As more schools encourage ‘litterless’ or ‘boomerang’ lunches, it can be challenging to come up with easy and creative ways to make your child’s lunch- or your own, more sustainable and waste-free. While there are loads of convenient, pre-packaged lunch snacks available at the supermarket, there are many other ways to prepare healthy, waste-free and affordable snacks! Here are 10 ways you can pack an eco-friendly lunch:
1. Find a good quality, reusable lunch box or tote.
Using a good quality lunch box that can be reused for years helps keep waste out of the landfill and your lunch fresh! You can even find many alternatives to plastic lunch boxes or totes, or ones that use recycled materials. For kids, try to find a lunch box that is plain, durable, and easy to clean so that it won’t get worn out or out of style and can be reused each school year!
2. Ditch the single-use plastic.
While plastic zippered bags and cutlery may be convenient, there are many other sustainable options for storing your sandwiches and snacks. You don’t even have to spend loads of cash on a fancy new container set, simply reuse empty pasta sauce jars, yogurt containers, or mason jars to store your lunch snacks. For cutlery, simply bringing some from home or designating a special set just for school can help reduce plastic waste!
3. Make your own granola bars.
Store bought, individually wrapped granola bars may be tasty, but there is a healthier, more environmentally conscious option- make your own! Making your own granola bars is not only super easy, cost-effective, and better for your health, but you’ll also be saving countless individual wrappers from the landfill that take hundreds of years to break down. This super simple recipe is nut-free, has less than 10 ingredients and requires no baking. Swap or add any ingredients you would like!
- Combine 1 cup of pitted dates and ½ cup of coconut oil (melted) to a food processor to create a paste.
- Combine your dry ingredients: 1 cup of rolled oats, ½ cup of raisins, ¼ cup of shredded coconut, and ½ cup of chocolate chips. Mix together well.
- Combine the date and coconut oil paste with your dry ingredients, knead together with your hands until well combined. Firmly press your mixture into a baking sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Chill the bars in the freezer for 30 minutes. Then remove from the baking sheet pan, cut into bars and serve in your favourite reusable container or wrap in reusable beeswax food wrap!
4. Bring a reusable water bottle.
Did you know that 60 million plastic water bottles are sent to landfills and incinerators every day around the world and only 1 in 6 of those bottles are actually recycled? (Franklin, 2006) Bringing a reusable water bottle with you is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste. Refilling water bottles is also a cost effective solution- if you drink 4 bottles of water a day at 1.50$ per bottle you would spend 2190$ per year.
5. Try including more plant-based foods.
Animal products like meats, eggs, and dairy have large carbon footprints as livestock requires a considerable amount of water, land, and crops to produce. Not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the processing and transportation of these products as well. Even swapping out animal products for a plant-based alternative once a week will lower your carbon footprint! It takes almost 7000 litres of water to produce one pound of beef while it takes only 1135 litres of water to produce a pound of black beans.
Here are some delicious, nutritious, and environmentally friendly plant-based swaps to your favourite lunch snacks:
- Swap cheese and crackers for hummus and crackers! This plant-based dip is vegan and comes in a variety of yummy flavours that satisfy, a personal favourite is roasted garlic.
- Swap an egg salad sandwich for a chickpea salad sandwich! Try mashing up some chickpeas with some dairy-free yogurt, lemon juice, and diced onion to create a delicious plant-based sandwich that replicates a classic.
- Swap a B.L.T with a V.L.T (veggie, lettuce, tomato)! Using a plant based bacon substitute ( you can find this in most deli sections of the supermarket) or frying up your own carrot bacon-check out vegan chef Tabitha Brown’s carrot bacon for some inspiration, you won’t be disappointed. Add some fresh lettuce and tomato and you’ve got yourself a delicious plant-based sandwich, hold the meat please!
6. Pack fruits and veggies that are local and in season.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in Canada apples are only in season from late August to April! Buying produce that is local and in season helps reduce your carbon footprint as your food doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your supermarket. You can also cut out the middle-man by checking out your local farmers market to get fresh produce that is in season. If you want to keep some of your summer fruit and vegetable favourites available all year round, try freezing or canning them so that they last over the winter. This handy guide created by Canadian Living can help you find out what’s in season.
7. Compost your food waste.
Composting your food waste rather than sending it to the landfill can drastically reduce your carbon footprint. When composting you are reducing your methane emissions, methane is a greenhouse gas that is 72% more harmful than carbon dioxide. When food scraps can properly be broken down and decomposed, the waste produces carbon dioxide and can eventually be used as nutrient rich soil for growing food. If you can’t compost at school or work, pack a mason jar that can be sealed tight to bring your food waste back home with you where it can be properly composted. If your region doesn’t have a composting program, you can compost in your own backyard! Here is a super simple guide to composting on your own.
8. Avoid the dirty dozen or buy organic when you can.
The ‘dirty dozen’ are 12 crops that farmers use the most pesticides on, these crops include: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers. Limiting your consumption of these crops or buying organic for your lunch can help support pollinators, a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy community.
9. Grow your own fruits and veggies.
Planting your own garden in the summer can be a fun and rewarding way to grow healthy, sustainable food! Some of the easiest veggies to grow yourself are zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes- a member of the dirty dozen! All of these veggies are great ingredients to add to your lunch.
10. Meal prep and portion to avoid food waste.
Canadians waste 396 kilograms of food per person, per year! Packing the perfect portion can be tough, so it’s important to have a conversation with your child about how much and what kinds of foods they like to eat- you want to make sure that chickpea salad sandwich is going to get eaten and not tossed at school! Once you have the proper portions and favourite lunch foods planned out you can make your grocery list according to the meal plan and avoid tossing anything that doesn’t get used. Meal prepping lunches is something that can be done at the beginning of the week to make packing easier and to avoid anything getting wasted. For example, veggies can be pre-cut into grab and go slices in a reusable container for an easy, healthy, eco-friendly snack!
Commission for Environmental Cooperation, 2018. New Report Shows Ways To Help Solve North America's Food Loss And Waste Problem. [online] Available at: <http://www5.cec.org/news-and-outreach/press-releases/new-report-shows-ways-help-solve-north-americas-food-loss-and-waste-problem> [Accessed 7 July 2020].
Franklin, P., 2006. Down The Drain. [online] Container Recycling Institute. Available at: <http://www.container-recycling.org/index.php/issues/.../275-down-the-drain; [Accessed 7 July 2020].
Rose, D., Heller, M., Willits-Smith, A. and Meyer, R., 2019. Carbon footprint of self-selected US diets: nutritional, demographic, and behavioral correlates. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109(3), pp.526-534.