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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Waste - Free Lunches

I am a big supporter of recycling, using reusable products, and reducing waste as much as possible. School lunches are a huge source of trash and waste! I've put together some of my favorite products to help reduce waste or even eliminate it for your children's school lunches. View my Pinterest Page on Waste-Free Lunches too!

I don't like using plastic when I can avoid it, so most of our lunch containers are made of stainless steel. My absolute favorite is PlanetBox. I bought my first PlanetBox lunchbox when my older daughter started Pre-K in 2009. That lunchbox is still in exceptional condition in 2015! Since then, I have purchased a few more and upgraded to new carry bags as my children have grown older, but the stainless steel containers hold up very very well. Pros to the PlanetBox include that the container is one piece, and has just a clasp so it is easy for little hands to open and close. The separate compartments keep food isolated from each other, and the Dippers contain more liquid-y foods like applesauce and yogurt. PlanetBox now comes in three sizes (Shuttle, Rover, and Launch) and as of this school year, we have all three. My 5th grader is most excited about the satellite dish for the Launch, while my Kindergartener is just excited to have her own Rover lunchbox as she starts school. The Shuttle will be good for snacks, but probably not for school lunches for my children. The carry bags hold our cloth napkins, silverware (stainless steel - not plastic!), and water bottles (also stainless steel). The compartments make it versatile and easy to pack an appealing and appetizing variety of foods. You can view the PlanetBox Facebook page or the PlanetBox Inspirations website for a selection of photos demonstrating different lunches, and maybe even steal some ideas!

PlanetBox photo by GSOFamilies member Bonnie Tucker Plante
Sometimes, however, it isn't quite practical to use the PlanetBox for school lunch - especially when we are sending in hot foods for lunch (my kids love leftovers!). We have extra lunch bags for these days, since the PlanetBox carry bags are pretty specifically designed for a PlanetBox. You can find insulated lunch boxes or bags just about anywhere you'd find school supplies, in different shapes, sizes, and patterns.

If I heat up pasta, beans, soup, or other leftovers in the morning before school, I will transfer the hot food into a Thermos FunTainer food jar - they come in a variety of colors and even have popular kids character decorations that my kids enjoy. We have had no problem with leaking or with the Thermos containers keeping food hot. Plus, they're easy for little hands to open with a simple twist.

On days without the PlanetBox, we will use a mix of other stainless containers - I like the LunchBots Bento Containers (we have a variety of sizes to have a selection of different compartments in each container), and Kids Konserve round containers that seal so they are leak-proof.

LunchBots containers

Additionally, we have the Norwex Out To Lunch Sandwich Wrap and Norwex Out To Lunch Snack Bag (available individually or together as a set). The Sandwich Wrap is "Great for sandwiches, small subs and other munchies, the wrap features a Velcro strip to make sure food always stays snug with less air inside. At lunchtime, it unfolds to make a friendly place mat, and clean-up is easy. Simply shake any crumbs into the trash, wipe with a damp cloth and air dry. At 17" x 17", it is certified not to leach and is free of harmful chemicals, they’re a great alternative to plastic wrap and baggies. FREE of BPA, PHTHALATES, PVC and LEAD!" The Snack Bag is "ideal for toting pretzels, fruit, veggies, cheese, crackers and other finger food, as well as stashing away makeup and organizing goodies. Easy Velcro closure."

Norwex Out to Lunch Sandwich Wrap (closed)

Norwex Out to Lunch Sandwich Wrap (open)

Our favorite water bottles are the Thermos Funtainers which are double walled vacuum insulated stainless steel that won't sweat. They have a push button top that flips open to reveal a straw, and comes in solid colors and cartoon character prints. My older daughter prefers the larger 16oz size for her water at school, while my younger daughter has the 12oz size.  We also have a selection of Klean Kanteens in different sizes, some are insulated and some are not (so they sweat - the kids have to keep socks on the outside so the bottles don't sweat while they are at school).

Thermos FunTainers - Water Bottle and Food Jar
As for other waste-free lunch items, we have a variety of cloth napkins that I've picked up on clearance at stores like Target and Kohls, and purchased through individual sellers on Etsy in cute fabric prints for my kids.

We also have special silverware for the kids to use in their lunches - it is separate from our everyday silverware, but is all stainless steel and about the size of the small salad forks and smaller spoons in our regular silverware set.

Kids Konserve containers
When I first started buying stainless lunch containers, there wasn't a huge selection available. I'm very happy to see that many more companies are carrying a variety of options to help with waste-free lunches! I'm also happy to state that as we are entering our 7th year of school lunches, everything that I've bought has held up well and has not needed to be replaced. We have certainly added to our collection as time goes on and new products are released, but the products are definitely worth the investment!

Even with all the containers, there are additional steps we take to reduce waste in our lunches! We buy foods in bulk, rather than individual serving sizes, and portion them out into the lunch boxes. That means fruits, cheese, yogurt, nuts, raisins, and snacks like chips, veggie straws, popcorn, crackers, etc. are all purchased in the large bags or containers. We make our sandwiches at home, using bread or tortillas or wraps, instead of buying the "Uncrustables" or other similar individually-wrapped sandwiches. The kids drink water at school, not milk or juice, so they always have their stainless steel water bottles and not throw-away juice or milk boxes. Napkins are cloth, and brought home to be washed rather than thrown out like paper towels or disposable napkins, and the same with using real silverware instead of plastic throw-away utensils. Stay tuned for ideas from real GSOFamilies parents with suggestions on how to pack fun and enticing lunches for kids!

Easy-to-Pack School Lunches

We polled our GSOFamilies members on Facebook and asked them about their favorite foods to pack for school lunches. Here are some of the responses:

"My kids love those bento-type boxes. (Or the version at target. I think they are Lunch Blox or something.) We try to pack a variety of cheeses, crackers, fresh veggies and fruits. A favorite is ham and cheese roll ups in tortillas." - Cheryl R.

"I bought my daughter a Thirty-one insulated lunch tote three years ago and it's still in perfect condition. She loves fresh fruit cut up, meat/cheese rolls plain, gogurt that has been frozen and took out(yes it will be thawed by lunch) and she really likes the individual bottles of Gatorade" - Dawn L.

Photo by Leslie W.
"This is my new favorite way to make lunches. I have two bins in the pantry and one in the fridge. This way I can fix enough lunch items for the week on Sunday night and just toss it in the bag that morning. I even do apple slices ahead; just sprinkle with lemon juice and put in a ziplock bag to keep them from turning brown. I also put pb&j sandwiches and yogurt tubes in the freezer. So much better than trying to do it every night or morning. My kids are big snackers so I don't worry too much about having a designated main dish so to speak. I usually do a mix like cucumbers and dip, cheese stick, yogurt, crackers, applesauce or fruit cup, and cookies. I might do a sandwich or wrap too. The apple slices and cucumber slices are a big hit so I send a good size bag of those. I also make ahead little dips. Oh and the sandwiches don't get soggy. If your little one has early lunch, you can set out the sandwich the night before just to make sure it's thawed. Just don't ever put it in the fridge because it will be very stale." - Leslie W.

"I gave my son a choice every morning if he wanted to buy lunch or take lunch. I read off the school options during breakfast and he chooses. I will do the same this year for both boys. They enjoy ham or turkey roll-ups/sandwiches, pb&j, or pepperoni and cheese. They pick a fruit, a veggie (carrots, celery, etc) a crunchy (pretzels, cheese-its, etc) and a sweet (cc cookie, go-gurt or fruit snack). They drink milk at school everyday. In the car on the way home from school, they usually eat whatever is leftover..." - Colleen S.

Photo by Bonnie P.

"We love PlanetBox A little on the high end price wise, but totally worth it when you consider we are beginning our 6th year with the same lunch box. Wraps cut into spirals are a big hit in our house!" - Bonnie P.

"Grapes, berries, apple sauce, cracker, cheese, fruit snacks, lunch meat (not in a sandwich) pretzels, nuts, raisins or other dried fruit are all popular choices in our house. I bought some bynto boxes for this year so we'll see how those work. Previously we used the glad 3/section containers that they have now discontinued. I want a planet box badly but can't afford two of them right now." - Leah S.

"LOVE yumbox. We used them everyday last year (except for the dreaded disposable lunch days for field trips). My kiddo is a creature of habit so it was usually PBJ, yogurt, crackers, apple slices, and whatever leftover veggie I could find inside a thermos. Plus water." - Heather M.

"we do all sorts of lunch main courses- bagel with cream cheese or pb, wraps, meat/cheese slices, leftovers from dinner, salads, breakfast (sausage, mini pancakes), hummus and pita, etc. always include fruit and veggies. my high schooler says she'd rather have my lunches any day, and asked that i still pack it for her." - Heather C.

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