Recycla has been an elementary school parent for almost five years and, in all that time, her children have never once bought lunch at their school. They don’t like the food and, frankly, Recycla understands completely. Therefore, the children pack their lunches every day, which translates to over 1,200 packed lunches (and counting). Recycla has a LOT of experience packing lunches and has learned much over the years about how to be as environmentally friendly as possible in the process.
Let’s start at the beginning: the lunch box. Not all lunch boxes are created equal. For example, some soft vinyl lunch boxes contain dangerous levels of lead. Far too many others contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This was not acceptable to Recycla, so she hunted around for lunch boxes she could trust.
Luckily, there are a wide variety of safe lunch boxes out there. If you are shopping for your child’s lunch box at a store like Target, it’s possible you can find a lunch box that is marked “PVC free.” To be extra safe, Recycla recommends that you order a lunch box from Lands’ End, such as the ClassMate Lunch Box pictured to the right. One of Recycla’s daughters has been using her ClassMate for three years (and counting) and it looks as good as new. Normally priced at $19.50, this lunch box is currently on sale for $14.50. At either price, this lunch box is a good deal, as it cleans easily and lasts for years, in spite of the abuse that Recycla’s daughter has heaped upon it. If your child eats a large lunch, this lunch box will hold a meal fit for a linebacker. L.L. Bean also offers a variety of lunch boxes and, after contacting customer service, Recycla was able to ascertain that L.L. Bean’s lunch boxes are PVC free, although that information is not readily available on their website.
Recycla also just adores Laptop Lunches, which offers a variety of bento-ware containers in a variety of sizes and colors. This option is especially nice for the older student who doesn’t want to carry a lunch box.
Of course, one of the easiest and safest options is the good old-fashioned lunch bag. Cloth — not paper. Recycla found dozens and dozens of bags at Etsy, including super cute ones sold by QwertyO and Rick Rack Queen.
Once you have chosen a lunch box (or bag or other container), the next question is: How do you wrap up the food that goes inside? Naturally, Recycla encourages you to go with reusable containers instead of plastic bags and aluminum foil.
For sandwiches, you might try reusable sandwich wraps. Healthy Kitchenware sells wraps for $6.50 each. And, of course, you can always find cute ones at Etsy, including these by WhimsAli. Recycla’s daughters use plastic sandwich boxes, which are available through a variety of sources.
For other foods, plastic containers are the easiest for busy parents. How you feel about plastics is your own personal choice, and Recycla will admit that her children’s lunch boxes always hold a variety of Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers. GladWare containers are also an inexpensive possibility, although Recycla worries about the safety of these products.
For utensils, Recycla’s children carry the real deal, not plastic. However, if you think your child might accidentally throw away his fork, you do have some options, including bamboo or recycled reusuable plastic utensils by Preserve. You could also buy inexpensive flatware at a thrift shop, so that you’re not out much money if a spoon ends up in the trash.
For your child’s drink, juice boxes are — duh — wasteful, as are disposable water bottles. Recycla personally carries a SIGG water bottle but must mention that hand washing is recommended, which is just not convenient for most parents. Recycla’s daughters have CamelBak water bottles, which are BPA-free and can be washed in the dishwasher.
Recycla encourages you to avoid buying foods that are packaged by the serving, such as grab-and-go bags of chips. It really doesn’t take much time to put foods into reusable containers and you’ll waste far fewer resources in the process. Recycla usually spend 5-10 minutes on Sunday evenings preparing containers for the week, so that all she has to do on school mornings is reach into the pantry for the necessary containers. Obviously, this doesn’t work as well for fresh foods, such as grapes, but it’s great for other foods. For fruits, veggies, and yogurt, Recycla spends a few minutes evening preparing those containers so that she doesn’t have to do it the next morning.
A no-waste lunch box is the ultimate goal, but Recycla admits that it is not always feasible. Even she will resort to using plastic bags on occasion. The important thing is to take that first step and eliminate just one single plastic bag or juice box every day. Once you do that, take the next step and make another change. And so on and so on.
Recycla knew she was on the right track a few years ago when her daughter reported that a teacher had complained about all the little containers in her lunch box that day. Instead of just quickly tossing her waste into the trash, the first grader had carefully snapped her lids on and put the containers back in her lunch box to be washed and reused the next day. Yes, it took a little more time to clean up after lunch, but the little Eco-Warrior-in-training was doing her part to save Planet Earth.
All images courtesy of their parent companies’ websites. The Eco Women are not employed by any of the companies mentioned, nor were they paid to review these products.