Lunchbox! I peruse it all the time :)

Rhonda, that's too bad. As a mom of a child with food allergies, I have mixed feelings about food bans. The director of my boys' preschool has a daughter with food allergies, and she's very against food bans so this year my boys are in school where anyone can bring peanut/nut products! It's a little unnerving, but I see the point. Last year my boys were in a school with a nut ban, but more than once I saw wrappers of things like Honey Nut Cheerio bars in the trash. So I'm just not sure how effective a nut-ban is, not to mention that it just lulls everyone into a false sense of security.

And don't even get me going about the AWFUL parents who think it's their kid's god-given right to eat PB&J every day who will lie and say they packed a soybean butter sandwich even though it's peanut butter. It's because of these terrible, evil people that you're forced to pack things in original packaging.

Rhonda said...

UGH! Why are some people so selfish? It's not like we don't have lots of great nut free snacks that the kids can take to school.

I just wish I could buy those things in bulk and save some money and save creating extra trash. Though I must say I am really disgusted by the list the school provided as example "healthy" nut free snacks. It pretty much contained only low fat cookies, cakes, and chips. Since when does low fat automatically mean healthy?

Cathy Spock said...

These ideas are wonderful! Thanks for encouraging us to cut down on our lunch waste. :) Love it! I recently made my first cloth napkin from some pretty scrap fabric... I think it's time to take it to work in my lunch tomorrow! :) I will think of you as I pull it out! :)

What A Card said...

Cathy, I wish we lived closer so you could teach me how to make a napkin. I'm totally craft-impaired :) And thanks for commenting!