We’ve been through a gradual process to eliminate waste from our packed lunches. As we first became more aware of our plastic consumption, I would wash and reuse every plastic bag as many times as possible before throwing it ‘away’. Then I bought brown paper bags in bulk online and used those for sandwiches, snacks and fruit and vegetable shopping, reusing when possible and putting them in the compost bin or the fire basket when their lifetime was up.
Last summer holidays, I spent a lot of time researching various options for reusable bags and containers for packed lunches, before taking the plunge and investing in some sandwich bags and tiffin tins. I was wary of wasting money on products that the children could possibly refuse to use if they weren’t comfortable or happy with them. So I specifically took the children’s opinions into account when choosing. After all, they would be using them most. I rarely need a packed lunch.
We now have a good selection of water bottles, lunch bags, sandwich bags, tiffin tins and food flasks to help us in our quest for a zero waste lunch. The picture below is a sample of them:
A few of my favourite companies that sell a great range of zero waste lunch items are:
I’ve also found the home ware section of TK Maxx really good for stainless steel water bottles, thermos cups and food storage containers. It’s worth a look if you have one nearby.
My top ten tips when aiming for a zero waste lunch are:
- Use leftovers from the night before. Our eldest loves leftover pasta reheated and then popped in her food flask to have for lunch. This also reduces food waste. Good options for leftovers include pasta, noodles, soup, casserole, sweet and sour, curry and rice.
- Salad jars or pots put together at home reduce the need to buy plastic-packaged, pre-prepared salads from shops and supermarkets that have been sitting around for goodness knows how long. I love to put a couple of sliced tomatoes, some torn basil leaves, a pinch of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil in a jar for the odd occasion I have a packed lunch. Other favourites include Greek salad (easy on the raw onion if you need to be sociable in the afternoon!), tabbouleh or tomato, avocado, mozzarella and Italian salad leaves with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar.
- Buy bread package-free or make your own. I love baking my own bread, but if I haven’t the time or inclination to bake my own then I have a couple of places where I know I can buy bread package-free. Your Lidl in-store bakery or local, independent bakery should let you use your own bags to buy bread. I have some lovely gingham, drawstring bags made by a friend that are perfect for bread. You could use any clean, cotton bag or a pillowcase. Of course, they also have lots of other delicious treats that make a nice addition to a packed lunch!
- Alternatives to sandwiches include wraps, flatbreads (I like the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Veg Every Day’, which is similar to this one), the items in No.1 above, crackers and pasties.
- Sweet treats. I try to bake something like rock buns to go in packed lunches. If I haven’t time, I buy a sweet treat package free at the bakery. We also get sweet treats from my dad and his wife when they visit once a week. Another option is a small tin of dried fruit, nuts and seeds, which has the added benefit of being healthy too. 😉
- Crisps. I admit it, we still buy crisps for packed lunches. We don’t buy them every week and when we do we buy a large bag and then decant a handful. Our children have a choice (when there is one!) between a sweet treat or crisps in their packed lunch, very rarely both.
- Water bottles and cups. We bought our stainless steel water bottles at TK Maxx and I bought my mum a lovely Glogg water bottle from Less Plastic. Camping shops are also a good place to look for water bottles and lidded coffee cups. If you know they aren’t going to get lost, it’s worth investing in a good quality water bottle, which will stand the test of time.
- Cutlery and napkin. Reduce the need to use disposable cutlery and paper napkins by taking your own from home. You can buy cute sets, like these on Boobalou and Etsy, or you can just fashion your own by rolling your cutlery in a clean napkin.
- Fabric sandwich bags and food wraps can be wiped down and reused, cutting down hugely on plastic sandwich bag, cling film and foil use, all of which take hundreds of years to break down in landfill and use valuable resources to produce. You can find them on Less Plastic, Boobalou and Etsy.
- Food flasks and tiffin tins. Although plastic food storage items that will be reused time and time again, such as pots, boxes and bottles, are better for the environment than single-use, disposable plastic items, there are concerns about toxins from plastic food storage leaching into food over time, especially when the items are used for heating food. I prefer to heat food in the morning and store it in a stainless steel, double-walled food flask. And I prefer using stainless steel tiffin tins (also called bento boxes) for the children’s lunches and jars for my own.
Do you have any tips to add about zero waste lunches? What are your favourite products? What is your favourite zero waste lunch? Please share in the comments. 🙂