Parent to Parent

The Zero-Waste Lunch

school lunchThe new buzz word around the school lunchroom these days is the zero-waste lunch. What it is? And isn’t it impossible to have zero waste in the school lunchroom?

Well, think about what goes into those trash cans, besides all the food, that is. The plastic baggie you put their sandwich in, the ½frac12; pint carton of milk or a juice box, the individually-sized fruit or yogurt cup together with a plastic spoon. Add in any napkins and straws, their individually-wrapped cookies or crackers, and put it all in a brown bag because your child outgrew his lunchbox. Now multiply that by every kid that goes to school, 5 days a week … and that’s a lot of waste! And for every adult that’s brown-bagging it to save money … well, here are some ideas for the whole family, and you’ll save money and waste in the long run.

Start with the lunch box/bag, whatever you want to call it. Your options for stylish at any age are endless, including the old brown bag look-alike. When shopping at my local discount retailer, I’ve found insulated ones near the coolers, more stylish versions near the briefcases and luggage, and kids’ favorites in the school supplies. You can find them easily online by going to the Conscious Consumer Marketplace, which will link you to a variety of earth-friendly retailers.

Other than the insulated ones, there are also some sleek, compartmentalized versions of the Japanese Bento Kit. Everything has its place, no extra baggies or packaging needed. And they come with their own cutlery, even. Some kids may prefer the simplicity of a fold-over bag or plain lunch box style. In that case, a collection of small plastic containers, such as the Rubbermaid, Glad and Zip-Lock ones at the store, will come in handy.

For the hot lunch, there’s nothing like the old standby insulated canister we all called a thermos. Thermos still makes them, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes for a perfect fit for your new lunch box, as do a variety of manufacturers. Call it a stainless steel lunch jar if you want, it’ll always be a thermos to me, and the soup will still be hot four to six hours after you packed it.

Sometimes fitting all the various sized plastic containers into the lunch bag can be tricky. Still, you want to stick to your zero-waste commitment, meaning no baggies. A Wrap-n-Mat fills the bill in a pinch. You can wrap any size sandwich, even a nice sub that wouldn’t fit into a plastic bag anyway. You can purchase them on the internet , at your local discount retailer, yes, even at the dollar store. Or you can make your own.

The number one back-to-school item this year is a very special re-useable water bottle. Sure, you may need to buy several for the kid who forgets things, or you could pick up the most useful backpack clip in the world. It attaches to most bottle sizes, but not all, so get a clip or two first, then go shopping for the water bottle that fits. And now that it’s not going to get lost, go ahead and splurge on that nice stainless steel model.

There’s been so much information coming out lately about the safety of all the different plastics out there. Before you buy, check out The Green Guide’s information on plastics in the kitchen. Make sure the reusable lunch is truly safe for your kids’ lunch.

Don’t forget cloth napkins and stainless steel or reusable plastic cutlery. When lunchtime is over throw it all back into the bag and bring it home, to wash and re-use. There you have it, zero-waste. Now if you could only get them to eat all the food.

More Parenting Advice:

echo $c5t_output; ?>

Parent To Parent Archive

Parents Help Your Kids Learn ABC’s and Spelling
Premier learning tools help kids excel.

Parenting Advice

Parenting Humor

More Parenting Articles

Child Development

Child Support


Patti Hermes is a writer and columnist, specializing in family and parenting subjects and works for children, as well as essays and a blog, Writes For Chocolate. She works at home where she referees two spirited little boys and occasionally their father. Originally from Massachusetts, she and her husband of eighteen years are now raising their happy family in the Midwest. To read more visit her on the web at

All websites and products mentioned in the Parent To Parent Columns are from Patti’s independent research.


Patti Hermes

Patti Hermes, Parent to Parent, is living the dream with her high school sweetheart, raising their boys in the Midwest because it's a good starting point for epic road trips. While writing, reading and homeschooling take up most of her time, she still blogs at HermesParent to ParentParentingParenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids