Written by contributor Angela Stanford, MBA, RD, RYT Registered Dietitian/Holistic Nutritionist & Owner of Vital Nutrition and Wellness.
The kids have been back to school now for a few weeks, and already you may be searching for new, healthy ways to pack lunches that are made of whole foods, not processed foods laden with artificial ingredients wrapped in excessive packaging that could harm your children and their environment. Here are some lunch box supplies that follow the good for the earth guidelines:
1. Lunchboxes Not Ziplocs! choose a sturdy lunchbox, free of BPA and PVC that is easy to clean with mild soap and water.
2. Reusable Containers: choose stainless steel containers for hot foods and BPA and PVC free plastic, reusable containers for cold foods, so these chemical don’t leach into the food. Buy larger containers of food and portion them into your reusable containers rather than buying single serving sizes. This reduces the amount of containers you chuck into the landfill and will save you some $$$$ too! If you do use single portion sized containers, make sure they are compostable or recyclable. Avoid using zip locks because they stay in the landfill forever!
3. Beverage Containers: choose stainless steel bottles (Kleen Kanteen) or BPA and PVC free plastic as a lighter weight option (Nalgeen is a popular brand). Sigg bottles are another brand that is lightweight aluminum construction with a liner that keeps the aluminum from leaching into the beverage. All of these containers are reusable and do not use resources like electricity and water to recycle plastic water bottles. Using stainless steel versus single use plastic water bottles also reduces the risk of chemicals in the plastic leaching into the water you child drinks. Replace beverage containers if they become dented or cracked.
4. Silverware: buy two inexpensive sets of stainless steel silverware for each child in your family – 1 for the lunchbox and 1 for the dishwasher to ease cleanup during the busy weekdays. This keeps plastic silverware out of the landfill leaching chemicals into the earth as they breakdown.
5. Cloth Napkins (2 for every kid): switch out cloth napkins when soiled and wash all with other towels at the end of the week to conserve water. Using cloth saves trees and energy and water used to turn the trees into paper napkins. Start a paperless kitchen here.
Now that you’ve got the eco-friendly lunch supplies, here are a few tips for parents and caregivers on how to be successful at packing a lunch that is good for the body and good for the earth.
How to Pack a Lunch: Good for the Body and Earth
1. Think 4 Colors: try to put 4 different colors in the lunchbox and take Mother Nature’s lead on encouraging kids to eat a rainbow of color for better health. E.g. turkey sandwich on 100% sprouted whole grain bread (brown), red apple, green edamame, orange baby carrots. You can save money too by looking for fruits and veggies in season. They are most often the produce items on sale.
2. Mix it Up: variety is the key to getting more nutrition in each bite and keeping choices fresh helps kids get more excited about what is in their lunchbox.
- Switch up the Sandwich – instead of bread, use 100% sprouted whole grain pita pockets, hotdog buns, English muffins, tortillas, 100 calorie rounds or a double layer of romaine lettuce leaves
- Hot alternatives – serve soups, burritos, pasta and stir-fries. Heat up a stainless steel thermos with boiling hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and then place the heated up leftovers in the warm container. Warming up the container ensures food will still be warm at lunchtime.
- Last night’s leftovers – leftovers make great lunches. You can serve them hot or cold depending on your child’s preference. Some kids like cold spaghetti with meatballs.
- Dips & Spreads – spread on flavor, protein, fruits and veggies with foods like pesto, hummus, roasted red-pepper walnut spread, salsa and 100% fruit spread. Remember choose organic when possible to avoid artificial ingredients and GMO’s.
3. Bring a Beverage: white milk or water only – flavored milk and juices (even if organic 100% juice) are filled with sugar and can contain as much sugar as soda!
4. Skip the Treats: cookies, candies and chips don’t belong in a lunch. Save the treat for treat-time, not mealtime. Fruit is a great sweet addition to a lunch that is already wrapped up by Mother Nature in natural packaging (skin) containing fiber to help stabilize the entry of those natural sugars as they enter the bloodstream.
Give it a try! Look at the lunches I pack for my two daughters below and try to pack your children a lunch that is both good for their bodies and good for the earth!
For more health and nutrition inspiration, visit Angela, a Registered Dietitian and Holistic Nutritionist, at Vital Nutrition and Wellness.
Join the discussion!
How do you pack a healthy and eco-friendly lunch for your child? Share your tips in the comments below.