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.


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!


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

— Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

There’s No Excuse Now: Great Resources for Bike To Work Day

May 14th, 2009

Friday the 15th is National Bike to Work Day, and if you’ve been thinking that you can’t possibly figure out how to bike to work, you might want to skip reading this post, because soon you’ll have no more excuses!

Here are just a few reasons to bike to work: you’ll do your part to help ease traffic and parking congestion, and to improve air quality. You’ll find it an easy way to work off stress and calories. And it’s less expensive than driving or taking mass transit! What could be greener, healthier or cheaper than that?

If you live or work in Bethesda, you’re in for a real treat. Friday morning from 6:30 am. to 8:30 a.m. there is a Bike-to-Work Day celebration at the corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues, complete with free breakfast treats, entertainment, and even a chance to win a new bicycle! But be sure to register here.

Bike to Work Day

Did you know you can bike to work in Bethesda in under 30 minutes from as far away as Dupont Circle, Silver Spring, Potomac, Rockville, or Takoma Park? Check out this chart of approximate cycling distance and time from these and other locations in the DC region.

Wondering where to park your bike? Again, no excuses! Did you know that there are more than 80 bike racks located throughout downtown Bethesda? Check out this map to find one closest to your office.

Did this post help encourage you to bike to work? Leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

What to Get A Green Mom for Mothers Day (Or Any Other Time!): Top 10 Gifts for Green Moms

May 9th, 2009

Some may think posting about Mother’s Day gifts on Saturday morning is kind of late. But let’s face it – most guys put gifts off to the last minute, don’t they? So here it is – this Green Mom’s Top 10 Wish List.

In past years, I’ve taken a real minimalist view – all this Green Mom wanted was a clean car. That may still be a need, but with so many of us putting off desires this year due to the economy, I have a hunch that many of us secretly yearn to be a bit more spoiled this Mother’s Day.

1. The Gift of Time
Many Moms feel “guilty” about this. It’s Mother’s Day and (horrors!) they don’t want to spend the whole day with their kids? You mean, like they do every other day of the year? Give her some time off. Tell her to take the afternoon off. Go for a walk. See a movie. Lie in bed. Whatever. She can pretend there are no responsibilities on her plate, no to-do lists.

2. Crossing Something off Her List
For some, washing the car, running an errand, or crossing something else off her list is still a great gift. This year I’ve made peace with the messy car (and it’s not quite so bad this year!) But if I came home and found my containers brimming with plants, and my front garden weeded…wow! Would that ever make my Mother’s Day!

3. Eco-Chic
We may be green on the inside, but it’s nice to look green on the outside too! There are so many cool eco-accessories now. You can find purses and jewelry made of recycled materials, clothing from bamboo or organic cotton, shoes made of bamboo, and more… One of my favorite online sources is (who also happens to be a client of mine). If you’re in my neck of the woods and want to buy at a store, check out the gift shop at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. I was there yesterday and saw a wonderful assortment of eco-chic bracelets and earrings made of old magazines. Prices were between $15 and $30.

4. Eco-Helpers
Going green requires preparation, especially when you are on the go. How about some useful green chic gifts such as To-Go Ware(R), which is reusable cutlery packaged in cute little bamboo bags. You can stash it in a reusable bag and reduce some of that green guilt when you find yourself at a roadside restaurant or to-go place that only stocks plastic utensils. Other great options include chic reusable bags like those sold by the Chico Bag Company. In my neck of the woods? Stop by Creative Parties in Bethesda and check out their selection of reusable bags. (And while you’re there, look across the street and see the new headquarters of our local sustainability initiative, Bethesda Green, located on the second floor of the Chevy Chase bank building).

5. Donations to a Favorite Green Cause
How about a gift in her honor? Try these fave green causes: Environmental Working Group, The Nature Conservancy, or The World Wildlife Federation.

6. Eco-Dining or Fine Dining

There are organic restaurants and restaurants specializing in local foods springing up all over the place. What better day to check one out than Mother’s Day? So many parents avoid dining at nice restaurants with kids in tow. One of the great things about Mother’s Day is that the fancy-pants places that don’t typically cater to children will grudgingly do so on Mother’s Day. That’s what we’re doing on Mother’s Day! At least I know that The Blue Moon will put up with my kids on Sunday!

7. Flowers – Make them Organic!

How about a twist on the time honored tradition of a beautiful bouquet of flowers? This time, make them organic! This Mother’s Day, Organic Bouquet is running a promo with The Nature Conservancy – you save 10% and it’s donated to The Nature Conservancy!

8. Great Green Books
There are so many inspiring books available about going green. One of my faves – a real resource – is fellow Green Moms Carnival member Diane MacEachern’s The Big Green Purse. You can order it here on Amazon, or check out your local bookstore or even Whole Foods for a great selection of books about going green.

9. Yummy Greens
What better excuse than to try some organic and fair trade chocolate? And what woman doesn’t love chocolate? Some of my faves: Divine Chocolate and Green & Black’s.

10. Green Entertaining
Having friends over, or just relaxing? Get her some wonderful sustainable, organic or biodynamic wine and cheese from your local natural market.

Happy Mother’s Day! Did you find these tips helpful? Leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Rushing the Door at the “Sneak Peak” of SweetGreen Bethesda

April 29th, 2009

A new eco-friendly sandwich and salad spot, SweetGreen, opened in Bethesda, Maryland yesterday for a “sneak peek” for friends and family. However, passersby were so intrigued by the “green chic” aura of the trendy new lunch spot that the owners quickly gave up on the idea of keeping the party closed and opened the doors to everyone. What a deal. For just a $5 donation to community sustainability group Bethesda Green, diners were able to enjoy salads and wraps featuring local and organic produce as well as all natural yogurt.

You may be shocked: it’s not all organic, and yet I’m blogging about it. Why? If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of studying the green and organic market, it’s this: organic does not always mean green and sustainable, and green and sustainable does not always mean organic.

The emphasis at this Green Certified Restaurant is on sustainability. Everything from the menus, which are lined with wildflower seeds so that they can be planted instead of recycled or thrown away, to the compostable cutlery and bowls, to the re-usable items for sale (salad bowls and stainless steel bottles), is carefully designed following sustainable principles.

Greenies may think that’s the best part, but there’s something for everyone: the food I sampled with friends is simply fantastic. Count on about $8 to $9 for a salad or wrap. My favorite? The Curry Gold. Chopped romaine with a kick of coconut, almonds and cranberries, it’s a really unique twist on chicken curry.

With the addition of Sweet Green, Bethesda now boasts a handful of organic, green and sustainable restaurants that didn’t exist a year ago. It’s a great trend, one I see at other spots throughout the Mid-Atlantic. We’re finally catching up to long-time green leaders like Portland, Seattle, Berkeley and San Francisco.

Leave a comment and let me know what you thought of SweetGreen, or if you have tips for other sustainable restaurants. (And if you’re in Washington DC’s Georgetown or Dupont Circle neighborhoods, you can check out SweetGreen’s locations there).


Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

A Bakery’s Simple Reminder to Us All

June 25th, 2008