How to Pack A Cheap and Easy Waste-Free Lunch

August 9th, 2009

There are many  eco-friendly options available for school lunch, but let’s face it: most of them are still pretty pricey. Shelling out  $21 for a Sigg water bottle or $37.95 for a Laptop lunch box adds up to big bucks quickly.

The very popular Sigg bottles range in price from $17.99 to $24.99 at this Bethesda Whole Foods.

The very popular Sigg bottles range in price from $17.99 to $24.99 at this Bethesda Whole Foods.

Here are five super cheap, easy ways you can send your kids back-to-school with an eco-friendly lunch bag.   If you’re fortunate enough to have what you need already, maybe you could take this post and send it to a school list serv or to others  who might find this information helpful.

There are really just five things you need for a waste-free lunch:

1.    Lunch box – or brown bag. While there are great eco-friendly lunch box options out there, most range from $14 on up. You can buy a pack  of 100 brown paper lunch bags for $1.99.    No, it’s not totally waste-free,  but most municipalities recycle paper – so you can toss the bag out with the newspapers to be recycled!     It’s a much more environmentally  friendly option than buying a conventional school lunch bag, which are often made of PVC plastic. Read here to learn why you want to avoid PVC, which is harmful to our health and to the environment.

As seen in a Bethesda Safeway, buy 2 packages for $3.98 and you'll have enough recyclable brown bags for the entire school year.

As seen in a Bethesda Safeway, buy 2 packages for $3.98 and you'll have enough recyclable brown bags for the entire school year.

2.    Water bottles. This is a biggie. Visit nearly any school cafeteria and you’ll see a staggering amount of waste from disposable juice boxes and milk containers.  Yet most stainless or non-PVC water bottles are $10 and up – some as high as $25 or more.  Before I invested in two Sigg Mr. Sharky’s  (pictured below), I used a good ole Honest Tea bottle. Made of durable glass, it was fine for drinks on the go.  I still use one in a pinch!

A durable glass bottle, such as this Honest Tea bottle, can be reused as an on-the-go water bottle.

A durable glass bottle, such as this Honest Tea bottle, can be reused as an on-the-go water bottle.

3.    Cloth napkin. No need to buy new here. Pretty much everyone has a spare dish rag or dish towel lying around the house, or some “good” cloth napkins that are only taken out for “special occasions.” These are perfect for school lunch. So far, my son hasn’t asked why he carries a linen dishcloth with a 1977 calendar on it, but I’m sure that day is coming soon…!

Yes, that's my mother's calendar dish towel from 1977, now doubling as a napkin in my son's lunch box. Do I get a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse award for this?

Yes, that's my mother's calendar dish towel from 1977, now doubling as a napkin in my son's lunch box. Do I get a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse award for this?

4.    Food containers. My how things have changed just in the past year. Now you can buy stainless steel containers for school lunch. But again, cost is an issue. If you don’t want to spend  $40 for an all-in-one lunch kit or $16 for a stainless steel food container, you can go the el cheapo route like I did.

Three of these glass Pyrex food storage units sell for just $4.99 at a Bethesda Giant Food store.

Three of these glass Pyrex food storage units sell for just $4.99 at a Bethesda Giant Food store.

Unfortunately there are no more of these nifty $4.99 glass pyrex containers at the Bethesda Giant, because I bought out their entire stock!

And here’s  a shot of Big Boy with his lunch bag, which contains some plastic (gasp) Gerber food containers. I love these.  They’re made in the good old USA, they’re  cheap (under $5 for 4 small dishes) and they’re made of #5 plastic, which does not contain BPA. Still, to be on the safe side (because all plastics can leach) I keep these plastic bowls out of the dishwasher and the microwave   I had to search high and low for these – they seem to sell out as soon as they’re in stock, but you can sometimes find them at Target or Buy Buy Baby.

school-lunchphoto

He’s also carrying a more traditional “Green Mom”  accoutrement – a Wrap n’ Mat sandwich wrap, which is made of washable cloth and durable, low density polyethylene (LDPE). These sell for   $7.99 on the Internet, but I bought mine locally at My Organic Market.   When I hit the Wrap n’ Mat website as I was writing this post, I learned that they’ve just introduced little snack pouches, which sell for $8.99 each.

5.    Cutlery. This past school year I packed lunches with our regular cutlery, and unfortunately I regret it because some of our silverware never made it home.  This year I’m trying Sporks !

And I leave you with a picture of my boys’ trusty Crocodile Creek lunch bags being cleaned out. Because this frugal green Mom isn’t planning to buy new ones this year!

lunchboxphoto

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival: Green Schools Edition, which runs tomorrow (Monday, August 10th) right here at OrganicMania.

– Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

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13 Responses to “How to Pack A Cheap and Easy Waste-Free Lunch”

  1. Mindful Momma on August 10, 2009 7:46 am

    Lynn – my Mom had calendar dishtowels too – how funny! Thanks for the great budget-minded tips!

  2. CKIezzi on August 10, 2009 1:21 pm

    If it helps, we list some great back to school items from Fair Trade Organizations on our website (www.fairtradefederation.org/ht/display/EventDetails/i/11001) – including backpacks and some school supplies made from recycled materials.

  3. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Green Schools: Green Moms Tell It Like It Is! at Organic Mania on August 11, 2009 9:42 am

    [...] of these eco-friendly lunch kits simply cost more than  you’re willing to spend, check out “How to Pack a Cheap and Easy Waste-Free Lunch” where I share some of my favorite frugal green tips, from $1.99 for a big pack of recyclable brown [...]

  4. Stephanie - Green SAHM on August 11, 2009 1:37 pm

    Great tips! I’m having my daughter reuse her lunch bag and backpack this year – they’re still in good enough shape even if they aren’t new.

  5. Green Bean on August 11, 2009 8:52 pm

    We do the plastic Gerber and such containers. I figure so long as I don’t put them in the dishwasher or pack hot foods in them, it’s okay. Not so much luck with cleaning out the lunchboxes though. Well, it worked for 2 years for my youngest who got his lunch box as a hand me down from a friend. My oldest, though? I challenge any green mom to get stuff to last with him for more than a year. My sister swears that he should be a toy tester. Still, we buy second hand and that helps say resources (ours and the planets).

  6. mother earth aka karen hanrahan on August 11, 2009 10:37 pm

    oh my gosh the calendar dish towel totally cracks me up!

  7. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Mean Mommy No More: How Eco-Green Became Really Awesome at Organic Mania on August 14, 2009 8:35 pm

    [...] And that competition? Of course Big Boy scored big points for his fellow campers. How could he not with those vintage cloth napkins from the 1970s in his waste-free lunch? [...]

  8. Lisa on August 15, 2009 10:01 am

    Such a good post! As we have talked about before there are all shades of green and while of course it would be great if everyone was the darkest shade we have to remember that can’t happen over night and that it’s all about steps so like you said plastic containers (even #5) are the best but they are better! I still use these types of containers at home.

    Every time I use them I remind myself that I will someday switch to stainless steel and glass but for now it’s a lot better than plastic bags.

    I think tips like these will get those that want to go green but are worried about the cost to go for it. :)
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..The Economy And Going Green =-.

  9. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Green Giveaway: Waste-Free Lunch Box by Citizen Pip and 15% off Kids Konserve at Organic Mania on August 24, 2009 2:31 pm

    [...] Green Giveaway: Waste-Free Lunch Box by Citizen Pip and 15% off Kids Konserve August 24th, 2009 After a trip to Target today for back-to-school supplies, I realized I’m not the only one still shopping for eco-friendly back to school supplies!  This year I got off a lot easier than last year – “just $50!,” but I wasn’t stocking up on backpacks or lunch boxes because we’re reusing last year’s, as I blogged here. [...]

  10. Can Can (Mom Most Traveled) on August 25, 2009 9:40 pm

    As I said on the giveaway post, I feel your pain about losing silverware! My son has lost something every single day during these first 2 weeks of school.
    .-= Can Can (Mom Most Traveled)´s last blog ..A Babywearing Toy =-.

  11. Alexis on September 10, 2009 12:48 pm

    really good advice. Here’s one from me. I found these eco-friendly backpacks that are each made from seven recycled water bottles. You can put your SIGG water bottles in them. Check them out here if you want: http://www.askmelissa.com/index.php/features/back_to_school_08-31-09

  12. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Saving Money Through Green Means (My Top 20 Tips!) at Organic Mania on November 18, 2009 12:07 pm

    [...] 9.  Waste-free lunches are green, cheap and easy. Sure, you can buy some of the lovely waste-free lunch kits. But you don’t have to. You can make your own or brown-bag it. Here’s how. [...]

  13. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Green Moms & Public Schools: Top 10 Green School Projects – Pick One! at Organic Mania on August 30, 2010 8:29 pm

    [...] Waste Free School Lunch [...]

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