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

Organic Savings: Get Thee to Target Today

October 18th, 2008

Big Boy asks to go to Target so often that now 23-month-old Baby Boo is saying, “Wanna go Target!” I’m a goner. In addition to all this pressure on the home front, I was working hard this week on the launch of my client Mom Made Food’s kid’s organic line at SuperTargets nationwide.

So of course we ended up there yesterday, and I’ve got some great savings to share from Target’s in-house organic brand, Archer Farms. Target is running a nationwide sale through today (Saturday) on all Archer Farms products – 15% off a line that is already value priced.

I’ve posted here before about how the half gallons of Archer Farms organic milk are the Holy Grail for cheap organic milk by the half gallon. Can you believe they’re on sale for $2.92 per half gallon? And if you drink soymilk, you’re really in luck. You can nab a half gallon of Archer Farms organic soymilk for just $2.28. I usually refuse Big Boy’s pleas for chocolate milk, but at that price, I got him some as a special treat.

Now some folks dispute the notion that you need to buy organic for packaged or processed foods. Sure, we should all eat lots of fresh, whole foods, but sometimes it just makes sense to take advantage of the convenience of processed or packaged foods. And in those situations, whenever I can, I opt for products with the USDA organic seal, because it means that my children will be eating foods with no transfats, no artificial colors, no artifical preservatives, and no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Many parents don’t realize that nearly all of today’s conventional packaged foods contain GMOs, and that GMOs have been banned in places like Europe and Japan. What’s more, in the United States, companies are not required to disclose the existence of GMOs in their products.

That’s why I stocked up on Archer Farms organic flaxseed and homestyle waffles– on sale for $1.86 per package and Archer Farms organic crackers (seasalt, multigrain, rye and flax, multiseed, and Italian herb) on sale for $2.11 per package.

I tend to stay away from over sugared items – in my book, organic cane juice is just sugar, thank you very much. But for those of you with kids whose teeth can withstand “fruit leather” or roll-ups, you might want to check out the Archer Farms organic fruit strips at $2.99 per 10 count box of organic raspberry, organic strawberry, organic apricot, organic pomengranate, organic wildberry, and organic tropical fruit.

And before you go? Print out these coupons for $1 off Archer Farms juice and cookies. The coupons don’t specify if they apply to the organic varieties, but it’s worth trying.  And if you arrive and the shelves are bare? Remember you can get rain checks on all advertised sale items.

Happy Shopping! Did you find these tips helpful? Do you have any shopping tips to share? Please leave a comment!


Copyright OrganicMania 2008

Organic Food Savings Friday: Look Up, Look Down & Strawberries All Around!

June 20th, 2008


Funny headline? Well, think about this: finding the signs that display pricing in an organic market can require as much flexibility as a yoga routine. You have to look up high above the veggies bins, then you have to squat to look at knee-height to read prices, then you have to bend over a veggie counter to read tiny price stickers. Yikes. But you know what? It can really be worth the extra effort.

Take just one example: organic romaine lettuce. This is a staple item for many. Most often, people just push the cart up, reach in and grab whatever it is they’ve been grabbing for years. I had been doing that too, picking up my 9 oz. box of EarthBound Farms pre-washed romaine lettuce, while trying to ignore the $4.99 price tag. But this week, I happened to overhear a woman asking the Whole Foods produce manager where to find the local organic romaine lettuce on sale for $1.49. That sounded good to me, so I followed her over to the other side of the produce aisle and craned my neck up to see the sign announcing the sale – $1.00 off the regular price. Then I put the romaine on the scale and saw that each bag contained 21 ounces, so this romaine was just 7 cents per ounce, as compared to 55 cents per ounce for the EarthBound Farms box!

And even more exciting this week was the most fantastic deal on organic strawberries! Less than conventional! Can you believe it? DC’s Tenleytown Whole Foods has 2 pound packages of Driscoll’s organic strawberries on sale for $5.99 each, as compared to conventional 1 pound boxes of Driscoll’s for $3.49 each. That means that each 2 pounds of organic strawberries are $1.50 cheaper than the conventional equivalent. Amazing! And really, really delicious. Baby Boo was digging his fingers into the air holes in the container to try to get into the strawberries. I had to run upstairs and wash a few off before we left the store!

Last week, we discussed the great deals available at Target on organic milk. Well, as if $3.44 per gallon wasn’t good enough, Target slashed the price even further and through Saturday, you can buy Archer Farms organic milk at $3 per half gallon (actually, 2 1/2s for $6).

And still more good deals on organic milk at Target! Those handy little Horizon organic milk packages, perfect for summer camp lunch? On sale at $5.48 from $5.98 for two packages of three 8 ounce containers. This sale is on through July 21st.

Did you see any great deals this week? Leave a comment and share! Happy shopping!

— Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Organic Savings on the Fly: Organic Milk & Organic Berries

June 8th, 2008

OrganicMania normally labors over these posts…sorry to be late, but with three new clients this week and a kindergartner out of school – I’m just way behind. Plus, gotta confess, I’m a Twitter addict now. Have you checked out Twitter? You can follow me here. And then there’s another microblogging platform where I really need more friends: Plurk. Anyway, the cool thing is I can Tweet or Plurk from my cell – sending out organic and green savings updates – and more green thoughts – while on the go. Come join in on the fun here and here!

Back to organic savings basics: I think I’ve found the Holy Grail for cheap organic milk by the half gallon. Target. Yes, Target. Their house brand, Archer Farms, is $3.44 for a half gallon of organic milk. That’s a huge savings compared to the $4.19 a half gallon some supermarkets command, as we discussed here. (When you consider that post was written back in January, the price now is surely above $4.19 in that grocery store!)

Why is this organic milk so cheap? Well, although the source of Archer Farms milk is not visible on the carton, press reports such as this one indicate that the private dairy Aurora Farms supplies Target with its Archer Farms organic milk. The organic industry watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute rates organic dairies and gives Aurora a low ranking, claiming that the milk is from factory farmed cows. However, despite some controversy, the USDA kept Aurora’s USDA Organic certification in place. The Institute’s concerns had to do with the cows’ access to pasture. So if you are concerned about cow grazing issues, you may prefer to choose milk from another source. If your primary concerns are lack of growth hormones, pesticides and antibiotics, you should be fine with Archer Farms.

Again, this is one of those touchy areas where some have very strong feelings about the “green-ness” of “Big Organic,” and a few may even claim to be “Greener than Thou” by buying raw organic milk or organic milk for a local dairy. OrganicMania views this blog as a forum to throw out all the crazy issues in organics and green living and to discuss them – without an agenda.

And while I normally never think of Target for groceries, they have expanded their organics selection, so check it out. It’s still not a place where you could do all your organic shopping, but the convenience of being able to pick up some organic milk at Target may save you from having to make a special trip somewhere else just for organic milk. Most important to me, I saved time, money, and gas (carbon footprint) by combining my purchases at Target.

But if you’re looking to pick up a gallon of organic milk – or like many families – several gallons – you still can’t beat Whole Foods for organic milk at $5.69 per gallon. I suspect Whole Foods keeps the milk prices low to entice people to shop there for other items. But as I’ve posted before, you can find many great deals on organics at Whole Foods. It makes sense – as the largest organic grocer, they’ve got enormous purchasing power, and they can pass their savings on to their consumers.

Just last week, we talked here about organic strawberries at $4.99 per pound. Well, that was nothing! At mid-week, they were down to $3.49 per pound at Whole Foods stores in DC. Strawberries are a very important organic purchase, because they carry a high pesticide load and rank in the Environmental Working Group’s list of “The Dirty Dozen” most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables – the ones you should always buy organic. You can download a wallet card of the Dirty Dozen here, and carry it with you to the market.

And there is a definite taste difference as compared to conventional strawberries. As my toddler would say, Yum-may!

Happy shopping!

Did you find any good organic or green deals this week? Leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Healthy, Organic & On the Road: A Dilemma

January 4th, 2008

The holiday season really got me thinking about how to maintain a healthy, mostly organic diet while traveling. The traffic down Route I-95 reminded me that I’m not the only one with this challenge.

Sure, you can pack healthy snacks to combat hunger while on the road. But when traffic pile-ups occur, or fatigue sets in, there’s no substitute for pulling off the highway and into a restaurant. But where to go? Even those who normally avoid fast food will confess that fast food restaurants can seem like welcome outposts off a major interstate. So it’s at these roadside McDonalds, Denny’s and Pizza Huts that you will find the bewildered vegetarians and organic foodies, desperately looking for something – anything – healthy to eat. And while some of these fast food restaurants have made great strides in offering healthier options, the food is not organic or locally grown. Sometimes it doesn’t even taste fresh!

Following is a listing of the best options I’ve found for organic on-the-go eating that should be easily accessible from most major interstates. No, they’re not perfect – I still dream of Broccoli Heaven, my fantasy roadside snackbar. But they’ll do in a pinch! What’s been your experience? Leave a comment and share!

Panera Bread – Panera features two kids’ menu items with partial organic ingredients – a grilled organic American cheese sandwich and a “Kid’s Deli” sandwich, which is organic cheese with your choice of roast beef, ham or turkey. Both items are served with Horizon organic milk* and Horizon squeezable organic yogurt.

Target – Yes, Tar-zhay! The in-store cafes feature a Kids organic mac n’ cheese meal, which is served with Horizon squeezable organic yogurt and Horizon organic milk. True confessions: as our local Target overlooks busy railroad tracks, which my 5-year-old son adores, I am a frequent diner at Target. That’s how I know that they are often sold out of the squeezable organic yogurt. This poses a problem when the well-meaning clerk asks if my son would like “fruit snacks” instead – as in the high fructose corn syrup, GMO variety. Of course, he would like some of this “special treat” – some GMO corn syrup and sugar to go with his organic meal! Arrggh….

Chipotle – While Chipotle does not have purely organic meals, some of its beans are organic, and its chicken and pork are sourced from non-factory farms. Chipotle also recently announced that it would serve only rBGH-free sour cream at its more than 530 restaurants. For a cool graph that shows where Chipotle’s “naturally raised” meats are available nationwide, click here.

* You may have heard of claims that Horizon milk is not truly organic. There were lawsuits filed alleging that the cows were not being treated in accordance with organic standards. However, the suits did not allege that the cows have been treated with growth hormones or antibiotics or fed unnatural substances, as can be the case with conventional milk. Given this, Horizon organic milk is a better choice than the conventional milk available at these fast food outlets.

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania